The first time I heard the term executive function I was driving to a student’s house up in the foothills outside of Boulder, CO. I was working as a homework coach and tutor in between my ‘day job’ as a grant writer for a local nonprofit. (Legacy of Learning… they do great work!) I was on the phone with a psychiatrist discussing a student who we will call Shane.
“Shane struggles with executive function, primarily.” I had never heard the term before. Did we have a bad connection? What is an executive function? It sounded like something you’d learn in business school. I considered pretending I knew what he was talking about, hoping he’d give me some more guidance.
“Shane struggles to organize his belongings, his time, and even his thoughts.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Working with Shane was a challenge. He was bright but really inconsistent, struggling to find ways to cope with the energy and impulsivity of his ADHD. He loved math and had a talent for drawing, but he had trouble focusing and spent many class periods doodling schematics for potato guns. His backpack looked like a recycling bin on a bad day. He would do his homework and promptly lose it somewhere in the abyss, which was unbelievably frustrating for him, and mystifying to me.
When I moved to Massachusetts to attend grad school at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, learning how to teach students the strategies to overcome executive function weaknesses became my number one priority. Unsurprisingly, this mission let me directly to Lynn Meltzer and the Research Institute for Learning and Development. I started as an intern, entering the data from questionnaires, assisting with a middle school SMARTS program, and serving as a mentor in Community SMARTS.
SMARTS taught me a lot about executive function. Regardless of the source of the executive function difficulties, SMARTS shows us that through explicit strategy instruction and opportunities to develop self-awareness, all students can develop a strategic and self-aware approach to overcoming the challenges they face in their day to day lives.
In some ways that was biggest problem that Shane faced. He thought he could not succeed, no matter what he tried. SMARTS teaches students that you can achieve your goals if you break them down into appropriate steps and utilize strategies to help you get there.
This past summer, as we prepared to launch SMARTS Online, I was promoted to Director of the SMARTS Programs. Looking back on my past four years here at ResearchILD, it makes me very proud to take on this important position at such a pivotal time. I can’t wait to see the positive impact that SMARTS has on students across the country and around the world.
Welcome to SMARTS Online-
Director, SMARTS Programs