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“The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.”

– Joyce Cooper-Kahn, Ph.D., and Laurie Dietzel, Ph.D., authors of “Late, Lost, and Unprepared”


The Executive Functions (EFs) are the control center of the brain. They determine how well we are able to concentrate, pay attention, and get things done. In other words, the executive functions are the part of our brain that allow us to carry out a task as we work towards a goal.

The executive functions include:

  • Initiation
  • Attention
  • Working memory
  • Flexible thinking
  • Organization
  • Planning
  • Time management
  • Emotional regulation

Executive functioning plays a huge role in student success: EFs are more important for school readiness than are IQ or entry-level reading or math. Applying executive function skills in a school setting looks like organizing materials, planning work, breaking down a large project into necessary steps, researching a paper, meeting deadlines, completing homework, and more.

If we take a look at a school assignment, we can see how crucial these skills are. Imagine a student is assigned a four page paper that requires research, five citations, and is due in four weeks. This is going to put a tremendous amount of stress on a student’s executive functions.

It will require the student to:

  • Identify and remember the steps involved in researching, drafting, writing, and revising
  • Plan around other demands to manage their time so that they can complete the required steps by the due date
  • Have the self control to get started and maintain attention throughout

As vital as the EFs are to academic success, they do not come easily to every student. According to Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child, “Children aren’t born with these skills—they are born with the potential to develop them. Some children may need more support than others to develop these skills.”

If you think your student might need executive function support, reach out! Galin’s Academic Coaches work with students to develop the skills they need to succeed in high school and beyond. Schedule a free consultation today. 

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