What Are Executive Functioning Skills?

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Students learn many types of skills in school. From algebra to history, school is a constant onslaught of information and its application, but much of the information that students learn in school will not be applied much in everyday life beyond their time in the classroom. The most important things that a student learns while in school, however, will set them up for a successful career and a happy life. These special skills are called executive functioning skills because they help to lay the foundation for regulating behavior and attaining chosen goals. Executive functioning skills are critical for students because when students manage to stay organized, manage time well, study effectively, and make great impressions, good grades nearly always are a natural byproduct. Pairing good executive function skills with high technical proficiency in classes like English and Math creates a powerful combination that will allow any student to be successful. Here are four of the top executive functioning skills that students should master while in school and some ways to develop them. 

Time Management: Every truly successful person understands that learning to manage one’s time effectively is crucial. There are exactly twenty-four hours in each day for every person on earth. The people who manage those twenty-four hours best tend to be the most successful. Investing a few minutes of a student’s time in creating time management systems will surely pay dividends for the remainder of his or her life. Firstly, every student looking to improve time management skills needs a planner. Planners can help students to keep track of assignments, turn things in on time, and get ahead in class. A student’s brain is capable of much more useful things than memorizing all of the tasks they need to complete at the end of the day. By outsourcing some of that mental work to a planner, students can free up brain power for more high-level thinking. Students should write down every homework assignment, test date, and project deadline – as well as personal commitments, like swim practice or family birthday plans – in their planners. Keeping all of this information in one place makes it much easier for students to stay on top of their busy lives. Another helpful time management tool is a calendar, which goes hand-in-hand with a student’s planner. While a planner tells a student what to do, a calendar tells a student when to do it. Creating a calendar through Apple or Google calendars or even writing commitments on a traditional paper calendar removes much of the stress and anxiety that students can feel when their schedules are busy with activities. Calendars help create awareness of where a student’s time is going and help students to easily discover ways to use time more effectively. Using a combination planner-calendar system and other time management techniques are a foundational part of developing executive functioning skills. 

Organization: If a student was given a scavenger hunt and told that a crisp $100 bill could be found somewhere in Houston, the prize would be nearly impossible to locate. Giving the student a zip code would drastically increase the odds of the student being able to complete the task. A specific street on which to look for the money would make the likelihood even higher that the student would be able to find the money. If the scavenger hunt gave the student the clue that the $100 bill was located on the kitchen counter of the house at 1234 N Main St in Houston, TX it is almost a guarantee that the student would be able to find the prize in less than twenty minutes! Organizational systems make things much easier to find. Using one giant folder or accordion binder for every subject is extremely inefficient because when a teacher asks students to locate a specific assignment from weeks ago, students must sort through a huge stack of papers to find the item rather. Instead, students should create systems that make things easy to find and put away. Every item should have a place in the same way that every house has an address. When students learn to stay organized, not only are their lives easier, they are developing a crucial executive functioning skill. 

Study Skills: Simply memorizing math and history may be enough to scrape by for an exam, but when students master the skills it takes to really learn the material it is a real game changer. Learning how to efficiently and thoroughly prepare for exams, learn new concepts, and apply them to everyday life is one of the most important life skills to develop as a young person. Every student and every subject are different but having a wide array of learning techniques at one’s disposal makes school much easier. However, these techniques are not only used in school. Learning to process and retain information has wide applicability from sports to cooking. Learning how to study and how to learn is a core part of our executive functioning skills curriculum and it should be the focus of every student who wants to be successful. 

Study Skills: Learning math and history is all well and good but learning how to learn is a game changer. Learning how to efficiently and thoroughly prepare for exams, learn new concepts, and apply them to everyday life is one of the most important life skills to develop as a young person. Every student and every subject are different but having a wide array of learning techniques at your disposal makes school much easier. However, these techniques are not only used in school. Learning to process and retain information has wide applicability from sports to cooking. Learning how to study and how to learn is a core part of our executive functioning skills curriculum and it should be the focus of every student who wants to be successful. 

Impression management: Lastly, learning how to make and leave good impressions on the people you meet is an important part of executive functioning skill development. Impression management is simply the art of a student managing how he or she is perceived by teachers, parents, and peers. This skill has many facets and applications and can be a life changing investment. From learning how to build social capital with others to practicing self-advocacy in the classroom, students who develop this executive functioning skill go on to do great things. 

The term “executive functioning” gets tossed around a lot these days. From the classroom to the boardroom, these skills give students the confidence, competencies, and habits they need to achieve their goals. I hope this post provided some clarity on what executive functioning skills actually are and how to develop them. Executive functioning skills form the pillars of our curriculum here at SAOTG. For more information on these skills or our unique one on one academic coaching services, please visit this page: https://saotg.com/one-on-one-coaching/

Chris Chambers

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