Our previous research has shown that executive function coaching is most effective when delivered in an environment where executive function language and strategies are used beyond more intensive, 1:1 interventions.
This is particularly true within schools. It’s highly beneficial to young people who receive 1:1 interventions to return to the classroom and be given the opportunities to use the same language and strategies. This ensures that executive function skill development, and behavioural change, is not limited to the confines of the room in which the coaching takes place.
In addition, using executive function language and strategies within a classroom or across a school environment means that all students will be given access to the tools that allow for executive function skill development, and the same empathic and supportive response to moments in which they encounter challenges
This motivated us to develop a four-tier Whole School Approach, adapted from Dawson and Faith’s Activated Learning Framework, which ensures all students benefit from discovering executive function language and strategies, and creates an environment in which more intensive interventions are more likely to be successful.
Tier 1: Foundational Support
In Tier 1, training is provided to all educational staff so that the executive function language can be used and shared across the whole school and within classrooms. This tier ensures that all students are exposed to the benefits that come from teachers embedding executive functions into their teaching practice. Parents are also informed about executive functions and are encouraged to use the language at home.
The training further supports teachers to explicitly teach metacognitive strategies within the classroom, which we know from research is the most effective way to support students from low SES backgrounds. This could be in the form of the Barriers and Strategy Protocol (BSP), otherwise known as the W.O.O.P (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan), which encourages goal-setting and provides students with the support to overcome the challenges that may otherwise prevent them from reaching their goals.
Tier 2: Universal Support
Tier 2 builds on Tier 1 by providing within-classroom interventions that focus explicitly on teaching and building executive function skills. An example of within-classroom interventions that we use with our school partners are our PSHE lesson plan series which supports students in identifying their executive function strengths, challenges and motivators, and then set goals and co-create strategies to help them overcome any challenges to reaching those goals.
Tier 3: Targeted Support
Tier 3 uses a response to intervention model to identify and provide students with effective early executive function support who are at risk of poor outcomes. This tier usually consists of additional support outside the classroom including project-based learning and explicit skills and strategy practice.
Tier 4: Intensive Support
Finally, the strong foundations provided by the three previous tiers support those students with more intensive needs. Tier 4 comprises 1:1 executive function coaching, which takes an empathetic, student-centred approach towards building executive function skills and planning the use of strategies. This ensures that these students are provided with tiers of support which all work towards the same goal of developing executive functions skills to improve self-regulation in learning and in life.
Educational staff receive our Executive Function Coach Training before delivering the intervention on a 1:1 basis. We provide a coaching framework, Meta Skills, to support our coaches in successfully delivering the intervention. A 12-week coaching programme, Meta Skills focuses on improving metacognition and working towards students becoming self-regulated learners.
One of our partner primary schools is currently embedding all three tiers of the Whole School Approach into its practice across the 2022/23 and 2023/24 academic year, with MindSpark undertaking research to assess each tier of the approach and the impact of the intervention as a whole. The findings from our pilot will be shared in 2023.