Whether you know it or not, Executive Function (EF) is present in your classroom. From lining up for recess in elementary school to performing a lab experiment in high school, the brain’s air traffic control system is being fine-tuned at these moments. According to EF expert and co-founder of the Reflection Sciences, Dr. Stephanie Carlson, there are three specific skills that define EF:  inhibitory or impulse control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Focusing on this skill set allows you to understand students at an individual level and sets them up for success.

Executive Function and the Classroom

teaching kids at a table

To successfully harness and develop EF, content is key. Start by determining ways to integrate brain-building activities into daily classroom experiences. When we ask kids to listen to a speaker, are we modeling our thoughts in an effort to show them what this feels like and share some strategies that help us stay still? Are we providing opportunities that challenge EF skills in our children and following up with reflective conversation to help them recognize that they are teaching themselves control? The bottom line is as educators we need to understand Executive Function – what it is, how it develops, and how to support it without changing what we already do well in our classrooms.

Executive Function Master Certification

As the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, I am proud to announce our new certification program for educators. Our Executive Function Certification consists of three high quality, online courses – EF 201, EF 202, and EF 203. We start at the basics of understanding EF and work our way through making simple modifications in our teaching style and curriculum to best meet the needs of all students. Before you know it, you’re an expert and your classroom and student productivity will show it. We also have advanced courses including “Managing Your Classroom Through the Lens of Executive Function for those that already have an understanding of EF and would like to dig deeper into how to implement more brain-based EF practices.

One Teacher’s Journey

After leaving the classroom in 2014 and starting my job at Reflection Sciences last year, I was thrown into the deep end of a research pool but was immediately affirmed. Before completing any EF research, I had little explanation for why my instructional practices were so effective for me and my students. All I knew was that “it worked”. As I combed through research articles and white papers, I was pleasantly surprised to discover legitimate cognitive theories that supported my efforts. There was actual scientific support behind the 3-ring binder organization system I was using with my students so they could process information more efficiently and arrange complex ideas in their heads. Had I been aware, I might have been able to better explain what I was asking kids to do and why it was relevant rather than consistently battle the “because I said so” routine.

Even my parenting changed, which I noticed when spending time with my grandson. Rather than asking him to stop crying or getting so upset when he didn’t get his treat before he finished his sandwich, I started using the Batman Effect and in no time, he was back in control of himself and proud of it.

If I had known at the start of my career what I now know about Executive Function, I would have been a much better teacher and parent. There would have been fewer power battles, more guided choice, and a classroom culture that fostered productivity and engagement, with little to no behavioral disruptions. And in my early years, there would have been fewer tears at night after a frustrating day of wondering “why do the kids do that?”

Executive Function and our training to support it will help guide you through the process. The ultimate goal is to address the whole child and give all students the best chance at a lifetime of learning and happiness. At the heart of it all is Executive Function. 

About the Author:

Carrie FruinCarrie Fruin is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Reflection Sciences and holds an Education Specialist Degree in the area of Leadership in Digital Transformation. She taught high school science for over 25 years and has worked in higher education building high quality, online professional development programs for teachers. She has a strong belief that all students can learn, and it is through the understanding of Executive Function (EF) skills and their relationship to Social-emotional learning (SEL) that will assist educators in reaching all children and providing them a true foundation for success in life.