By Scott Lutostanski
When it comes to making improvements with the executive functions, the work takes place at the intersection of relationship, awareness, and intervention. In order to learn the skills of organization, planning, time management, attention, and studying, students need to be able to receive support in all three of these areas. To clearly articulate this point, we can examine each component individually.
Let’s focus on the relationship piece of the trifecta. For parents, this can be one of the most frustrating parts of working with your child on these skills. In almost all cases, parents know their own children the best; however, parents can still have a tough time impressing the skills onto their students. Is this because they aren’t capable of teaching EF skills? Of course not. A third party person (coach) has much more success teaching these skills to their student because of the unique relationship they can form with a student. An executive function skill coach can avoid a power dynamic because they are not the parent, and they are not even a tutor. A one-of-a-kind equal-playing-field collaboration is formed. It is much different from a teacher. The coach and student are teammates. This relationship helps facilitate trust, honesty, and teamwork.
Flowing from this relationship is our second component: awareness. Students struggling with the EF skills are often lacking confidence, embarrassed, vulnerable, or not apt to talk about school struggles. Once a relationship is established, the coach can help students tap into a deeper level of awareness around the EF skills, how they affect the student, what changes need to be made, and what it will take to make those changes. As student’s create more awareness, they are able to create change. This is an essential part of the process.
Finally, we come to intervention. I often refer to the emotions as the gatekeeper to accessing the EF skills. In order to work with a student to identify, hone in on, and improve the EF skills, the coach must first be able to gain access through the gate. Once the relationship is formed and awareness created, the student and coach can then work on improving the skills. The intervention piece involves strategy, structure, and implementation. Coaches can work with students to put these into play and set goals to monitor and make sure there is progress.
When relationship, awareness, and intervention are present, students are able to find success developing and growing their ability in the executive functions. This process takes time, effort, and consistency, but once students are able to make progress, the results will show in more places than just academics. A good executive function coach will not just help push intervention, intervention, intervention, but they will be able to connect with a student so that they can form a relationship, build the self-awareness, and ultimately, foster EF skill development.