How It All Started
It seems straightforward for anyone who has worked with middle school or high school students. Perhaps you’ve seen a backpack full of crumpled papers, or a student so overwhelmed with different short- and long-term assignments and expectations that they shut down. Put simply, students who aren’t able to organize, prioritize, start, and complete work, or navigate changing expectations, are often adversely affected academically, socially, and emotionally. And while the academic impact seems straightforward – a student who doesn’t turn in work receives a zero, which affects grades and long-term academic outcomes—the long-term social and societal consequences are far greater.
We’ve now spent nearly two decades working with students and consulting with schools on executive functioning – including organization, managing distractions, cognitive flexibility, self-regulation, and resilience when something doesn’t go as planned. These skills are fundamental to learning, setting and achieving goals, and seeking help as needed, and yet, they have also been underemphasized in today’s learning environments. Studies have shown that executive function skills – like time management and organization – are more reliable predictors of success in academics and in life than IQ, test scores or socioeconomic status.
Nearly all students who work with us on ongoing executive functioning coaching begin with our 90-minute organizational workshop. We’ve designed the workshop to be flexible, thorough, interactive and fun, helping students dream big and learn strategies for purposeful learning. From there, students can choose to continue to work with us on an ongoing basis, developing and refining their academic skills and reaching short- and long-term goals. Contact us to sign up.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Starting With Dreams and Goals
Over the years, people have often wondered how we get students to get motivated – excited, even! – about becoming more organized and managing distractions better. It can feel tough to get students motivated about academic pursuits, but our key is simple: we make it all about them.
We begin each initial session with a few simple questions that encourage reflection and aspirational dreaming. Students reflect on what is going well for them, and then focus on what they would like to do differently. We guide students to develop clear goals related to their own personal vision of success. Based on their reflections, students leave the organizational workshop with clear, specific short-term objectives.
Focus on Daily Habits and Checklists
Students often come to our office when school has been stressful – they may have missing assignments, and/or homework is taking longer than expected to complete. Students often initially share grade goals (I need a 4.0 GPA!) thinking if they get all As, everything will be solved. We know that is not the case!
Instead, we get back to basics: focusing on daily habits, and creating daily checklists of things to do. We know that when students focus on daily habits like organizing, managing distractions, completing assignments proactively and studying effectively, the grades will often be better than anticipated, with far lower levels of stress and overwhelm.
In addition to study habits, we focus on encouraging daily routines associated with overall mental wellness and well-being, including: movement, hydration, rest and sleep.
Physical and Digital Organization
Students today need to keep track of so much stuff. In our initial workshop and weekly follow-up, we help students develop systems and routines that work for them: adaptable binders for written papers, thoughtful digital folders for tracking online work and documents. Our storage strategy is simple: students should be able to find any document – written or online – in under a minute. Put simply, being organized saves time and reduces stress.
Managing Time and Energy
One of our motivational points to get student buy-in is that students who use our systems can gain an extra 7-10 hours of free time each week, and be less stressed and do better academically. Who doesn’t want more time and energy?
Most schools have learning management systems that let students know when work is due. At the same time, these systems don’t tell students when to complete their tasks, or how much time should be dedicated to each assignment. During the workshop, we help students learn the hows and whys of using a paper planner to keep track of minor assignments, create study plans for upcoming assessments, and prioritize responsibilities. In ongoing sessions, we encourage students to map out their week and break down their workload into manageable blocks of time, with ample rest to avoid overload.
It’s not just about completing homework. We want students to become more academically motivated, curiously engaged learners who make better connections and can draw on positive social support. Our ultimate goal is for students to navigate the rigor of college and later pursuits, and advocate for themselves in college and beyond, leading to opportunities that they might not otherwise pursue.
Above all, our initial workshop – and all the work in our office – is personalized. We invite students to reflect on their own tendencies around nutrition, movement, and sleep, and to identify their biggest sources of stress. We use their reflections as the starting point for collaborative discussions about activities and strategies that can help address and alleviate regular stressors.
Know someone who might benefit? Feel free to contact us!
We feel incredibly lucky to work with middle school, high school and college students around the country, and our office is located in downtown Los Altos, CA.