No matter which definition of executive function you use, it’s clear that executive function and teaching executive function strategies are key to successful learning. What is harder to pinpoint is this: whose job is it to teach executive function strategies?
In some schools, executive function is the domain of Student Services teachers. These teachers (including special education, ELL teachers, Speech and Language Pathologists, and social workers) often work with students who have been identified as being at-risk of school failure. These students can have unique executive function challenges and may have IEPs or 504 Plans that mandate executive function support.
Student Services teachers are often experts at differentiation and meeting students where they are. However, if executive function strategies are taught exclusively in these settings, how will students learn how to generalize executive function strategies to their other classes?
Another approach is for schools to integrate executive function into academic contexts that put a high executive function demand on all students. Certain assignments (such as Project Based Learning or standardized testing) or certain times of year (such as transition years like sixth grade or ninth grade) can easily overload students’ and teachers’ executive function capacity. Integrating executive function strategies, taught by student support teachers or general education content teachers, can address executive function needs proactively for entire classrooms or grade levels.
However, will general education teachers, often strapped for time and concerned with curriculum standards, be able to find the time to teach executive function strategies? And how can these teachers differentiate to meet the needs of diverse learners?
As administrators and teachers grapple with these questions, some schools are looking at ways to integrate executive function into the broader systems and structures of the school district. While there are no federal or state standards for executive function, schools can develop their own frameworks that identify executive function expectations and strategies across grade levels and content areas. This approach, though complicated, embeds executive function across the district, making everyone responsible for supporting students’ executive function development.
Each of these approaches to integrating executive function into schools has advantages and disadvantages. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, we are committed to helping educators find their unique path to developing executive function supports that engage and empower their students.
- Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director