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Setting Clear Expectations


Establishing clear expectations and guidelines is fundamental for students with executive function challenges to navigate their academic and personal lives effectively. These students often find it difficult to understand others’ expectations of them, leading to feeling overwhelmed by school rules and routines. By setting reasonable expectations, communicating expectations explicitly, and providing the right support and guidance throughout the class, educators can help students succeed academically and foster their confidence and independence.

Students typically are asked to meet many different types of expectations in order to succeed in school. They are asked to behave, participate, interact, study, complete, and turn in assignments—all in specific ways. When we consider that students are asked to juggle the work and expectations of multiple teachers, it’s crucial we make our expectations clear, easy to refer back to, and meaningful.

Students with executive function challenges often face difficulties managing their behavior (controlling impulses), problem-solving, sustaining focused attention, and managing their time. Recognizing these challenges and offering appropriate accommodations will help students believe in their capabilities and surmount these barriers. Establish clear expectations through consistent routines, schedules of tests or assignments, and a structured and predictable classroom environment. Consider the following strategies for effective implementation.

Have Clear Classroom Rules and Routines Stated and Posted: Articulated and visible classroom rules and routines help create a predictable environment conducive to learning, especially for students with executive function challenges. Display classroom rules, expectations, schedules, and routines in a prominent place. Regularly refer to them to reinforce their importance and ensure that students know what is expected of them.

Tap into Student Interests: One thing that may be impacting students’ abilities to meet expectations is that they do not feel the relevance or importance of meeting such expectations. Motivation is a key aspect of building habits. When we engage students by integrating their interests into the curriculum or showing how what you teach connects to their interests, their investment and engagement increases. Students with executive function challenges often have special interests, intense focus areas, or subjects they are passionate about. Educators can foster sustained engagement and deeper learning by connecting these interests to academic content.

Recognize Their Efforts: Many skills or expectations of school do not come easy to students with executive function challenges. Knowing this, we must acknowledge the effort and progress of students, as they may feel frustrated or inadequate compared to their peers. Success for neurodivergent students may look different than their neurotypical peers, but the more we acknowledge the effort given, the more we can positively reinforce those behaviors. Frequent, positive feedback is crucial in building confidence and motivation to continue working hard. Understand and empathize with their struggles and celebrate their small victories.

Identify Appropriate Consequences: Establishing clear and constructive consequences helps maintain discipline while supporting learning and holding students accountable. Set specific and realistic expectations for behavior and academic performance. Ensure that consequences are fair, proportionate, and aimed at helping students learn from their mistakes.

Teach the Skills Needed to Be Successful: Empower students by teaching them the skills they need to navigate academic challenges. This includes how to advocate for themselves effectively, organizing their materials and assignments, problem-solving strategies, and time management. You can approach this skill development through consistent modeling, mini-lessons with direct teaching, and by showing how to access support. When we have high expectations of students and acknowledge the challenges some students face in meeting them, we also need to be accountable for supporting them in reaching these expectations.

By incorporating these strategies, educators can create an environment that supports the development and success of students with executive function challenges, helping them to become more independent and successful learners.

For More:

Creating Expectations 

Helping Students Develop Executive Function Skills

Positive Impacts of Recognizing Student Achievement 

Teacher Expectations Play a Big Role in Student Success

Executive Functioning Strategies Every Teacher Can Use

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