"If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."
- Michael Jordan
It is the first day of class; you are given packets of paper stapled together. You glance at it, feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of text on the page, stick it in your backpack and forget about it, right? The next time the paper is found, you read it in depth. It is now too late to sign up for the chorus class you were interested in and the return date for a notice that required your parent’s signature is past due. It is the end of the first week of school and you are already feeling overwhelmed. Somehow, the pace of the day is moving quicker than you remembered from last year, and you cannot even find the time to write your homework in your daily agenda. You think to yourself, “I’m never going to make it through this year.” As an Executive Function coach, I’ve seen this scenario lead to a vicious cycle of failure.
When I arrived at Jake’s house on an April day last year, he told me he was looking forward to academic coaching. He had a friend who had a good experience working with a cognitive behavior therapist, and Jake liked the idea of having someone to work with, too. The year had been a struggle. His grades were not what he wanted, but he didn’t know how to fix them. Looking through his supplies, there was no system. I asked him, “Do you have a homework routine?” The answer was a clear "no." “I just get it done after I play outside,” Jake said. His grades were reflecting the inconsistent quality of his non-strategic approach.
After asking, it became clear how he felt about his work. He wanted to do well, yet he often would say he did not like school and would not put forth the effort when the work was “boring." “Sometimes I just want to play outside and it’s hard to stay focused,” he would say. The homework breaks were long and frequent. It became hard to push through.
As an Executive Function coach, my objective is to help students reach their ultimate goal, and to break through obstacles that are keeping them from getting there. Jake wanted to do well, however he struggled with organization, sustained attention, and task completion. I asked him, “Are you open to trying something new?” He was. Working together we were able to implement new strategies for organization, test preparation, and time management.
Starting a new school year, the first week of school, I received an e-mail from his mother. Success! Jake had come home and independently put away his lunch box, and all notices were on the counter for her to review. As I go to his house on a weekly basis, I look forward to him showing me his schoolwork, which now reflects more consistent effort. He is able to map out a week of regular activities with little support. I have seen him grow and reach a higher level of confidence and self-esteem. With his new tools and strategies, he is looking at this school year in a different light. A feeling of success was worth the time spent facing his obstacles. Better yet, he knows why he is succeeding now.
Written by Danielle Young, M.Ed
Danielle Young is a special education teacher and an Executive Function coach with Beyond BookSmart. She currently teaches special education in grades five through eight, working with students diagnosed with social and emotional disabilities. Through her experiences, Danielle believes that when giving students tools to fit their needs, they will develop as individuals and reach their full potential. Danielle received both a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She holds dual licensure in elementary education (1-6) and special education (Pre-K-8), and completed a dual Masters’ degree in special education and elementary education from Merrimack College.