Executive Functioning in School - Learn about executive functioning in this article. Contact J. Flowers Health Institute to learn more.

Executive Functioning in School

Executive Functioning in School

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Executive functioning (“EF”) may seem complicated and complex, but it can be broken down into many things you use daily.  Understanding executive functioning is an important step toward improving your life and that knowledge can be applied to many different areas.

By utilizing the power of executive functioning in school, positive outcomes can be seen in both the classroom, home environment, and community.  Educators who improve EF in school will encourage more focused and dedicated students.

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning is extremely important and is used directly in schools and learning situations. Executive functioning in school is necessary for success, focus, and encouraging the creation of effective students. If educators can improve the executive functioning of their students, the positive effects will be seen in the classroom.

Three Areas of Executive Functioning

There are three main areas of executive functioning. They include working memory, flexible thinking, and inhibitory control. Individuals can apply these skills and utilize their EF in schools for both academic and social purposes. Academia often requires sharp EF and the ability to apply these skills in practical areas to increase success.

Executive functioning in school can be used in social moments such as recess, as well as note-taking, listening, paying attention, and retaining information taught. EF is extremely important and directly related to school achievement.

Can Aspects of Executive Functioning Predict School Success?

Executive functioning is a large component of school achievement. Individuals with less developed EF skills can still succeed but may require more work and dedication than those who have a strong set of those skills.

EF encompasses many different areas and connections can be drawn to other topics. Educators who understand that the struggle of a student may be related to their executive functions can seek to help the student in creative, individual ways. One area which correlates to EF is motor development.

Motor Development

Motor development primarily deals with movement, but it is that movement which is needed in the classroom. Writing, playing, drawing and many other tools that are used in learning require the use of motor skills.

For example, executive function is used in writing, but those with lower motor skills may not be able to do the action of writing. Being able to connect EF with the many other areas it can impact is an important way of improving school achievement and increasing executive functioning in school.


Self-regulation is another area of executive functioning used in school. Academic achievement relies heavily on the student’s ability to self-regulate. Self-regulation isn’t something that everyone is born with. Instead, it needs to grow and develop over time. Schools play a large role in this by teaching students emotional regulation and healthy ways to deal with stressful situations. If self-regulation is not developed, the individual’s executive function abilities may be hindered.

Executive function often has to do with achieving a goal, which could be as simple as writing your name or more complex, like persevering to the end of a marathon. Either goal would feel impossible if the individual could not self-regulate in ways to acknowledge that the task is difficult but achievable.

Executive Functioning and School Achievement

Because executive functioning in school is used in the majority of learning activities, it directly impacts school achievement. One of the ways to improve executive functioning in school is to focus on different subjects and seek to help the students improve in that specific area. The skills learned are transferrable to other subjects, as well as applicable in environments outside of school.

EF Makes Connections

EF and math skills are tied especially close during the early education years. A large part of a math education foundation is being able to see connections between different concepts and how numbers can be actualized to equal things in the real world. Without sharp executive functioning skills, this task can be incredibly difficult.

EF and Language

EF also directly impacts language skills, such as reading and writing. Self-regulation is required throughout the process of learning to read, as it can be very frustrating and challenging for some.

Association is also used here, just as in math. Being able to recognize the physical things words represent is necessary for developing effective reading and writing skills. Children who have less developed EF skills will likely have a harder time learning to read and write.

Executive Functioning in Preschool

Preschool is an extremely important age when the need for executive functioning becomes very apparent. Its development is increased during this time and the child’s skills can be seen in a clearer light. Self-regulation is one of the clearest parts of executive function at this age. Students who have advanced self-regulation skills often standout and can be easily seen by the teacher.

EF and Gender

While there are some differences in EF between males and females at this age, they are not entirely conclusive nor drastic. Executive functioning in males tends to be seen in a lower ability to self-regulate. Younger males have been found to be more impulsive, while slightly older females present more of this trait when compared to males of the same age. While these differences may be true for many, they are not meant to be a generalization for the entire population and many other factors can also cause an impact.

Executive Functioning in Adolescents

Just as with children, there are also executive functioning differences in adolescents and adults. Past childhood, women still continued to have slower reaction times but heightened working memory. Working memory can change through a lifetime and will not be continually at the same level.

Attention differences were not noted between the adolescent genders. Though there are some slight differences in executive functioning in adolescents, gender is not the final determinant. Individuals can vary based on a variety of factors and gender may play a very small role in that, if at all.

Methods to Improve EF in School

There are many ways to improve executive functioning in school. Teachers who are dedicated to seeing executive function improvement in their classrooms can have results. Not only will students benefit from their increased abilities, but their communities and families will as well.

Cognitive Remediation

One of the ways to improve executive functioning is through cognitive remediation. This form of therapy can be individualized to improve the specific areas one struggles with. Those who struggle with executive function can improve their memory and focus, as well as other areas that will benefit them in the classroom. For cognitive remediation to work, there must be some personal dedication to the therapy by the patient and the desire for improvement.

Music Education

Music education and cognitive development are extremely correlated. Music education is a very practical way to see an increase in executive function. Learning to play an instrument or participate in group musical practice requires patience and focus. There is also increased control over actions and directions must be followed closely to be a contributing member of the social situation.

Physical Education

Physical education is another promising way to increase a child’s executive function. One of the best parts of this improvement method is that the movement doesn’t have to steadily occur over a long period. Even one physical education class can have positive effects on executive function.

Neurofeedback Training

Another way to improve brain function is through neurofeedback training. Neurofeedback training can be extremely powerful and have amazing results when completed to improve executive functioning. It works to improve function by targeting specific parts of the brain. This training is incredibly scientific and can be used for other things besides executive function.

Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness training is especially beneficial when used by children. Childhood is a vital time in the development of executive function skills and mindfulness training can provide a beneficial boost. When a child’s awareness is increased through mindfulness, the brain can react more thoughtfully and appropriately to different situations. The brain is capable of improvement and mindfulness is an excellent way to “reprogram” certain thought processes to serve the individual better.

Executive Functioning Creates Thriving Students

Executive functioning in school is necessary for students to thrive in traditional school environments. Especially at a young age, EF can impact almost every area of schooling. When teachers are intentional about providing students opportunities to increase their executive functioning, they are giving them tools they’ll use throughout the rest of their lives, while also bettering the classroom environment.