Tailoring Incredible Interventions

As a former teacher, I know that pedagogical innovations must be built as carefully as space technology; what seems good in the lab can easily explode on contact with the complex, dynamic environment of a classroom.

The solution is to partner with the experts, so I bounce back and forth between the lab and the classroom. I work with teachers to iterate and re-iterate an approach that integrates powerful psychology, is robust enough to survive its “entry” into the classroom, and, frankly, doesn’t annoy teachers. This last bit is key.

The innovation I’m working on is major. The design demands are extensive, because I believe we need a seismic shift. No more curricular add ons, special programs, and extra classrooms. No more clutter. We need to evolve the very way we see students, feel about them, motivate them, and speak to them. Open your psychology book to page one – motivation, mindset, and competence psychology works best when taught in applied settings.

We need an adaptive, integrated, ground level change, meant to be used every day, all day, so it has to fit like a glove. Or… a whole outfit. It can’t be too tight. It can’t ride up. It can’t have a falling down zipper or be like those socks that slip down into your shoes. It also can’t be like a giant Canada’s Wonderland puppy costume that you can’t even see out of, that is stifling, or that makes you clumsy and slow. Teachers are just too damn active and busy to use a sloppy intervention.

It needs to be like the outfits designed for superheroes. Remember Edna Mode from the Incredibles? Sometimes I feel like her – trying to create something incredible enough for a teacher.

Basic EF Knowledge Every School Staff Needs

Successful learners are self-aware and strategic. To understand oneself as a learner, a basic literacy in executive functioning is essential. Below, you will find everything needed to host three staff meetings worth of EF learning.

Meeting 1: How Executive Functions Impact Performance

In this one-hour meeting, do some critical viewing with your school team. Watch the following short videos, pausing for discussion in between each one. Remember that there are many different scholars studying EFs and that these videos are just the tip of the iceberg. That’s all. Nice and easy.

A 6 min basic primer from Harvard

A 3 min discussion about EFs at school and the link to ADD/ADHD

A 5 min discussion that describes the difference between EF and IQ, and gives examples of student behaviour

A cute 3 min animation that reinforces the basics

Meeting 2: Building Cognitive Literacy and True Self-Awareness

It can be hard for teachers to believe that the unexpected performance they observe from students is truly related to natural and normal variation in their executive functioning. Most people believe that children demonstrate poor attention, flexibility, or organization, for example, because of naughtiness or laziness.

Here’s an activity that can help: Print this self-evaluation checklist and get your staff to complete it in a meeting. Encourage teachers to discuss their results. Several important shifts will happen. Teachers will see that everyone really does have a different cognitive profile, and that this profile relates clearly to patterns of struggle and unexpected performance. Self-and other acceptance will grow among your staff, and it will be possible for teachers to truly understand and respond compassionately to the variation in student performance.

Meeting 3: Looking at Students Through an EF Lens

Now that your staff has the basics, take their expertise one step deeper into the classroom by thinking about how EFs impact specific students. Print and share this questionnaire, asking teachers to fill it in with a certain student in mind. This questionnaire works best for children over the age of 7, but teachers at any level will get the gist. As always, discuss, discuss, discuss!