In this episode of our podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz interviews Jackie Stachel from Beyond BookSmart, an executive function coaching company. At Beyond BookSmart, coaches work one on one with students to help them develop executive function skills – the self-management skills that help people achieve their goals.
What are executive function skills?
Executive function skills include planning, prioritizing, managing time, regulating emotions, and organizing materials and thoughts. These skills contribute significantly to academic success, but they usually are not taught in a specific class in school.
A student who does not have these skills may struggle with schoolwork; many hard-working, intelligent students do not achieve their full potential because they lack self-management skills. However, anyone who learns and practices these skills can improve his or her academic performance. Self-management skills are the keys to success – not just in school, but in life in general.
Is there a difference between a tutor and an executive function coach? Do you need both?
In fact, there is a pretty big distinction between tutors and executive function coaches; many students work with both concurrently. Tutoring is great for helping students develop skills and areas of knowledge that are subject-specific, usually pertaining to a specific class or standardized test. Executive function coaching, on the other hand, helps students develop general skills to manage their work and themselves – skills they can apply to any class.
For example, if a student has a research paper, an executive function coach might guide the student to plan it, prioritize it, break it down into small steps, and put it on his or her calendar. Then, when that student has a paper due for another class, he or she can apply the same framework to that paper regardless of the subject.
How much can executive function coaching actually impact students?
A key part of executive function coaching is helping students change how they perceive themselves. Initially, many students who are struggling academically think that this is because they are lazy or just do not care about school. However, many students who are perceived as “lazy” are simply demoralized by low self-confidence. They don’t believe their efforts will get them the results they want, so they simply stop trying.
Over time, with gradual work and a consistent connection between coach and student, it is possible to help students gain confidence and see themselves as capable students. This process takes time – there is no quick fix – but students only need to invest a small amount of effort to start seeing results.
Typically, coaches start by first helping students achieve small goals – things the students already know they are capable of doing. As students build a track record of small successes, they gain the confidence to tackle increasingly difficult goals, until finally they are doing things they didn’t know they could.
In addition to coaching, are there any other ways to improve your executive function skills?
In order to develop your executive function skills, you need to recognize the things that typically get you off track and then figure out how to avoid those. Distractions are a major obstacle for most students, and one of the biggest distractions in this day and age is the internet.
One tool that can help you minimize distractions while working is a free app called Self-Control. With this app, you can identify websites that are time drains for you (such as Facebook or Reddit), and specify an amount of time to block yourself from visiting them. Once you have blocked them, there is no way to reverse it until the predetermined amount of time has passed.
You can also improve your executive function skills by working to better manage your emotions. Emotions can seriously influence academic performance; first of all, students typically do not do as well if they are frustrated or have a negative attitude towards the work they are supposed to do.
In addition, when people are upset and agitated, they are not able to efficiently access their higher-level thought processes. Therefore, when you are stressed, it is actually more difficult to think properly. This makes it very important for students who get test anxiety to have resources that can help them calm down before taking tests.
One helpful tool is calm.com, which features effective, free guided meditations. These are great for beginners, because they have verbal instructions and range anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes in length (so you can start off small). These meditation audios are available as mp3 files, or you can access them on your smartphone or iPad.
Interested in learning more?
For more information about Beyond BookSmart, visit http://www.beyondbooksmart.com. There, you can find blog posts and other free content, including tips on regulating emotions, transitioning from middle school to high school, and writing an effective college application essay.