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Less Stress, More Success: How Teachers Can Develop Executive Function Skills Efficiently


Teaching has always been an impossible job, but due to decreasing resilience and executive function skills, it has become even more difficult. Today, educators must deliver content, develop executive function skills, implement many accommodations, and communicate with parents and support staff. Even though it feels undoable, proactive practices can lessen the load and make the job more manageable.

Understanding Executive Function Deficits 

Before we explore collaborative strategies, let’s define what we mean by executive function deficits. Executive functions are the mental skills that enable us to plan, focus, remember instructions, and achieve our goals. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in students experiencing difficulties with these skills. The educators we work with report more frequent challenges in several areas:

  • Beginning tasks 
  • Staying focused on assignments 
  • Breaking large assignments into manageable parts 
  • Completing work

We observe these challenges across the board, but they are particularly pronounced in students with executive function deficits. These groups include individuals with ADHD, dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and those who are twice-exceptional (meaning they have high cognitive capabilities along with a learning disability).

Tackling Communication and Executive Function Demands in the Classroom 

With the rising number of students struggling with executive function skills, educators are increasingly burdened with the need to provide personal support for each student and to manage increased communication demands.

  • Individualized Support: Students with deficits in executive function require tailored strategies, ranging from informal supports to structured plans like 504 Plans or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Although these personalized approaches are considered best practices, implementing them across many students can be daunting.
  • Team Collaboration: Effective collaboration is needed and often mandated by law among the educational team, which comprises teachers, administrators, special educators, counselors, and interventionists. Each member supports student success, which can lead to overwhelming communication demands on teachers and a relentless flood of emails and meetings.

While the demands can sometimes feel overwhelming, some steps can help mitigate these challenges. 

What is Essential for Struggling Students is Best Practice for All 

Instruction designed for students with executive function deficits is best practice for everyone in the classroom.

For example, when teachers write instructions on the board and give them verbally, it not only supports students with attention challenges but also improves clarity for all students. This reduces the need for follow-up questions and ensures that every student clearly understands the expectations.

A Proactive and Disciplined Approach to Building Executive Function Skills

Adopting a proactive and disciplined mindset can significantly decrease stress and improve efficiency and executive function skills. Below are examples from master educators.  

Establishing Clear Routines: Clear, consistent routines help students know what to expect. They also reduce anxiety and improve attention. 

Example: Mr. Thompson created a digital organization routine for his class every Friday. 

During this routine, students organize their Google Drive and delete unnecessary emails. 

This practice saves time by reducing the need to search for materials and teaches 

students valuable life skills for managing digital clutter.

Example: Concerned about the increasing disrespect among his students, Mr. 

Thompson created a manners routine. Every Tuesday, he introduces one new manner 

and reviews a previous one. This approach has not only improved student behavior and 

classroom culture but has also led to a noticeable decrease in parent complaints

about student behavior.

Classroom Management: Structured environments and deliberate teaching advocacy skills are needed to help students navigate academic tasks and social interactions. 

Example: Mrs. Lee begins the year by role-playing with her students how to advocate for their needs clearly and respectfully. After class, she role-plays with a student on a 504 Plan on how to kindly request extra time for assignments. This approach supports emotional regulation and metacognition and equips students with self-advocacy skills for life. It also reduces emails from the 504 coordinator, parents, and other support staff during the year. 

Planning: Teaching students to manage their schedules and expectations helps students stay on top of their work and reduces last-minute stress. 

Example: In her 5th-grade class, Mrs. Mitchell emphasizes the importance of daily 

planning. She models this by maintaining a class calendar highlighting all upcoming due 

dates and test days. She guides the students to review this calendar daily and update 

their personal planners accordingly. Even when there is no homework, she has them 

write “no homework” in their planner. This consistent practice ensures that students are 

not only prepared for scheduled assignments but are developing their organizational 

systems. 

Regular Check-ins: Starting each class with personal interactions can greatly influence the day’s tone and offer support and feedback to students.

Example: Before each class, Ms. Daniels greets students by name and briefly discusses the day’s main objectives at her classroom door. This 10-second check-in helps build a personal connection and ensures that students start the class understanding what is expected. The relationship and quick feedback loops decrease Ms. Daniels’s work significantly.   

Streamlined Communication: Consistent and scheduled communication can keep everyone involved well-informed and prepared to support the student’s educational journey. 

Example: At the beginning of each unit, Mr. Russell sends an email to both the support 

team and parents detailing the primary academic focuses for the upcoming month, 

expected challenges, and areas requiring additional support. For confidentiality 

purposes, he BCCs all parents of students on a 504 plan or IEP. This approach ensures 

that everyone is synchronized and without the need for many emails about individual 

students.

Organized Online Platforms for Middle/High School Students

Taking the time to organize and update educational platforms such as Google Classroom, Schoology, Blackboard, or Canvas will save middle/high school teachers the most time in the long run. Here are a few reminders to ensure that these platforms serve both educators and students effectively: 

  • Clearly Labeled Assignments: Each assignment title on the platform matches the exact title in the grade book. This consistency helps avoid confusion and simplifies communication with students, parents, and support staff. 
  • Predictable Weekly Structures: Create a regular weekly schedule for posting and cadence of assignments. For example, on Mondays, introduce the new topic with a lecture and post assignments in the classroom and online. Wednesdays are dedicated to independent or collaborative work, giving students time to research and prepare their findings. By Friday, students complete an activity—such as an exam, presentation, or project—to demonstrate their understanding. This consistent routine enhances comprehension, reduces anxiety, and clarifies expectations for all.
  • Consistent Deadlines: Establish regular deadlines for all assignments to improve time management and reduce the need for constant communication. For example, assignments are posted every Monday morning. Major assignments, such as tests and projects, are due on Thursdays during class, while discussion posts are due by 4 PM on Tuesdays. 

As a special education teacher, a teacher who maintained and updated platforms greatly minimized my need to contact them. I could support students without constantly stopping by their class or emailing because I knew where to find assignments, could implement accommodations, and knew when the assignment was due.

Accommodations

Educators often feel overwhelmed when trying to provide accommodations for each student on a 504 Plan or IEP. Teachers can more effectively manage these accommodations by: 

  • Regularly updating educational portals 
  • Uploading class notes 
  • Having clear deadlines for students with extra time
  • Breaking down large projects into smaller tasks. 

Doing these decreases work in the long run and is best practice for all students.

By adopting a disciplined and proactive approach, students, parents, and support staff can each do their job without constant communication. This ‘Silent Sprint’ enables all involved to work independently yet together, ensuring that the student grows. 

As an educator, you work tirelessly to support your students’ growth and success. Thank you for all that you do. Let Untapped help your staff develop strategies to improve all students executive function skills.

For More:

Helping Students Develop Executive Function Skills

The Educator’s Guide to Executive Functions

How To Cultivate Executive Functioning Skills For Students

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