Head of School Blog: Sticking the Landing

There is a certain gravitas to the word “executive.” Chief Executive Officers head up corporations, they sometimes are assigned executive coaches, they wear suits labeled as “executive fit,” and they are said to make “executive decisions.”

On the familiar 16 Personalities test that so many of us have taken at a professional development session or corporate retreat, people with the executive personality, the ESTJ-A and the ESTJ-T, “create order, follow the rules, and work to ensure that their work and the work of those around them is completed to the highest standards. Cutting corners and shirking responsibility are the quickest ways to lose Executives’ respect.”

Folks who fall into this category are “known for their reliability and administrative skills,” and “are good at creating and maintaining a secure and stable environment for themselves and their loved ones.” Executives are more than willing to dive into the most challenging projects, improving action plans and sorting details along the way, making even the most complicated tasks seem easy and approachable.

Speaking of challenging projects, Falmouth Academy students are now elbow-deep in the challenging task of preparing for finals. In so doing, they will be channeling their inner executives; they are, in essence, the Chief Executive Officers of their own review processes.

The good news is that like any developing executive, they have been assigned their very own executive coaches in the form of caring classroom teachers who have spent the past several days providing review sheets, suggesting study tips, and engaging them in content review and practice. Because when it comes to the business of school, it’s good to be smart but it’s better to be organized.

In education, we refer to the important metacognitive skill of task management as “executive function.”  In an essay entitled, “Why Executive Function Is A Vital Stepping-Stone For Kids' Ability to Learn,” researcher Bruce Wexler argues that schools can train students in the development of their executive functioning skills: “The data just keeps coming in about the importance of focus, self-control and working memory for learning and life. One meta-analysis of six studies found that a child’s executive functioning skills in kindergarten predicted reading and math achievement into middle school and beyond. The effect of executive functioning training was four times as big as the differences in IQ. Wexler said, “Of course IQ is important, but executive functioning is something we can do something about.”

Students who struggle with deficits in this area are usually plenty smart, but the subtler skills that often correlate more closely with classroom success, such as self-regulation, task completion, project and time management, and organization among others, elude them. As a result, they tend to perform a bit like a crew boat with no coxswain: no matter how strong the oarsmen may be, no matter how hard they pull, if that coxswain isn’t keeping them in sync, the boat will labor well below its potential.

At Falmouth Academy, study skills (organization, research, process writing, editing, annotating, test preparation, etc.) are explicitly taught. We endeavor to produce students who function like executives. I suppose it never occurred to me that the verbal form of executive is to execute, but I am confident that in the coming weeks our students will execute a successful conclusion to a remarkable school year; in the parlance of gymnastics, it’s time to stick the landing.

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