Mitch doesn’t teach teachers how to teach. He teaches teachers how to set students up for success. He can teach teachers how to deliver content – He is good at it, but that’s not where he adds value for your school or district.
As you know, unless students develop a solid foundation for learning it does not matter how great your teachers deliver content, or how emergent the technology, or even how engaging a lesson might be. When students hone executive functioning skills, teachers’ efforts to deliver content find fertile ground and everyone succeeds.
Mitch has a black belt in creating fertile ground for learning. He shows teachers how to equip students with executive functioning skills. It is possible for teachers to engage the most disengaged or disinterested students and set them up for success in school and life. That is his superpower.
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Read the Transcript here.
How to Teach Executive Functions in any Classroom
I promise you, if you invest more in teaching your students executive function skills, they’re gonna have a foundation. They’re gonna be set up for success. Because of those skills, it’s all the things that we take for granted. Understanding how to use your time, how to organize yourself, all this kind of stuff. Today I’m speaking with the executive functioning expert, my buddy Mitch Weathers. The cool part is that he gives a high level overview of some of these skills and his view. There’s six of them that students and really teachers must master. In every classroom to create a predictable and dependable routine. When there’s trust, there’s safety, students could be really sore. What’s super cool, he has a five-part free webinar training. It’s a series of great sessions on executive functions and you can sign up.
Sign yourself up. I would definitely share this with my staff, and encourage them to sign up. If you go to organized binder.com/ef, you can register for this series for free. I think it’s starting up in the next week or so. It’s happening in January, 2023. Alright, well hey, this is Danny, chief Ruckus maker over at Better Leaders Better Schools. And this shows for Ruckus Makers, which means you invest in your continuous growth, you challenge the status quo, and you design the future of school now. We’ll be back after some short messages from our show sponsors. Learn the framework skills and knowledge you need to drive change improvement in your learning community with Harvard’s Online certificate in school management and leadership, a joint collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Business School. Connect and collaborate with fellow school leaders as you address your problems of practice in our online professional development program. Apply today at Better Leaders Better schools.com/harvard. Teachers use Teach FX to record a lesson and automatically get personalized insights into their classroom conversation patterns in teaching practices. See Teach FX for yourself and learn about special partnership options for ruckus [email protected]/blbs. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning, whether that’s in a distance, hybrid, or traditional educational setting. Learn [email protected].
Hey, Ruckus Makers. I am joined by one of my favorite people in the entire world, Mitch Weathers. Mitch doesn’t teach teachers how to teach. He teaches teachers how to set students up for success. He can teach teachers how to deliver content. He’s good at it, but that’s not where he adds the most value for a school or district. As, unless students develop a solid foundation for learning, it doesn’t matter how great your teachers deliver content or how emergent the technology or even how engaging a lesson might be. When students hone executive functioning skills, teachers efforts to deliver content, find fertile ground and everyone succeeds. Mitch has a black belt in creating fertile ground for learning. He shows teachers how to equip students with executive functioning skills. It is possible for teachers to engage the most disengaged or disinterested students and set them up for success in school and life. That’s his superpower, my friend Mitch Weathers. Welcome back to the show.
Thanks, glad to be here Danny. Thanks for having me.
You used to be on the show like a lot. We would do these little random shows. I dunno, maybe we’ll get back to it.
With the red, with the red Hats.
Alright, let’s start there. Cool. We’ve got red hats. I mean it’s yours around. I’d have to go to another room so I can’t even. I am Embarrassed to say I wouldn’t even be able to grab it.
It’s a rare day that I don’t have mine in the bag, but
For sure. And it’s often cold in my house here in New York. You see behind me it’s a wintry scene. But anyways, we have these Red hats. Red hats are from Patagonia and part of the story is we both love the movie The Life Aquatic. Steve Zsu, Bill Murray who’s maybe one of the best actors of all time and comedians, just a genuinely super cool guy and his best friend gets killed by a shark like a shark.? Isn’t that right? He’s this explorer type and the whole movie is like this documentary of him going to kill the shark that killed his friend. So it’s a great story of revenge. And within that movie, his team, they have a uniform. We don’t have the shirts and the pants and stuff yet. Like hopefully that will come one day.
I think you got a shirt. We do have the Red Hats.
The funny story is that I wore my Life Aquatic shirt with the only Facebook ad I’ve ever run. Somebody left a comment, which is, this is. I Remembered this story. They’re like, yeah, this lady, she’s like, basically if you wanna be taken seriously you need to dress up.
Is that way you have your, so we have your Messi jersey on today because you got all dressed up
Messy, this is in honor right of the Argentine victory with the World Cup. Podcast is gonna come out about a month after they’ve won. But yeah, this is why I’m wearing it. I’m like, riding high, I saw him in Barsi at Camp now, which is a huge stadium there in Spain when he was still playing there and he scored a couple goals and I’ve seen him live and I’ve just always, found him a fascinating athlete. Alright, that’s Messi. Back to this lady “Dress Professionally” and that really bothered me initially, and I’m telling this story because there’s a leadership lesson here, which is I should have not posted the first comment and I eventually took it down, but the first thing I told her is, you are everything that’s wrong with education and I’m right.
Okay, I think I’m right. First of all, my personality’s fun, I’m a Ruckus Maker, I’m gonna do things differently And, why are you talking about Cool shirts? What I mean and I’m pretty sure first I don’t even think she’s a school leader, but if she was, I doubt she’d join a program even if I was wearing a tie. And to me it’s all about creating results, not a resume. You could look a part of a leader, but if you’re not a leader, it doesn’t matter if you put the suit on or not. So that’s one thing I wanna say. I should have paused, I should have taken a breath, I should have read it over and not hit send.
To my credit, I did take the comment down and then what you wanna do with critics often is you should just make fun of yourself more because it really deflates, it takes the air out of their sails. So the better comment that I put is, well, if you don’t like this shirt I’m wearing right now, you should have seen what I wore to my wedding. After that there’s literally nothing she can say. If you’re gonna say something, Ruckus Maker and somebody’s gotten under your skin, don’t do like I did at that moment. I took it personally probably cuz it was my first paid ad ever. But try to have fun with it or just don’t say anything at all. So that’s that. Back to the Red Hats. This episode really is about you, but the Red hats. So we got the uniform and that kind of thing. And do you wanna tell any of the New Mexico stories? Like it’s up to you.
I think I could tell. I think that was your first Red Hat first live event experience too.? Was that where you got your red hat or was it before? Our first time
I handed, but we both had decided, I mean this is how weird we are. My wife says we have a bromance by the way, but we’re like, hey mine too. Make sure to pack your red hat.
We have our red hats and we decide Danny’s throwing a live event kind of almost post pandemic. We met in New Mexico a day or two beforehand and I was gonna help him kind of set things up and we were just gonna hang out and have some time together, as friends. We decided to go on this hike and we of course both have our red hats on and we end up way out in the wilderness in New Mexico. It is gorgeous and we’re hiking along and let’s tell the part where we meet the couple and then you tell the second part. We’re hiking along and we’re out in the middle of nowhere. It’s cold too. There’s just not that many people around. Beautiful hike. And Danny and I are in our matching red beanies and I think we had pretty unkempt beards at that point too. And this couple comes around the corner on the trail and if I remember right, she was very friendly. Yeah. And I said hello.
I’m trying to figure out like, hey, where’s the trail?
That’s right. You take it from here. I can’t even remember how this all went down.
Okay, I’m an all trails fan so if you’re a hiker, guy or gal get that app and we found a sweet spot to hike. The entrance was a little confusing because there were some private property markers too and we didn’t want to break the law and like to get on somebody’s property. There was another couple, it was this dude and he also had a massive beard and it was disingenuous because we thought he’d be a cool guy. We could come out to find later. Not a cool guy. Right. It was small talk at this point. Like, hey, where’s the trail ahead? And this kind of stuff. They did help us with that. So they start hiking. We start hiking, they get ahead of us because we stop to take pictures, climb some rocks, and this kind of stuff. We don’t know where they are and Oh yeah, while we were talking about where to start the hike and stuff, did the guys say don’t talk to those dudes? Or was that just the gist we got. I can’t think that was the gist. I think that she was very standoffish like building a wall. Like these guys are not to be trusted. I think to your point, when you were telling the story She was friendly, this guy cold as ice. Anyways, us being us, we started to make up a story about these two people. Once they left, of course.
They turned around and walked back to the cars.
They were ahead of us and then they passed us going back and basically we knew they hadn’t completed the hike so the hike got cut short. And maybe there was some beef because this guy’s attitude is not so cool. So they leave and then we start making fun of these people, not the lady, actually just the dude like, “Oh, don’t talk to those like really handsome dudes with their matching red caps and amazing beards.” Like that was the voice and the persona we gave the guy and we’re running
Thinking there’s nobody else around.
So far we’ve only seen these two people so we don’t have a lot of evidence that this is a crowded trail. Make fun of the dude, don’t talk to the handsome dudes with the matching hats and beards and as we’re doing this performance, this woman turns the corner, a very beautiful woman, too by the way. And she’s like, “You two look adorable in your hats.” She’s like, “He should have been jealous.” She heard, right. So that was a story out there in New Mexico. Great place to start. I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer this or not, so hopefully you can, is there any way a connection to executive functions through the story we just told? And if there is Mitch, what would it be?
That’s a tough one. That’s a curveball.
It’s a tough question. Bit of a curve ball. Maybe there’s something there with dependable or consistent routines because that’s something I’m reading a lot about. Organized binder, maybe just the consistency of the uniform. What do I mean? Like if Danny and Mitch are at an event, you’re probably gonna see the right gaps at some point.
Yeah, there’s definitely, and the other one of modeling executive functions as a part of the whole work as well. We could weave a narrative there of RED Cap wearing executive functions, bearded models or something.
Alright. No, I don’t know any overt connections.
The engaging story. I think the moral of the story is be awesome, get a red cap and if you have an opportunity to hike with me or Mitch, like you should totally do it. And maybe come to Denver, we’ll be hiking there for sure. Mitch, you got this webinar series that’s coming up, I think it’s five parts if I don’t, if I remember correctly. I believe it’s teaching classroom routines to teach executive functions. The entry point, who is this webinar series for and why are you putting it on? What’s it for?
That’s a good question. I would say that the series is, like you said, it’s a five part totally free series. It’s gonna start January 20. So coming up here and running for five weeks. And it’s really for school, I would say school and district leaders as well as of course the teachers out there and the focus of the entire five weeks. I’ll just unpack it a little bit for you. The key focus and what we will come back to at the beginning of each one is, the importance of teaching executive functioning skills. We’ll touch on how historically they’ve kind of been just left up to chance and in particular in this time coming out of the pandemic, we are actually coming out of it and just recognizing gaps. Interestingly, there are challenges being faced globally all over the world, which is just a really fascinating thing.
I don’t know if we could say globally, we’ve all been kind of in the same place, but most of the schools, districts, county offices of Ed, even colleges that we work with are saying the same thing. Like there’s these gaps. And the way to really address those meaningfully and authentically is by building the foundation for learning, which is these executive functioning skills. So we’re gonna spend some time each session on six different skills. The last one will be a combo two. We keep coming back to this idea of how well, or what’s the importance of teaching these executive functioning skills.
From eye level, like what are some of those six? You could share all six or just a handful. Yeah. But what goes into those executive function skills?
Yeah, so some of them, most of them pretty recognizable where we’ll start something called working memory, which of the six that are kind of inherent to my work with organized binder and of course will be a part of this series. Working memory is probably the one that people are least familiar with. It’s loosely described as the ability to retrieve or access things that I’ve learned or experienced and kind of hold it in cognitive space long enough to do something with it. But planning and time management, organizational skills, accountability, self-regulation, and goal setting. Those are the six.
I haven’t heard of working memory as much either, so I appreciate you sharing that and what you said. So there’s six skills, it’s a five part series. Each one you’ll teach one skill and then the last one you’ll teach two.? Is that correct?
Correct. The reason for that, if I could just mention it, is the last, the fifth session will be on accountability and then self-regulation. There’s three keys to teaching executive functions that we’ll talk about each time in each of these five sessions. But part of that is establishing a predictable learning routine. And so the idea of self-regulation is actually kind of, when we look back on the previous four sessions, we’ll be able to see how it actually applies to all of the other skills. So that’s why we combine it with accountability or why I’m doing that.
That’s interesting. So I, like those three keys to teach executive function skills, they’re consistent through each training and correct. I guess a meta level, these three keys should show up in the classroom on a daily basis too. Is that right?
Ideally, yeah. Yeah. Okay. The three I’ve found for teaching executive functions is one, just being really explicit or clear, like clarity matters with these skills. Two, establishing a predictable rhythm to the day that learning routine. And here’s the key. The third is modeling these executive functions so I can see them, but the routine, if I see them modeled and I get practice using them in a no stakes way, meaning they don’t negatively affect my grade or my performance in the class, these are just skills and habits that I’m trying to hone. The more practice I get with them by virtue of routine, seeing them modeled each day, the more likely students are. What I’ve found, kind of, I would say my thesis for these five sessions is that executive functioning skills aren’t actually taught in the traditional sense.
They’re best learned when they’re explicitly modeled. And I get practiced with them by virtue of a routine. And to your point, having those kinds of tenets be part of every lesson in a classroom, I would absolutely agree. In particular, establishing a predictable rhythm, a predictable learning routine, because I believe that predictable learning spaces are safer. When students find themselves in that kind of dependability or that predictability, in particular for students whose lives outside of school or anything but predictable, they may be more chaotic when they find themselves consistently in that space, it feels safer. When students are in safer learning environments, they’re more likely to take risks inherent to learning as opposed to not feeling quite as safe.
Let’s take a break really quick for some messages from our sponsors. When we get back, let’s hear a little bit more about this predictable learning. So today’s show is sponsored by Organized Binder, and it’s a show with the founder of Organized Binder right now, like Amazing Mitch Weathers, my redheaded friend in the flesh, and organized binders. Just an incredible program. But there is a great, an absolute, absolutely great five part webinar series that’s coming up on classroom routines to teach executive functions. Unless you were asleep for the first half of this podcast, there’s a ton of value you can get there in terms of the skills that will be taught. There are three keys to teaching executive functioning skills. And best of all, it is a hundred percent free to attend. You can go over to organize binder.com/ef to register, learn how to successfully navigate change, shape your school’s success, and empower your teams with Harvard certificate and school management and leadership.
Get online PD that fits your schedule and courses include leading change, leading school strategy, and innovation. Leading people in Leading learning. Apply today at Better Leaders Better schools.com/harvard. Teach FX helps educators see how their instructional practices lead to student talk and learning in both in-person and live online learning for any subject at any grade level. See Teach FX for yourself and learn about its special partnership options for Ruckus [email protected]/BLBS. All right, we’re back with my friend and founder of Organized Binder, Mitch Weathers. We’re talking about this awesome five-part series that he’s got going on classroom routines to teach executive functions. I mentioned before the sponsor break that I’d just like to hear a little bit more about predictable, predictable learning, routines in environments and so what are some keys, to set those up and just making them predictable. I love the idea that it creates safety in the classroom and kids could probably learn to trust the experience and that kind of stuff, but could you give us a mini masterclass on predictable learning routines?
I think it starts with really analyzing the areas in class, maybe that lack predictability or lack the use of time. When I think of a predictable routine, a big part of that is the first few moments of the class period in the school or the school day. The last few moments. And that came from my own kind of analysis of my own practice early on 20 years ago. And just recognizing that there were just kind of these moments in my lesson where class had started, but we’re kind of just getting going. Some kids are still showing up, we kinda have this time. But I started noticing that’s like where my classroom management issues were kind of starting to breed. I taught mostly multi-language learners, kids from Mexico and Central America. And that lack of clarity could be really confusing for them.
Especially if I’m going from a high school setting, where I teach, it’s from class to class. If each class functions differently, has a different expectation, of course what we’re learning, the content or curriculum is different. But if just how, what some schools we work with call students, like just how things function and what’s expected of me looks different. Students end up spending a significant amount of cognitive energy or what I like to call mental calories, just getting through the school day. When you create, even if it’s just your, if you’re a one, the only teacher on campus doing this, and we’ll talk about shared routines in a moment, but of course what again, what we’re learning each day is different, but how we, how we end, that’s this beginning and ending few minutes. How do we transition, where do we put our stuff?
How, like that kind of just functionality if you will. If that never changes, then you set students up for success in a unique way. I believe that there needs to be multiple opportunities to, for students to experience success or what I like to call victories that aren’t tied to content. And some of that can be framed around this predictable routine. In other words, what’s it look like to be ready to learn when we start class or what does it looks like to be on time? What does it look like to be organized so that here’s all that modeling part of this.? So here’s the routine, but I can communicate that without using any words. What’s it look like to be on time? What’s it look like when we conclude? And then when students engage in that routine, there’s opportunities for teachers to kind of acknowledge or celebrate those small victories of student.?
And none of this is tied to content mastery or grades or understanding. It’s more of engaging in this routine. And the real key to this work is by virtue of the routine, students get practice with goal setting, they get practice with time management, they get practice with organizational skills, they utilize their working memory, and they may not even realize it, but they’re starting to make these skills their own by virtue of an environment that actually feels safe. Like, I know what to do to be successful in this class, and if teachers commit to a shared routine, you reduce the load, the cognitive load. We know that the more cognitive load it takes up working memory and working memory finite. The more I tax that capacity, the more I have to focus on what teachers are trying so hard to teach in the first place. And that’s what’s really interesting about just creating a shared, predictable routine. We actually create more bandwidth for students to learn what we’re trying to teach them. It’s pretty interesting. Interesting. I think for
Sure, for folks that do attend the training and highly recommend they do, and again, you could go over to organize binder.com/ef to snag your free spot in these trainings. What’s the outcome.? Like if there’s a top outcome that people are gonna get after going through the five-part series, what would that be?
I want everybody to leave with that same clarity, as I mentioned in research, even indicating that historically we’ve kind of left the development of these skills up to change. I have evidence for this, like I even call it data, and I don’t know how many schools or audiences, I’ve asked this same question all over the country for years now when we’re in, learning about these executive functioning skills, but in particular time management time and task management, basically. How do I keep a calendar? I always pause and say, Hey, raise your hand if an adult, a caring adult in your life at some point when you were a young person. Just modeled, showed you how to use a calendar. Like here’s how you do it and why. This is not an exaggeration.
I think one person and well over a decade has been like, yeah, it was like mom or somebody, brought it up. And it’s the same thing with a lot of these. I had to figure out how to be organized. What we’re seeing is skills formally learned by students on their own. I’m kind of paraphrasing some research right now. Now it’s on the onus of the teacher to teach them.? My hope is that everybody who attends one all five, and by the way, if you just go to that organizedbinder.com/EF and sign up, you snag your seat and you’re registered for all five.
It’ll be easy for you. I hope you just first, and for you to walk away with this conviction to bring this awareness not only to your own practice as a teacher, but your school, your learning community or your district, whatever your role is, that we would no longer just leave it up to chance for the sake of students. But that we would dive in and really start to teach these and each session, like you said, we’re gonna hit on a different skill. And so there’ll be some takeaways there. But on that kind of global view or like that bigger vision that it’s like, no, we, this has to be done. This has to be done, and it has to be done now. I think that’s a call to action for all teachers. Here’s the thing, Danny, I think there’s a few reasons why it’s not being done. By the way, I’ve never met a teacher or a parent that’s like, “yeah, I don’t want my kid to be organized.” Yeah. Goal setting, not
It’s funny that they would be let, I mean everyone’s like, yeah, of course in teachers, there’s two things that often happen. The first and foremost is just a matter of time. Most teachers don’t have enough time to get through the content. They’re tasked with teaching in the first place. I don’t care what the grade level is or the subject you’re teaching, there’s always a time crunch. And then there’s also the zone of genius. Like my zone of genius might be teaching fifth grade or 12th grade ELA. Or it’s like, even if I wanted to do this, I don’t necessarily know how. And back to my point, this will be another, the takeaway is like, be convicted. They have to be taught and then learn how they’re actually not taught. They’re best learned? And so that’s that zone of genius where that’s not my expertise, but I’m curious to know more because we can, by virtue of that routine, what ultimately happens is we dovetail with a teacher’s existing content and curriculum. So it’s not infringing upon their instructional time.
Got it. Cool.
That makes sense.
Let me know if you think this, that metaphor works. I don’t know if it does or doesn’t, but, so for example, I hired a health and fitness coach. Ali, if you’re watching, shout out to you and he lives in England, but, we have these Zoom sessions and workouts and how to eat and all this kind of stuff. I’m getting good results. Part of lifting, like my capacity to lift, getting higher, but for example, with squats, I’m refusing to add more weight until I know I’ve perfected the fundamentals and have the right type of form Technique. As I, the capacities there, cuz when I do leg presses, I could do like three times, literally three times the amount that I do just squatting? Squatting, it’s just you, the back, it’s your stabilization, the core and stuff press, you’re actually in a seat and you’re just, shooting it away with you from you with the legs. Yeah. So maybe executive functions, the metaphor is, it’s like knowing the proper form.? The capacity sky’s the limit.? For all our students and what can be accomplished in classrooms if they don’t have the right fundamentals in form, it actually limits what can happen. Absolutely. Based on, yeah, your ability, but also, I don’t know what an injury would look like in a classroom, but that’s what I’m trying to avoid as well.? So how did I do a metaphor?
I like it. I like it because injury could be framed as lack of like fulfilling my potential. I think there’s a an interesting conversation to be had about students getting the experience to know how they learn, how they best learn as an individual and what it looks like when they’ve got it. And you only get that through practice. You only the only way it can happen. And yet, like squats. I’m not a big lifter myself, but I have tried squats and they’re hard. Not even, you can have no weight and just do it. Yeah, sure. Body weight, it’s not an easy thing. It has to be practice and you will hurt yourself. I know that from friends who do that. And so in that kind of same sense, like with students, the potential is hindered or limited if I don’t hone these skills. But we know that it takes practice. We also know that we don’t like brain or cognitive research around all of this is that they don’t really coalesce really until our early to mid 20. But what I believe is that’s more likely to happen if I saw them modeled and I got practiced with them in a no stakes way as early as elementary school where I’m just,
I’m seeing them, I’m practicing them, I’m seeing the value. And then when I do actually need them and I can make them my own, that’s more likely to happen because I’ve practiced
Absolutely. Ruckus Maker. Go over there to organizebinder.com/ef and register for free to this five part series, classroom routines to teach executive functions. Mitch, we covered a lot of ground today of everything we talked about. What’s the one thing you wanna ruckus maker to remember
In order to set students and teachers up for success. For students, we must first lay the foundation for learning, which is these executive functioning skills. For teachers to really be wildly successful, I would love for them to experience a predictable learning routine that frames their content. By virtue of that, students get practiced with these skills. I hope there’s some takeaway there. There’s a third arm to it all that we haven’t mentioned, so I’ll just drop it real quick. There’s a unique opportunity to engage families in this work and they, I mean, like we just said, Danny, what parent doesn’t want their kid to be organized or pick the skill? However, we can also engage families in a way that’s not tied to content as well. So that if maybe the family can’t help with work at home or homework or whatever it might be in terms of the content for whatever reason, they all love it. When schools engage, invite them into supporting this work from home.
Thanks for listening to The Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel Better leaders better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter at @alienearbud. If the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more ruckus makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud, and using #BLBS. Level Up your leadership at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”
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