Monday, January 2, 2012

Overview of Executive Skills

Dear Friends,

The gray mass that sits in your skull is such a fascinating organ. In particular, the frontal lobes of the brain, which are the location of a set of mental processes known as executive functions. These processes are “responsible for our ability to plan ahead and organize our behavior in order to accomplish future goals. We use these skills every day when we think about what we have to do, organize our thoughts, control impulses, come up with ideas, solve problems and integrate feedback from our environment.” (Salimpoor 2004)

When a baby is born the brain weighs only about twelve ounces and by the time that same child has reached puberty the brain is moving closer to the three pounds of final weight. The increase in weight is due to the changes and development the brain is undergoing. The brain is making and fine tuning connections. There are two significant growth periods for these connections, about age five and then again around age twelve. Since development is individualized to the person, people develop their executive skills at varying rates. By around age twenty-one, executive skills are usually well-developed.

A breakdown of the executive skills and a brief explanation of each:
· Inhibition: Inhibition is the ability to resist being impulsive. The motto, “Think, before you act” fits this skill. By strengthening this skill one is more able to evaluate a situation or event and react in a well-thought out manner.
· Emotional Control: Is one’s ability to respond to stimuli without an emotional meltdown or outburst. By keeping one’s behavior and emotions under control, one is less likely to respond to disappointment, failure or frustration with excessive lengths of time of feeling upset, or an emotional explosion.
· Working Memory: Is one’s ability to hold a certain amount of information in the brain in order to carry out a task or activity. This is essential in order to complete multi-step directions. This also incorporates the ability to use their past learning and apply it to a current situation.
· Task Initiation: This is the ability for one to start a task without being told to do so.
· Time Management: Is the ability to determine how much time needs to be allotted to complete the task. This is important in order to meet deadlines.
· Planning / Prioritization: This is the ability to create a method or plan in order to finish a task. Planning includes setting a goal and figuring out the best way to work toward the goal. This skill also includes being able to determine what should and should not be important to focus upon.
· Organization: This skill includes the ability to keep track of personal materials and to be organized with the information that they are given.
· Shifting / Flexibility: This skill includes the ability to make transitions easily, rethink a plan if bumps in the road occur, and to be adaptable to changes.
· Monitoring: Is one’s ability to determine how one is doing and evaluate their performance. This would include checking their work for errors. This also includes the ability to reflect upon their behavior and see how it is impacting upon others.

Information based on an article from Principal Leadership, March 2009