We have all heard the analogy that teaching is like juggling. As educators, we are responsible for keeping many balls in the air. Now, imagine you’re juggling all those balls in the air, and then new balls keep getting thrown in while you’re simultaneously sending other balls out of your cycle. In juggling, this is called passing. Who knew this was its own category in juggling?
Executive functioning in the educational setting is often used synonymously with skills associated with focus and organization. While this can be true in some circumstances, executive functioning skills are defined as “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” (Harvard University) In order to find success with these skills, it is important to have the tools to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and regulate impulses. The complexity of executive functioning and the interconnectedness of the associated soft skills are essential for academic achievement.
As a middle school teacher, I tapped into every creative avenue for presenting information to my students. My students were diverse, not only culturally but also with different interests, strengths, and challenges. Hooking them on a concept was hard work! I was competing with their phones and social lives. Even so, I wanted to ensure the skills and concepts covered in my English class stuck in their brains for a long time.
Student engagement remains a consistent topic of interest for educators. How do educators and schools compete with all the other entertainment forms that captivate students? As a former middle school teacher, I often felt like I needed to be a circus performer to capture students' attention, standing on my desk and keeping a continuously high-energy environment. However, that isn’t the case. Engagement within the classroom often starts at a simpler level, by meeting the needs of students and building an environment they want to be a part of each day.
When my state began the Common Core Curriculum shift, we examined and mapped out standards. I soon realized there was no way we had enough time for our students to master all of the reading, writing, speaking and listening standards for their grade level. With such a broad range of standards and topics, it was hard to know where my students needed help as we had to quickly move through standards and skills. There was no systematic way to identify what I should prioritize.
As more and more schools implement a Multi-Tiered System of Supports, a common question I hear in my work as an educational consultant among teachers, administrators, and instructional leaders is, “How are Tier 1 and Tier 2 Different?” They want to know what it means to differentiate at the Tier 1 level, and how this is different than a Tier 2 intervention. It is a valid inquiry that resonates with frustrated teachers experiencing initiative fatigue. The bottom line teachers want to make sense of is…how will their daily instruction be expected to change?
About six years into my career as a special educator, I attended a child’s study meeting. In this meeting, my 9th-grade student's mother encouraged the team to focus on the student's executive functioning.
Executive functioning? I remember thinking. What is that? I didn’t even know if we taught executive functioning, let alone how to begin supporting it.