Category Archives: Self Advocacy

A person sitting in a box with a lightbulb above their head

Parent Perspective: Student Accountability

What do schools mean when they say students should be held accountable? Unfortunately, if we’re not careful, “accountability” can sometimes be a euphemism for a one-size-fits-all, standardized education that works on average, but not for many students for many reasons. To achieve a more inclusive version of accountability, educators may need to sharpen their own executive function skills.

The Limits of Accountability

Holding students “accountable” can sometimes be code for testing and grading and punishing with no exceptions. “Accountability” may not account for the diversity of students’ strengths and weaknesses.

As a parent of a neurodivergent student, it seems that “accountability” may lead to exclusion. The notion that all students think and learn the same way is marginalizing for quite a few students. What’s insidious is when the limitations of testing are disregarded.

Flexibility & Self-Checking

Luckily, by sharpening their own executive function skills, educators can implement a better version of accountability. Two executive function processes are particularly relevant:

  • Cognitive flexibility allows for a variety of perspectives and incorporation of new information. Teachers can think flexibly about accountability by considering various methods to test different students’ skills and knowledge. Cognitive flexibility is at the heart of effectively differentiating curricula and offering tools to best support each student. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is also critical; educators must be flexible and offer students multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression.
  • Self-checking is used to find, fix, and learn from mistakes in our own work. When it comes to testing and grading, educators can hold themselves accountable by practicing and modeling self-checking. If you are interested in more information about self-checking, you can access Top 3 Hits, a free SMARTS lesson on self-checking.

“Accountability” is inextricably linked to tests and grades, with the best of intentions, euphemistically to “hold students to a higher standard.” The idea is to give everyone an equal chance at education. Unfortunately, equal is not equitable; let’s all model cognitive flexibility in these trying times.

  • Parent of LD High School Student

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

A clock next to piles of coins

Teaching Financial Literacy with EF Strategies, Part 2

This post is part of a series that highlights ways to teach financial literacy with executive function strategies. It’s never too early to teach your students financial literacy and EF strategies that can have a lasting impact (link opens in new tab/window)↗.

Goal Setting + Life Beyond High School

Teaching students to set goals and monitor their progress is an essential part of setting them up for long-term success. To help students set goals for college and careers, begin with exercises that promote self-understanding around their strengths, challenges, interests, hobbies, and more. Encourage students to define the what, why, and how of their goals, and provide opportunities for them to envision what their life might look like beyond middle and high school. 

After high school, students have many options such as four-year colleges, two-year colleges, and trade schools. These options can vary in terms of time and cost, so it is beneficial to help students consider the return on investment (ROI).

For students who are considering college, the Education Data Initiative offers research and resources to tackle the rising costs of higher education. They have several resources that can help students balance their long-term goals and the cost of higher education(link opens in new tab/window) .

If students are unsure of their path, taking a semester or year off can help students gain experience, develop self-understanding, and find clarity about their path forward. 

Once students determine the outcomes they would like to achieve, encourage them to monitor their goals and consider obstacles that might arise. CANDO Goals Lesson from unit 2 of the SMARTS Curriculum is an excellent way to get students thinking about setting meaningful goals

Stay tuned for part 3 of our EF and Financial Literacy series. 

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

Goal Setting with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

Goal setting and reflection—two popular topics on the SMARTS blog—often come up around the New Year. How can you incorporate mindfulness practices when reflecting on the past year and setting goals for 2022?

Mindfulness and Goal Setting

When setting goals, it can help to define the what, why, and how of the goal to ensure that you know how to get started. There are a number of frameworks for goal setting (including CANDO goals in SMARTS, Unit 2) that help students set realistic goals that have built-in plans for reaching success.

We often fall short of the high expectations we set for our goals. Taking a mindful approach to goal setting can help us remain calm and not judge ourselves if we don’t reach our goals or if the process takes longer than expected. 

Self-Compassion and Fresh Starts

Self-compassion is another key component of successful goal setting. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we must be perfect when we start fresh and that our progress is ruined if we fall back into old habits. Self-compassion means adopting a compassionate view towards oneself in difficult times through self-kindness and mindfulness.

Evidence indicates that the effects of mindfulness and self-compassion positively impact adolescents’ cognitive and affective outcomes. Results from this study support the use of contemplative practices (e.g., yoga and mindfulness) as a strategy to boost adolescents’ emotional regulation processes. Reminding ourselves that mistakes or failures don’t ruin our goals is an important aspect of self-compassion. Students and teachers can use this self-compassion strategy to remind themselves that it is okay to start again anytime.

Make Room for Mindfulness in 2022

The challenges of 2021 have left no one in our global community untouched. How can you enter the New Year in a more mindful and self-compassionate way?

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2022

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

36th Annual EF Conference Speaker Spotlight: David Flink on Identity, Advocacy, and Accommodations

This is the fifth post in a series that highlights the speakers of this year’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, which will focus on promoting resilience and equity for ALL students.

This November, we are honored to feature David Flink, Ed.M., who will offer a session on “Identity, Advocacy, and Accommodations: Transitioning to a World After COVID.”

Building Stronger Classroom Experiences

How can educators work to rebuild stronger classroom experiences than the ones we left behind before COVID-19? At ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, David Flink will discuss the importance of embracing students’ identities, providing effective accommodations, and promoting self-advocacy to build stronger and better classroom experiences for all students. This session will focus on taking advantage of the opportunity we currently have to build a more equitable education system that meets the needs of all students.

David Flink is the Founder & Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, an organization dedicated to improving the life of every young person with learning differences.

Through Eye to Eye’s mentoring program, high school and college students with learning differences are trained to mentor similarly-identified middle school students. Eye to Eye is the only national organization run for and by people with learning and attention issues, like dyslexia and ADHD. In March of 2021, David was named a CNN hero for helping to unlock greatness in the 1 in 5 students who learn differently.

Learn More

You can learn more about David Flink and his work:

Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

Lessons from ResearchILD’s 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows: Part III

All educators play a crucial role in counteracting systemic racism and developing equitable approaches that support the success of every student. Our Executive Function (EF) and Equity Fellowship brings together educators from across the US to explore how schools are addressing students’ executive function needs through an equity lens. This post, the last in a three-part series, highlights the lessons that emerged from conversations with our 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows and guest speakers. 

Draw on Your Community’s Shared Knowledge

During ResearchILD’s monthly EF and Equity gatherings, our Fellows and guest speakers shared their experiences honoring all students’ identities and teaching executive function strategies.

These gatherings and ensuing conversations underscored an important finding—our community contained a rich fund of knowledge and experiences from which we could all learn.

Here are three takeaways from our conversations:

  • Teach students to navigate the context of their school system. This can include teaching students how to access existing resources, determine what questions to ask, and understand their school’s culture.
  • Helping students develop greater self-understanding can enable them to develop their self-advocacy skills. Executive function strategy instruction begins with teaching students to understand themselves as learners and become aware of their strengths and challenges. 
  • Executive function strategies are for all students. Explicitly and systematically teaching executive function strategies can open up new pathways as students learn to successfully navigate novel situations in their classrooms, schools, and personal lives.

Conversations with our EF and Equity fellows reaffirmed that we don’t have to look far to find inspiration and ideas. Our colleagues and community members may offer ways to recognize and build upon students’ existing funds of knowledge to make the curriculum personally relevant for them. 

EF and Equity

Are you interested in becoming a 2021-2022 EF and Equity Fellow? Learn more about the fellowship and application process. If you would like to hear more from equity-minded educators, join us for the 36th Annual Executive Function Conference. Learn more and register today!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: