Inclusion In The Classroom: 3 Easy Tips To Help Students With Executive Functioning Skills

Teachers, I know you are always looking to set each of your students up for success! We also know that not every student learns the same; whether the student is classified as special education or not, each student has individual needs. Education and school are challenging for many kids, and it can be even more difficult for students who need help with executive functioning skills. I decided as an OT. I have to help the students I work with and help teachers create a classroom that will help students with OT needs and even those without. So here are 3 tips for inclusion in the classroom when it comes to executive functioning skills. 

Yes, these tips help create a very positive learning environment and could make your teaching life 100% easier. 

Creating an Inclusive Classroom

First, if you’re a teacher needing some professional development on executive functioning, handwriting, or OT in general, I encourage you to read this blog post

Also, sign up for a free PD explanation sheet. It’s the perfect resource to circle the PD sessions the staff needs and slip into your principal’s mailbox. 😉

You can totally sign up here!

When you have students with IEPs, 504s, or just need a little extra push in different ways, it’s essential to make sure you discuss inclusion in the classroom. Heart & Mind Teaching has a great book list to help teach your class about inclusion. Check it out here

books piled on top of one another to show inclusion in the classroom

It is always important to remember and remind your students that everyone is and learns differently. Some students may struggle to memorize multiplication facts, and others may need more reading help. 

There may also be students who need to leave the classroom to work with another teacher, or that teacher may come in and help them inside the classroom.  (Hello! That teacher was me 😉)

Even issues with executive functioning skills can make a student stand out among their classmates. 

Another way to ensure your classroom is an inclusive environment is to have flexible seating available for students. Whether it is a standing desk, a wobble stool, or a sensory cushion, there are many benefits to having different seating options for students. 

I go into all the benefits and how flexible seating affects our sensory system in this blog post! Plus, I have some great suggestions regarding what type of flexible seating works best for students with OT needs. 

You can grab the flexible seating cheat sheet here

3 Tips For Inclusion In The Classroom (executive functions)

Alright, let’s get down to business. We will talk about the 3 things you can do to ensure your classroom is an executive function friendly environment this school year. These tips will help your students with specific needs regarding executive functioning, and they will pretty much help everyone in your class! 

Shift Your Mindset

First, executive functioning skills need to be developed in ALL students. Often teachers think students only in the special education department or those going through the RTI process need help to develop these skills, which is a myth. 

 

Executive functioning skills will benefit all students. Research has shown that if teachers start embedding executive functioning skills in their tier 1 instruction, they will prevent other struggles. Thus stopping students from needing other tier interventions like tier 2 instruction, therapy, etc.

Bringing executive functioning skills into mainstream instruction is one of the most straightforward inclusion strategies. In inclusive classrooms, you often won’t even realize which students are already struggling with executive functioning skills. The teacher will be guiding the class in a way that is helping not only the students who need it but all the students by using teaching strategies that fit the needs of all students.

Immerse Executive Functioning In Your Classroom

Next, keep your classroom rooted in executive functioning. You do not want to be like, “ok, children. There are these little skills that make your brain work and make you do all things, and try and use them.” Doing this isn’t going to set up any students for success. 

Try to incorporate executive functioning skills all year in your classroom. One of the most organized, calm, less chaotic classrooms I have ever been in had a super organized teacher, and she paid particular attention to time awareness and ensured kids had time to think ahead.

This teacher advocated for them, teaching them how to plan, use their agenda, and organize their desk and backpack. But how she did this isn’t a secret. Her classroom culture was rooted in executive functioning, making it part of the classroom routine.

 

Modeling Executive Functioning Skills

So many times I have spoken to students, they have mentioned how the teacher talked about these “special” skills and maybe practiced them once but nothing after that. As a teacher, you want to be modeling the skills for your students. 

Whether you model a unique way to set up their paper to take notes, organize a binder, or a way to organize papers. You will have students with special needs that these skills will help tremendously, and you will also have those reluctant students. 

You may also have specific ways you have your student self-regulate in the classroom. Self-regulation is a huge challenge for many students, and introducing self-regulation at a young age is great! Spark Interest With Sara has a great blog post on self-regulation in preschool, and you can read it here.  

You want to introduce the skill, model it, and then continue talking and using it throughout the remainder of the year. Give students gentle suggestions and gentle reminders when you see they could better use the skill. 

Elementary students benefit from having a structure to follow, and middle schoolers are no different. Really, almost everyone enjoys having some type of structure to follow even up to adulthood.  

Having structure doesn’t mean students won’t try out other things. They are still in the learning process and figuring out what works for them.

Executive Functioning Skills And Inclusion In The Classroom

When people think inclusion in the classroom they often just think of students with disabilities. But students who struggle with executive functioning skills can also feel excluded from a classroom easily. 

Sometimes it is up to us to know and understand executive functioning skills and how to teach them. It is just as crucial for students to understand how to study as it is for them to memorize science vocabulary. Just think, if they don’t have a way to stay organized and study, they won’t learn the words anyway. 

Part of being a good student is executive functioning. All the skills come into play as students grow and become more independent. The best time for many of these skills to be taught among students is in the classroom.

Professional Development Sessions For Teachers

I dive deeper and help customize an approach for teachers in my professional development opportunities. I have specific sessions for executive functioning skills and ensure inclusion in the classroom when it comes to helping ALL students with these skills.

You can find more information on my PD sessions here

You can also download a professional development information sheet for your principal here.

Inclusion In The Classroom, Give It A Go

I will leave you with this. I know when I give a PD session or go into a classroom. A lot of times, teachers try a bunch of things, and the feedback I get is, well, we tried it, and it didn’t really work. Or another thing I hear is it only worked for those students who are already super organized.

But I want to tell you the secret tip is to embed executive functioning skills into your classroom throughout the school year. That is the money maker. Embedding these skills into your classroom will help the kids who need them and give even more strategies to students who may not need the extra help. 

Remember, the importance of inclusion in the classroom is to not give up on any of your students. Try and pick one executive functioning strategy that will help your students and stick with it!

Helpful Teacher Links

So that you have all of the wonderful resources I talked about in this blog post in one place. I thought I would link the blog posts and helpful resources below. You know to keep the article organized. Wink, wink.  😉😉


Occupational Therapy PD 

Occupational Therapy PD Printout 

Flexible Seating Benefits

Flexible Seating Cheat Sheet

Your Handwriting Resource Guide