How to connect executive functions to daily tasks at home, school, and social settings.

As a practicing school psychologist, and educator I am always looking for methods to help my students adapt to their academic environment. Out of the theories and interventions that I have come across in my training up to through my doctorate program and beyond executive functions are the most applicable in my view to how the student functions within the classroom. Executive functioning covers a wide range of professionals working with children in both educational and clinical settings. I will be covering the multifaceted aspects of executive functions and relate them to the theoretical constructs that were developed in the field by George McCloskey, one of the key researchers of executive functions. These constructs all relate to student functioning and the successful adaptation for students that have difficulty reaching their full potential. 

Executive functions are related to how we make decisions and are connected to the frontal lobes of the brain and further neurological processes.  The holarchical model of executive function, developed by George McCloskey, breaks up executive functioning into multidimensional executive capacities. Executive functions relate to how individuals carry out specific perceptions, feelings, thoughts,  emotions, and actions.

According to the  McCloskey model  “executive functions within the model are structured into a holarchically-organized set of tiers that represent different types of executive function (i.e., different levels of mental management): Self-Regulation, Self-Realization and Self-Determination, Self-Generation, and Trans-Self Integration.” These overlapping skills break down executive functions into seven clusters. These clusters focus on knowing when to indicate the need for direction and how to control the neural networks necessary for effective perception, emotion, thought, or action.

Included are the seven clusters and definitions that identify these capabilities. All of these skills are taken from the McCloskey Executive Function Scale Manual. The clusters relate to the individual’s ability to use effective perception, feeling, thought, or action (PFTA) within a student’s social and academic environments.

Attending: This cluster includes eliciting and directing the ability of PFTAs to perceive, focus, and sustain attention efficiently. For example, students can focus their attention from beginning to end when completing academic assignments, and stay focused during social interactions.

Engaging Appropriately: This cluster includes cueing and directing PFTA competencies to get the student started and maintain the right energy academically and socially. Being engaged appropriately includes the inhibition of behaviors as well as stopping, pausing, and being able to shift. Furthermore, a student that is engaging appropriately is flexible in their perceptions, feelings, thoughts, or actions. In addition, well-regulated students are flexible in their perceptions, feelings, thoughts, or actions.

Monitoring and Adjusting: The ability to monitor, modulate, correct and balance PFTAs is included within this cluster. For example, a student will be able to fix school assignment errors as well as make corrections to their social interactions.

Performing Efficiently: Efficient performance involves tracking time and using routines to create tempo. Another efficient implementation involves the correct ordering of a set of PFTAs. This is especially useful when automated routines are accessed or initially developed.

Managing Memory: This cluster includes holding and manipulating working information and storing and retrieving specific information about PFTAs. For example, capturing and encoding information in busy environments is included in this cluster.

Inquiring Reflectively: Inquiring reflectively involves assessing, predicting, analyzing, and evaluating the PFTAS in relation to a task or situation. As well as estimating time for certain tasks. Goals for students in this cluster may include students working on their ability to anticipate events in school, their actions and the consequences of their actions, and the impact of what they say on others.

Solve Problems:  A key component of the solve problems cluster is creating ways to solve new problems and linking them with previous experience to address those problems. In addition, students can learn how to plan, prioritize, organize, and determine the best way to approach academic challenges and social situations.

The executive functions are skills that can be taught by school psychologists, guidance counselors, administrators, parents, and teachers. Children who can learn to internalize skills relating to executive functions are better able to tackle new and challenging social situations and academic problems. Educators, parents, and students are often looking for functional ways to reach their full potential, both in the academic world and in their transition into society. Mastery of executive function may lead to this success. One of the new frontiers of education is the use of Avatar based curriculum. Using avatar-based technology, students were able to code lessons learned about executive function. Each of the Executive Functions SEL lessons included in the SILAS program is created so students acquire these skills and apply them in social and academic settings.

SiLAS and Trauma Informed Care

Asking what happened to a child is far more effective than asking what is wrong with the child. This paradigm shift is heavily influenced by Trauma Informed Care.

According to Rethink

  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. 
  • ​56% of adults in the US with a mental illness did not receive treatment
  • 27,985 children aged 14-21 with autism, emotional disturbance or other health impairments including ADHD drop out of school each year.

What are we doing to combat this issue?

 With more and more students facing adversity, a child’s mental and emotional health has suffered. Trauma informed schools; search for understanding the impact trauma has on the brain, learn how to recognize trauma in students and families and what types of interventions can support the individual(s). Using the Adverse Childhood Experience Screener (ACES), educators can gather information on what a child has experienced. They higher the score, the more traumatic incidents a person has often leads to more social, emotional and mental health support they require. 

When a student’s emotional needs are not addressed, the likelihood increases that they may drop out, participate in deviant behavior and struggle finding employment. This is a direct correlation to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Trauma Informed Care’s principles include; a feeling of safety, support, trust, empowerment and collaboration. Once these pillars are in place healing is able to begin.   

SiLAS is excited to offer a Trauma Informed Toolbox that will be ready for fall 2021.  The toolbox includes pre-recorded professional development trainings that offers four modules relating to trauma; 

  • Neuroanatomy
  • Trauma Informed Framework
  • Executive Functioning
  • Brain-Aligned instruction 

In addition to the modules, users will have access to the last research information, lesson plans, consumables and resources supporting. SiLAS continues to be committed to providing the most relevant and meaningful content in the world of education. Our team will continue to provide free professional development and technical support pertaining to current content. Our team will also add Trauma Informed Care training to existing clients at no additional cost!

SiLAS April Newsletter

April News

Something to think about…

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” 

-Captain Jack Sparrow

As we enter the month of May, we are reminded as the weather improves, it’s common for behaviors to decline. That truth does not only apply to children. Often, we as adults, find our patience dwindling and responses sharp with a bit of snark. The finish line is in sight, but there is SO much to do before that fateful day. Until then, take a look at some Focused Attention activities to help both teachers and students make it through to the homestretch! 

Applied Educational Neuroscience: Understanding the brain can make a noticeable difference in how our days play out. A student’s school picture can help us physically identify who a student appears to be. That picture does not tell us what they have been through…what they need from us. A person’s brain scan provides us with a snapshot of what parts of the brain are firing and how some may be underdeveloped. Experiencing trauma, especially at a young age, rewires our brain. When this happens, children often have little control over their reactions when they do not feel safe or backed into a corner. It is important to know your students and their prior experiences, especially if they are at risk or are a part of an underserved population. 

Focused Attention Practices: Now that you are aware trauma can rewire the brain, what can you do about it? Fortunately, there are a number of activities designed to assist individuals in repairing their brain. One strategy to implement is Focused Attention activities. According to Dr. Lori Desautels, “A focused-attention practice is a brain exercise for quieting the thousands of thoughts that distract and frustrate us each day.” When we are able to intentionally focus on our brain state, we have a better chance at regulating our emotions. When used with students, we are able to assist them in finding practices that help to calm and regulate their emotional state. Taking time to pay attention to our thoughts, feelings and actions can help us make healthier and more productive choices. Below are just a few focused attention activities for you to try for yourself and students!

  • Energizing Breath: Have students pant like a dog with their mouths open and their tongues out for 30 seconds, and then continue for another 30 seconds with their mouths closed, taking short breaths with one hand on the belly. Take three energizing pant breaths per second.
  • The Deep-Dive Breath: Have students inhale for four counts, hold for four, and exhale for four counts. You can increase the holding of breath by a few seconds once the students find the rhythm of the exercise.
  • Movement: This one is for younger children. Direct students to stand and, as they inhale, lift an arm or leg and wiggle it, exhaling it back to its original position. For younger grades beginning these focused-attention practices, it’s good to include an inhale and exhale with any type of movement.

DeSautels, L. (2016). Energy and Calm: Brain Breaks and Focused-Attention Practices. Retrieved April 25, 2021. 

Share the Love: SiLAS LOVES helping teachers to engage students in the learning process.  We are looking for excellent teachers that can help us expand our client base and reach more students.   Please show your love for SiLAS and help spread the word.  For any district that signs up with SiLAS by June 30th, 2021 from your referral, you will receive a commission. 

Just send them to and to request a Demo Today!

Looking to make some extra $$$ this summer?

SiLAS is looking for two brand ambassadors to help sell SiLAS to schools this summer.  If interested, Please contact 

Mark Your Calendars!

  • May 1st: School Principal Day
  • May 3rd-7th: Teacher Appreciation Week
  • May 4th: Teacher Appreciation Day
  • May 7th: School Lunch Hero Day