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The Purpose of Untapped


Growing Up with ADHD

For as long as I can remember, I have been moving. I always felt so calm in motion and in pain when forced to sit still. If I wasn’t in motion, I was asleep or in trouble. Even though I was diagnosed with hyperactive ADHD early on, it never occurred to me that others didn’t need to be in constant motion and could calm their thoughts.

I have one brother with ADHD and another with dyslexia; we weren’t strangers to the challenges of thinking differently. Looking back, I realize now that I was self-medicating through movement, a coping mechanism that would later inform my approach to helping others. Luckily, we had phenomenal parents who seemed to understand us, or our stories would have turned out differently.

In school, I developed a knack for “playing the game.” Tired of getting in trouble, I learned how to get by, even though I couldn’t focus and generally had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I learned to repeat what the “smart” kids said, copied assignments, and did the bare minimum to pass.

I had a single purpose in terms of school: to get grades good enough to play sports. A life of nonstop movement paid off, and I became a decent athlete and earned all-state honors in several sports. Even though I was uninterested in school, I had options for college. Due to academic concerns, I chose a smaller school to play football, believing I could continue my high school strategies, play college football, and have an amazing college experience. 

College: A Wake-Up Call

College proved to be a rude awakening. The reality of collegiate athletics, schoolwork, and living independently was far from what I had imagined. I went to college thinking I would be a star, but most athletes were bigger, faster, and stronger than me. I found myself needing to devote more time to football just to compete. Simultaneously, I realized my “game of school” and the tactics I had used to scrape by wouldn’t cut it in college. On top of that, there was a massive knowledge gap between where I was and  where I needed to be academically.

The wheels began to fall off as I struggled to balance life as a student-athlete. It was a humbling experience that forced me to stop blaming others and take responsibility for my education.

One memorable moment came during my first writing center appointment. I booked an appointment and worked hard on a research paper. I went to the appointment only to have the tutor ask, “Is this serious?” The embarrassment I felt at that moment became a theme for my first two years of college.

Another notable experience occurred when a teammate suggested I talk to a professor about an assignment I didn’t understand. I didn’t even know students could do that. When I approached the professor after class, I awkwardly admitted, “I was told to come talk to you. I’m not sure what about, but I don’t know how to do most of the assignments in this class. I don’t even really understand what is going on.” Looking back, I wouldn’t have lasted long in college without people like this professor who took her lunch breaks to guide me through assignments.

While many students lack consistent support, I was fortunate. My family, teammates, and educators repeatedly went above and beyond, changing my trajectory.

Learning How to Learn

By my junior year, I began to understand that my brain worked differently, and I couldn’t follow much of the traditional academic advice given to others. I started to develop the habits and routines I needed to be successful. I improved academically through hard work in the writing center, attending every professor’s office hours, and implementing structure in my life.

One strategy I developed was never doing homework alone. I recognized that until I developed stronger academic skills, working in isolation led to frustration and inefficiency. Instead, I sought out study groups and used nearly every campus resource available to me.

Although I was far from graduating with honors, I learned invaluable lessons about independence, balance, and perseverance. Most importantly, I figured out how I learn best and began to develop a better understanding of myself. These experiences laid the groundwork for what would eventually become Untapped Learning.

Laying The Foundation for Untapped 

After completing my undergraduate degree, I pursued a master’s in Special Education from Arizona State University and an EdS. in School Psychology from the University of Colorado Denver. During this period, I worked full-time as a teacher, completed internships in school psychology, and continued part-time work in the foster care system.

During these years, I worked countless hours with students in various settings—from gifted programs to institutional placements. I worked in affluent neighborhoods and economically disadvantaged schools, with students from preschool through high school and everything in between. I spent most of these years as an 8th-grade special education teacher in Boulder Valley School District. 

I was drawn to smart but scattered students who often got into trouble. Across all these diverse experiences, I observed a common thread: students wouldn’t reach their goals without developing executive function skills.

The philosophies of Untapped Learning emerged from my own journey. I learned to create structure for my unstructured brain, which gave me tremendous freedom and allowed me to use my creativity as a gift. I recognized that with the right guardrails in place, what was once seen as a challenge – my ADHD – could be an asset.

The Origin of Untapped Learning

As an 8th-grade special education teacher, I noticed a pattern. When my students were preparing to leave for high school, parents would approach me, anxious about the upcoming transition. They’d ask if I could continue mentoring their kids through the upcoming freshman year.

I decided to help a handful of students as they transitioned to high school; I met them individually at the library or at a coffee shop. Most of my students had ADHD, and after paying attention all day in school, they struggled to maintain focus. I needed their full attention, so before sitting down to work, we started throwing a football on the front lawn of the coffee shop or library. We’d also use that activity when a break was needed from studying. People walking past would notice and stop to ask about it, and word began to spread.

Sessions with these students went beyond just academics. We’d plan out their weeks, I would hold them accountable between sessions, and I taught them the ins and outs of high school. I didn’t know then, but I was doing executive function coaching. 

By 2017, local psychologists and psychiatrists began recommending my services to their patients. It became clear that there was a large need for something beyond traditional tutoring. These students needed someone to show them how to navigate school while balancing the rest of their lives. 

In 2018, I left teaching and found an office in the back of a warehouse. The company that owned the space designed mud races and extreme events, fitting our unconventional approach. And just like that, Untapped Learning was born. 

Untapped Learning’s Foundational Beliefs

At Untapped Learning, we take a holistic approach to supporting students with executive function challenges. Our focus isn’t on grades or short-term academic success, but on developing lifelong skills to serve our students well beyond their school years. Five core beliefs guide our work:

  1. Always Do What’s Best for the Student: Every decision focuses on the student’s long-term well-being and success. We tailor our strategies to meet individual needs, recognizing that each student has unique strengths, challenges, and goals. It won’t always feel like it to the student, but all decisions are made with their best long-term interests in mind.
  1. Discipline Unlocks Freedom: We embrace the concept that discipline leads to greater freedom, as popularized by Jocko Willink. Without consistent habits and routines, we will never reach our goals. This discipline isn’t about being in trouble but about creating structure that reduces decision fatigue and developing reliable systems for managing tasks and time. Discipline allows students to gain the mental bandwidth to pursue their passions and goals with less stress and greater focus. Ultimately, the discipline allows students more freedom to engage fully in their academic, personal, and future professional lives.
  1. Empathy: We approach each student with compassion and a genuine desire to understand their perspective. We recognize that these students aren’t lazy or unmotivated but are often navigating a system that doesn’t accommodate their way of thinking. Empathy allows us to coach and push them to reach their potential. 
  1. Process Over Product: While we acknowledge the importance of grades, we place greater emphasis on the learning process itself. We praise effort, perseverance, and personal growth, recognizing these as the true foundations of long-term success. This focus helps students develop resilience and a growth mindset.
  1. Building Relationships for Growth: Students don’t do hard things for people they don’t respect. We believe strong, positive relationships are needed for student success. This includes connections with Untapped parents, teachers, and peers. We work to create a supportive network around each student so they have the encouragement and guidance they need to thrive.

These foundational beliefs inform every aspect of our work at Untapped Learning, creating an environment where students can develop executive function skills, confidence, and resilience to achieve their goals and lead fulfilling lives.

The Purpose of Untapped Learning

People often think Untapped is just about helping students do better in school or teaching them to be more organized. We do that, but there is a bigger reason we started Untapped. Our real goal goes way beyond report cards and remembering homework. Here are the skills we are working to develop: 

Resilience:

Having a brain that works differently is hard—so is life. Students with executive function challenges become accustomed to struggling in school. At Untapped, we believe developing resilience is crucial for these students to thrive academically and personally and is key to long-term success. 

Our approach to building this skill is: 

  1. Positive Reinforcement: We consistently encourage students to keep showing up and trying their best, even when school feels challenging. We celebrate small wins and focus on the process. 
  1. Reframing Struggles: We help students view their difficulties as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. This shift in perspective fosters a growth mindset. 
  1. Skill Development: We teach specific strategies to help students navigate academic challenges more effectively, building their confidence and competence over time. 

Resilience is a skill that serves students well beyond their academic years. By helping students develop the will to persevere through challenges, we prepare them for success in their adult lives, regardless of the path they choose. 

Work Ethic:  

Many students with executive function challenges have internalized their struggles, leading to a diminished work ethic and self-confidence. At Untapped, we focus on rebuilding a love of learning and how to work both hard and smart.

Our approach to fostering a strong work ethic is: 

  1. Reframing Struggles: We help students understand that past difficulties don’t define their potential. We work to shift their perspective from “I can’t” to “I can learn how.” The obstacle is often the way, and the struggles make us great. 
  1. Individualized Strategies: We introduce and practice techniques that play to each student’s strengths, helping them experience success and build confidence. This confidence leads to them being more motivated. 
  1. Developing Routines: We assist in creating and maintaining routines that support consistent effort and progress. We hold students accountable when they get off track. 
  1. Celebrate Progress: We acknowledge and celebrate every step forward, no matter how small, to reinforce positive behaviors and boost self-esteem.

A strong work ethic is a skill that will serve students well beyond their time at Untapped Learning. Success, accountability, and quick feedback loops help develop a strong work ethic. 

Learning How to Learn: 

Many students with executive function challenges struggle to learn using traditional methods. At Untapped, we believe understanding one’s unique learning style is needed for academic success and lifelong learning. Our approach to helping students discover their learning style is: 

  1. Trying New Methods: We introduce various learning methods, including movement, auditory, and visual techniques, to find what works best for each student. 
  1. Experimentation: We encourage students to try unconventional study methods, such as listening to audiobooks while walking or practicing math facts on a trampoline. Each of us learns differently, and we must find what works for each student. 
  1. Reflection: After experimentation, we guide students through self-reflection to help them understand their learning style. This process involves asking questions to identify how they achieve an optimal learning state.
  1. Self-Advocacy: We teach students how to communicate their learning needs to teachers and peers, empowering them to seek accommodations when necessary. 

Understanding one’s learning style (metacognition) is the ultimate skill for success. By helping students discover how their brains work best, we equip them with a powerful tool for lifelong achievement and happiness. At Untapped, we believe fostering self-awareness is our most valuable gift to our students.

Understanding Systems: 

While many of our students don’t fit into the standard education system, we can teach them how to navigate and succeed. This skill of understanding how to “do school” extends far beyond academics, becoming a valuable tool for achieving goals in various life situations. 

Our approach to teaching students to understand systems is: 

  1. System Analysis: We help students understand the components of school, identifying key players, rules, and expectations. We focus on pinpointing areas of confusion and provide direct instruction on these skills, such as role-playing and how to communicate with professors.
  1. Effective Communication: We coach students on clearly and kindly communicating their needs within the system. This includes how to advocate for themselves appropriately
  1. Adaptability: We encourage flexibility in approach, helping students adjust their strategies as the system demands change. This includes understanding and implementing feedback. 
  1. Broader Application: We demonstrate how these skills apply to other systems, from athletic teams to corporate structures to startups. 

By learning to understand systems, students learn to achieve their goals within various organizational structures, whether in a corporate environment, non-profit sector, or entrepreneurial venture. This foundational skill empowers our students to approach future systemic challenges with confidence, adaptability, and strategic thinking.

Breaking Down Large Tasks:

Many tasks in life can feel overwhelming, from professional goals like improving sales by 10% to personal goals like gaining 5 lbs of muscle. At Untapped, we teach students to break down these complex tasks into manageable pieces.

Our approach to teaching this skill is: 

  1. Task Analysis: We guide students in analyzing large projects and coach them on how to break them into manageable parts. Then, we create due dates for each part. 
  1. Prioritization: We assist students in learning how to rank subtasks based on their importance and urgency. This helps them focus their energy on what matters most.
  1. Time Management: We teach students to accurately estimate the time required for each subtask and create feasible schedules. This often-overlooked skill is needed for effective planning and reducing anxiety.
  1. Make it Real: We demonstrate how breaking tasks down applies to broader life objectives, from athletic achievements to career aspirations. By showing the real-world relevance of these techniques, we increase student engagement and motivation.

By mastering the art of breaking down large tasks, students learn to approach complex goals. This skill reduces anxiety and procrastination and significantly increases their chances of success in various aspects of life.

Organization of Their Life: 

Organizing your life is a skill needed to achieve any goal. Beyond organization, teaching students how to systematize monotonous aspects of their lives will free up mental energy so they can focus on their strengths and passions.

Our approach to building this skill is:

  1. Collaborative Weekly Planning: We start by planning the student’s week together. We break down the week into the smallest manageable tasks and use interactive to-do lists to track task completion. A lot of oversight and accountability is needed in this stage. 
  1. Independent Planning: Students transition to planning their own week. We provide guidance and support as needed. We look for weaknesses in their plan and instruct as needed. 
  1. Systemization: Once students are older, we help them identify repetitive tasks that can be automated. We guide them in creating systems to handle these tasks efficiently, such as setting up automatic monthly Amazon deliveries for essentials like toothpaste, deodorant, and detergent.
  1. Accountability and Support: Throughout each stage, we arrange regular check-ins to make sure students are following through on their plans. We gradually reduce oversight as students improve.

Organizing one’s life effectively is an invaluable skill that serves students well beyond their academic years. By modeling and teaching these skills, we empower our students to design a life that works for them, regardless of their future path. This foundation of understanding organization sets them up for success in any environment or career they choose.

How This Relates to Executive Function

At Untapped Learning, our core mission aligns closely with developing executive function skills. By focusing on these skills, we help students improve their academic performance and give them the skills needed to succeed in life. Here’s how our approach addresses each executive function skill:

1. Planning: 

What it is: Planning involves thinking ahead, setting goals, and breaking tasks into manageable steps. 

Why it’s important: It helps manage time and resources efficiently, reduce stress and achieve goals. 

How Untapped Supports: We teach students to create detailed action plans for their academic and personal goals. 

2. Organization: 

What it is: Organization involves creating systems to track information and materials. 

Why it’s important: It helps students stay on top of tasks and reduces anxiety associated with clutter or lost items. 

How Untapped Supports: We guide students in developing personalized organizational systems for physical and digital spaces. 

3. Task Initiation: 

What it is: Task initiation is the ability to begin tasks without procrastination. It involves overcoming resistance to get started on what needs to be done. It can avoid the internal tug-of-war between doing something you must and want to do.

Why it’s important: It’s needed for productivity, meeting deadlines, and building a strong work ethic. 

How Untapped Supports: We provide strategies to overcome resistance and start tasks promptly. 

4. Attention and Focus: 

What it is: This skill involves sustaining concentration and managing distractions. 

Why it’s important: Attention is needed to learn, complete tasks efficiently, and perform academically. 

How Untapped Supports: We teach techniques to improve focus and minimize distractions when focus is needed.

5. Metacognition (Self-Reflection): 

What it is: Metacognition refers to understanding one’s own thought processes and learning styles. 

Why it’s important: It allows individuals to adapt to new situations and develop more effective learning strategies. 

How Untapped Supports: We guide students through regular self-reflection and questioning exercises to improve their self-awareness. 

6. Impulse Control: 

What it is: Impulse control involves resisting immediate reactions and thinking before acting. 

Why it’s important: It enhances focus, productivity, and relationships in academic settings. 

How Untapped Supports: We provide tools and techniques for students to manage impulses and make thoughtful decisions. 

7. Emotional Regulation: 

What it is: This skill involves managing and appropriately responding to emotional experiences. 

Why it’s important: Regulation is needed to maintain relationships, cope with stress, and adapt to changing circumstances. 

How Untapped supports: We teach strategies for recognizing and managing emotions effectively. We build self-care into our routines and help students build a regulated life. 

8. Flexibility: 

What it is: Flexibility refers to adapting to new situations and unexpected obstacles. 

Why it’s important: It’s critical to cope with change, solve problems creatively, and work effectively in groups. 

How Untapped Supports: We coach students on how to adapt to unexpected or challenging situations, teaching strategies that can be applied across various areas of life.

9. Verbal and Working Memory: 

What it is: It involves the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind over short periods. Verbal memory relates to words and language while working memory pertains to the temporary storage and processing of information.

Why it’s important: Working memory is essential for understanding instructions, participating in discussions, and problem-solving. It contributes to learning and comprehension in all academic subjects.

How Untapped Supports: We provide exercises and techniques to teach students how to learn. Also, improving emotional regulation, impulse control, and attention allows more space for working memory. 

10. Time Management: 

What it is: Time management involves organizing and planning how to divide time between activities. It includes prioritizing tasks, estimating how long activities will take, and allocating time for work and fun.

Why it’s Important: It is needed for meeting deadlines, reducing stress, and balancing academic responsibilities with extracurricular activities and personal life. 

How Untapped Supports: We help students create effective schedules and prioritize tasks efficiently.

Executive Function Skills and Character

The core message we want to convey to parents, educators, and students is this: Executive function skills are not a reflection of character or intelligence. They are skills that can be taught and developed with the right approach.

Nurturing these skills takes love, accountability, and patience, but the results can be transformative. Many of the most successful, inspirational, and transformative people have struggled with these skills at some point. At Untapped Learning, we’re committed to providing the support and guidance needed to help students not just survive but thrive in school and life.

If you’re a parent watching your child struggle or an educator trying to reach a student who seems to be falling through the cracks, remember: there is hope. With the right support and strategies, every student has the potential to unlock their unique gifts and achieve their goals.

Success of Untapped

Over the years, Untapped Learning has helped launch many students into successful careers across various fields. Our alumni include professional athletes, accountants, teachers, doctors, and professionals in many other areas. The common thread in these success stories is not the specific career path but the fact that each student could reach their own goals. When you don’t fit the school system it is never easy, but there is always a path. 

We currently coach hundreds of students nationwide. Additionally, we train schools and universities on executive function skills and work with businesses to improve their understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace. Through these efforts, we’re helping individuals reach their goals and understand their strengths. 

The Future of Untapped Learning

Our long-term goal is to help as many students as possible reach their potential and alleviate the family tension surrounding school and academic performance. We understand that many of our students are exhausting and often can strain the family dynamic but there is a gift in thinking differently if we can help students discipline their gift. 

As we grow, we’re continually refining our methods based on the latest research in neuroscience and education. We’re also exploring ways to make our services more accessible, including developing online resources and educator training programs. 

If you are interested in joining our community and transforming how students learn and grow, contact us today for a free consultation.

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