Executive Function Skills: A Foundation for Success at School & Beyond


Imagine a builder getting started on a new home. Maybe he’s behind schedule. There’s pressure from the owners. He knows that the foundation has to go inExecutive Function Skills are the foundation of school success.jpg
before he can build but maybe he can
find a way to get back on schedule by modifying his approach. He digs a shallow hole and saves a whole two days there. He calls up another contractor and gets a rush pour on the foundation. He saves a day by getting started while the cement is still curing - it seemed mostly dry, so that’s fine, right? He starts putting up that house, but guess what? At every turn, he sees the problems he has caused by neglecting a proper foundation. Walls aren’t straight, doors slip out of alignment, and the cracks in the inadequately dried cement invite a torrent of water into the basement every time it rains. All because he didn’t take the time and effort to build a solid foundation.

What does this scenario have to do with your child’s school performance? (Stick with us here…)

Before a student can ace that algebra test, master that 3rd declension in Latin, or complete a semester-long history project, she needs to have a solid foundation of skills that help her to be productive. She needs to learn how to manage herself: be organized, initiate tasks, complete tasks, plan out her work, manage her time, and try to keep cool when the going gets tough (and it always gets tough!). These are executive function skills - the ones that help a student function like an executive and be the boss of her own life. And school is a student’s job, right?  Students need excellent executive function skills to do well at their jobs. And just like the unfortunate builder in our opening scene, nothing seems to work right when the foundation is weak.

Symptoms of Weak Executive Function Skills

Without good executive function skills, we can think of these examples as symptoms of a shaky foundation:

1) A student who can talk up a storm about Renaissance armour but can’t get a word on the page for a 10 page research paper.

    Foundational skills needed: Task initiation, planning, organization

2) A student who’s in such a last-minute panic over a project that the whole house turns into full-on crisis mode. (There may be tears...there may be raised voices. We're not naming names here.)

    Foundational skills needed: Time management, planning and prioritizing, emotion regulation

3) A student who’s got pencils in his sock drawer, socks in his locker, and overdue homework scrunched in the recesses of his backpack.

    Foundational skill needed: Organization

Students who have a wobbly foundation in executive function skills may have trouble reaching their true academic potential; in essence, they are always making quick temporary repairs to their shaky foundation by asking for extensions on assignments or begging for bailouts from parents

Parents often find themselves faced with a dilemma of either constantly helping their children make these "quick fixes" or watching them flounder and struggle. The real solution is for students to learn the skills that help them be productive and organized.

That foundation helps students build a successful outcome at school and beyond.

Do you know a student who struggles to complete long term projects? Download our Project Planner Template to help manage the process and prevent last-minute project panic.

Download Project Planner Template


photo credit: Alex Medvick Impromptu Shovel via photopin (license)

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