The term “executive function” is used to describe a set of cognitive processes that help students connect past experiences with present actions. Students use executive function when they perform such activities as planning, organizing, strategizing, and paying attention  to and remembering details. Executive function also enables students to manage their emotions and monitor their thoughts in order to work more efficiently and effectively (Guare & Dawson, 2004).

There are six clusters of cognitive functions that are affected by executive functions:

  • Activation: organizing, prioritizing, and getting to work
  • Focus: focusing, sustaining, and shifting attention to tasks
  • Effort: regulating alertness, sustaining alertness, and achieving appropriate speed in execution
  • Emotion: managing  frustration and regulating emotions
  • Memory: utilizing  working  memory and accessing recall
  • Action: monitoring and self-regulating behaviour

Students with executive function deficits have difficulty with planning, organizing, and managing time and space. They also show weakness with working memory, which is an important tool in guiding one’s actions.

Problems with executive function may become evident when a student is:

  • planning a project
  • comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
  • telling a story (orally or in writing)
  • attempting  to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner
  • applying mental strategies involved in memorizing and retrieving information from memory
  • initiating activities or tasks
  • generating ideas independently
  • retaining information while doing something with it

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Strategies, Tools and Resources

There are a variety of strategies, tools, and resources that system and school leaders may find helpful as they work to promote positive behaviour, address inappropriate behaviour, and build and sustain a caring and safe learning environment.

Understanding Student Behaviour

It is the responsibility of all to recognize the particular needs of individual students, including the complex and additional challenges faced by some students with special education needs, and to find ways of meeting those needs.

School Climate

A caring and safe school is a place where all partners treat others fairly, with respect and kindness, and act in a socially responsible way towards all members of the school community.


Participating in and contributing to safe, respectful and positive learning environments is both the right and the responsibility of students, parents/guardians, school staff, and community members.

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