Dear Academic Approach Families and Colleagues:

This week, we’re focusing on the theme of executive functions, a set of behavioral skills related to the work of planning and prioritizing. These skills are essential for academic success, and may be especially important to develop as students break from their usual learning routines. Our letters today through Wednesday are drawn from conversations with our colleagues at Psychoeducational Resource Services (PRS). These letters will culminate Thursday with my interview Dr. Peter Rastrelli, a PRS founder.

What are executive functions and why do they matter?
Peter Rastrelli: Executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal: essentially, they relate to the Problem Solving Process. This might include our thinking or acting but can also involve our emotions.

Tonya Gall: Executive functioning in simple terms is being able to pay attention long enough carry out or “execute” goal-directed behaviors. It taps our thoughts, behaviors and emotions. As adults, we’ve established these skills (and are still learning at times!), but for our kids, these skills will continue to develop over time, well into early adulthood. It can be a challenge if we don’t know where we fall along that continuum. It’s important to understand where our kids fall along this spectrum too.

What are basic steps parents and educators can take to support executive functions of their students, now that school is taking place at home?
Josh Price: Structure is key with a designated school space, routine, and resources all in one place. Have the student create a daily checklist of what needs to be accomplished for that day and then a section for projects or assignments that are more long term. Set up time frames for tasks and use a timer if needed. Build in times for movement and breaks. Even with older students they have movement when transitioning from one class to the next, so sitting for two hours straight can be hard to do especially when there is no social interaction taking place.

Peter Rastrelli: Empower the child. Realize they know a ton about how things go at school. Use that knowledge! Give them agency in choosing and creating structure.

Tomorrow’s letter will focus more on specific tools to help. In addition, I also wanted to share a reminder for educators–we are offering our free webinar this week on e-learning best practices. Head here to register.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO