How Academic Coaching Improves Executive Function Skills

Is your student struggling with executive function skills?

Parents commonly reach out to us for support resolving executive function challenges.

Their students struggle with managing their time, procrastinating, staying organized, and keeping track of all their assignments—all of which can prevent them from succeeding at school.

At Signet, we offer executive function coaching under the umbrella of our comprehensive academic coaching offering, which uses basic principles of life coaching to improve academic skills and performance.

What are executive function skills?

A few years ago, our CEO and Co-Founder, Jay Bacrania, conducted an interview with Dr. Bonnie Singer, a researcher and educator whose practice helps students with executive function skills.

Here’s how Dr. Singer defined the major components of executive functions:

“The term “executive functions” is an umbrella term, a catch-all for a set of brain-based processes that help you get things done. Note that it’s plural, so there’s more than one skill involved. You employ your executive functions system in order to take intentional action, which just means something done on purpose. That intentional action could be to change a tire, take a shower, or write a thesis.”

The five key executive function skills are:

  • Inhibition: the first skill required to take intentional action
  • Planning/sequencing: sets a course for the behaviors or actions needed to reach that goal
  • Organizing: keeping track of the pieces as you move toward intentional action
  • Working memory: holding a goal in your brain long enough to achieve it without forgetting
  • Emotional regulation: managing and regulating your feelings when you hit a snag or get frustrated

How Academic Coaching Strengthens Students’ Executive Function Skills

Executive coaching and academic coaching are slippery terms with a lot of overlap.

At Signet, we use the term academic coaching to encapsulate both services. Our academic coaches base their work on a life coaching methodology, which is then customized and tailored to help each student set and achieve their academic goals.

Unlike subject-specific tutoring, academic coaching addresses skills that apply to any subject, such as motivation, organization, completing assignments, studying effectively, and generally “meeting one’s potential.” When students come to us for academic coaching, they’re typically struggling in one of those areas—often (but not always) as a result of executive function challenges.

Difficulties in their life outside of school are inevitably intertwined with their academic challenges. They may also be experiencing social problems with their friends, trouble completing their chores, or even an inability to finish their sentences.

The role of the academic coach is to understand where a student is coming from and to guide them toward figuring out their own solutions.

Unlike tutors, who help students understand what they need to know and focus on completing specific tasks, academic coaches collaborate with students to foster and support their personal growth. They’ll show up and say, “What are we working on?” “What’s the problem?” “What do you think?”

For students with executive function challenges, an executive function coaching session may revolve around issues like improving time management, reducing distractions to improve focus, organizing papers, overcoming procrastination, and building memory skills.

The ultimate goal of these sessions is always to empower the individual. Students with executive function challenges have spent their entire lives having neurotypical people tell them how to do things. Academic coaching may very well be the first time someone has ever asked them for their opinion on how to solve a problem.

The results are powerful! Students come away from academic coaching feeling a restored sense of purpose, confidence, and self-esteem.

What does an academic coaching session look like?

The beauty of academic coaching is that it’s customized to the needs of the individual student.

Our approach to academic coaching is holistic, with a primary focus on these key areas for students with executive function challenges:

  • Improving academic skills and performance. How can the student build and apply executive function skills in an academic setting? They may want to improve their reading speed, their writing skills, or their studying habits. We’ll help them figure out how to plan, prioritize, and organize for academic success. Sometimes we’ll notice that they’re struggling with a particular subject matter and collaborate with one of our academic tutors to get them the additional support they need.
  • Life coaching. The life coaching part of our approach examines a student’s struggles in the context of their whole life. It asks the important “why” questions: Why aren’t they doing their homework? Why are they staying up so late? Why aren’t they turning their papers in on time? Students have a difficult time making those connections on their own. We give them the skills (and the space) to reflect and understand that they can solve their problems autonomously.

The right academic coach can change a student’s life in powerful ways. At Signet, our academic coaches come to us with significant experience and undergo a rigorous training program to ensure that they’re prepared to effect meaningful change.

Picture of Andrea W.

Andrea W.

Andrea is Signet's Director of Operations and one of our top academic coaches. In her administrative role, Andrea makes sure Signet always runs smoothly and is a fun and productive place for all of our employees. When she works as a coach, she takes a student-driven approach to encourage introspection and reflection.

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