We have all read the beautiful story about a middle school child who walks into the lunchroom to sit by another student who is alone. Maybe the child sitting alone has a disability, maybe not. Maybe that child has unique quirks that are difficult to understand. Maybe that child has a difficult home life or is battling an inner war we know nothing about. Maybe not. Maybe that child is just in need of a friend.
We grow up in categories and are lumped into groups….regular education, special education, speech delay, gifted and talented. These groups stick with children for most of their school life. During a time of trying to figure out who they are, they are given titles to identify themselves. They look around for peers with a similar title and try to fit in.
We are firm believers that all children have gifts. There are children who can walk into a room and make everyone feel happy and wanted. Others can make a seed sprout into a plant with just dirt and water. While there are other children who understand math quickly or are talented in music. With the proper guidance, each of these kids will grow into happy, healthy adults. We must teach our children how to accept each other. The math whiz can be great friends with the farmer. Or they can decide not to be friends, but still recognize the importance of the other’s gift. No matter the gifts your child has, we need to model for and teach to our children how to accept each other for exactly who they are. We need to teach our children that their gifts are special and unique to them, but it does not take away from someone else’s gift. We are showing our children that there is enough for all of us; enough love, kindness, and happiness. Once we know this and teach it to our children they will begin to embrace who they are without labels. Some of these children will cross the barrier and sit with the kid who is sitting alone. These kids will continue to inspire all of us to be more compassionate.
Christina and Wendy
Christina and Wendy
Executive Functioning Skills are important in helping a student successfully navigate his or her school day. So, what are they exactly and how do they look within a classroom? Collectively, these skills are what helps a student regulate his/her own behavior. Here is a breakdown of the skills: planning, organization, time management, working memory, and metacognition. Let’s talk in detail about each one a little further.
Planning is what we use to decide what is important to focus on and what is not important to focus on. This is what helps a student reach the completion of an assignment in school. When a student is weak in this skill, a teacher will frequently say that he/she is unable to complete classroom assignments independently. He/she may possibly be working on a different task (such a drawing or writing) during math time.
Organization is shown when a student can easily locate all of his/her materials needed for an assignment. For example, a student who is strong in this skill will be able to independently find the writing notebook, a pencil, collect a new graphic organizer, and overall be prepared for the assignment.
Time management is when a student shows they know how to judge how much time he/she needs to complete an assignment or a classroom project. It’s typical to see a teacher help with this area during class by posting how much time the students have for an independent assignment or group work. If a student is weak in this skill, you may see him/her struggling to pace the time to finish all parts of the assignment to completion. When the time is up and the teacher transitions to the next subject on the classroom schedule, a child who is still working on the beginning of the last assignment would be showing a weakness in time management skills.
Working memory is how our brains hold information in our minds while performing a more difficult task. We do have the ability here to “pull up” past learning experiences and apply them to a task or an assignment. For example, we see this in the classroom when a student is asked to write a narrative. While writing, the student is putting the idea down on paper while remembering to use punctuation, correct use of grammar, and spelling. All of those tools are working together.
Metacognition is when a student has the ability to have a “bird’s eye view” of himself or herself. When this skill is strong, a student would be able to observe how he/she is problem solving and even question himself/herself in how he/she did.
There are more executive functioning skills that we use when we face a new problem or want to achieve a goal. They are: response inhibition, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, flexibility, and goal directed persistence.
Response inhibition: This is basically the skill of thinking before you act. When a student is able to “pause” and think before saying or doing something, than that student would be strong in this skill.
Emotional control: This is when a student can manage his or her own emotions so he/she can complete a classroom task or assignment or successfully reach his/her own goal.
Sustained attention: If a student has a strength in this skill, then he/she is able to attend to a task within the classroom even with distractions around him/her and feeling tired or bored.
Task initiation: This is when a student can successfully start an assignment without procrastination. You may see a weakness in the classroom if, after the teacher has given directions to begin a task, a student is walking around looking for a pencil, sharpening the pencil, asking to go to the bathroom, talking to a peer, etc.
Flexibility: This skill involves a student being flexible in a change in the classroom routines, a mistake in his/her work, or any setback or change that may occur during their day. A student who may show weaknesses in this skill would become rigid or upset if a change occurred suddenly during an assignment or in the schedule.
Goal directed persistence: This skill involves a student having the ability to follow through to finish a goal that he/she set for themselves or possibly by the teacher without getting discouraged with a competing interest.
Honestly, we could talk for days on this topic. 🙂 When a student is weak in one of these skills, it affects his/her overall school day as well as at home. It’s important, as parents and educators, to recognize where a child’s strengths and weaknesses are in relation to these skills so we may help support and strengthen these skills. When we allow these skills to continue to be weak without any support, it’s common to see an increased problem in school as the child grows and attends higher grades. For example, “organization” in first grade may look like a child leaving behind a parent letter or forgetting to unpack his book bag at school (or when he comes home from school). Leaving the skills to continuously be weak, in high school, “organization” will look like a messy book bag with a lot of difficulty finding assignments, turning in assignments, and forgetting about assignments. If these skills are strengthened over time, we will see a child who can manage time, projects, and maintain sustained attention. Additionally, once our children understand why they have trouble turning in assignments, keeping track of materials, or finishing activities then they can begin to work to change these behaviors to new behaviors with which they are happy. This enables students, parents, and teachers to partner together to teach the whole child.
If you would like to read more about executive functioning skills, we have a few recommendations.
Here are a couple of fantastic reads:
Christina and Wendy
As the beginning of the school year approaches, Christina and Wendy would like to say THANK YOU to all of the special education staff, including related service providers (such as speech language, occupational, and physical therapists) working in public schools. Your job isn’t easy and we appreciate you! We have first hand knowledge of how hard you work and how much you care.
Parents, please remember that most of the people who work with your children choose this profession because they want to make a difference in your child’s life. They don’t come with ill intentions or to do your child harm.
Teachers, please remember that as parents of children with disabilities, we can struggle to fully release our children. We want what’s best for our children and most parents want to form a partnership with you. We like to share information about our children and feel like we’ve been heard. As parents of children with unique needs, we will do our best to be open to hearing your voice throughout the year as well. We want to build a partnership founded in trust.
Let’s all remember that it’s ok to disagree about how to reach our common goals. Recognize, as parents and educators, that sometimes conflict can be a learning tool to find a compromise and practice compassion. Maybe you give more this time and maybe they do next time. Listen with your whole heart to what the other person is saying. Try and be open, seeing it from their perspective. Parent’s know more about their child than anyone else. Teachers see a side of your child at school that you may not be aware of. Come to your meetings with the child’s best interest at heart, leaving past negative experiences at the door. This just may be the year that your child has a Rock Star special educator. When we start the year off with gratitude and positive thoughts, it helps set a tone of love and acceptance for your child in school.
Sending love and appreciation to all of the special educators, related service providers and parents of children with special needs.
Wendy and Christina