Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is one of the biggest skills kids develop.  The term encompasses the work of the frontal lobe (the part of the brain behind your forehead).  In humans, this is the last part of the brain to develop, continuing into our twenties. Boys tend to develop this part of the brain later than girls. This is an area strongly affected by ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and nonverbal reasoning.

As you’ll see when you review this list, these are skills everyone needs for life–and the sooner kids develop them, the more confident and competent they’ll be as they head into adulthood.

There are 10-12 subcategories normally associated with executive functioning:

Response Inhibition
Working Memory
Emotional Control
 Flexibility
Sustained Attention
Task Initiation
Planning
Organization
Time Management
Goal-Directed Persistence
Metacognition
Stress Tolerance

The first six are generally skills we aim to develop during the elementary years and the latter six during the secondary years. The more opportunities you create to help your child practice these skills in small ways (that are age appropriate), the better they will develop them.  One of the best ways to practice them is simply to talk about them; the more we name skills and discuss how and when our child can work on them, the more intentional our children can be about their goals.  Chores are one of the best ways to practice these skills outside of school.

If one or two of these areas jump out at you as an area your child struggles with, find a calm time when they are ripe for a conversation and bring it up: “I’ve been thinking about emotional control (for example), and I feel like it’s something we could work on.  The next time you’re disappointed, what are some appropriate ways to show it?”  Customize it to your child’s situation so it doesn’t sound so hokey!  Have a discussion about controlling emotions and how hard it can be; talk about why it’s important and how to share our emotions appropriately.  These conversations will help your child think about their own actions (metacognition) and develop a maturity over the years that does not come automatically.

I have lots of resources to help develop these skills. Reach out if you want to talk about any of this in relation to your child. I love brainstorming about how to better support kids!

Deconstructing Our Mission: Part 5

The last element of our mission is our partnership with parents. When we lived in Belgium, my kids went to a little Montessori school.  I reached out to volunteer and was rebuffed with a strong message that “parents are not necessary here.”  When they later found out that I was Montessori-trained, I was pulled in as a substitute teacher and I got to know them better.  There was a deep cultural sentiment there — in Europe in general — that educators are the experts and parents should let them do their thing.

We do not subscribe to that philosophy at The Fulton School. There is an old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child. We want to be your village.  All of us working together with similar philosophies and approaches create a secure and healthy network for your child to depend on. They will hear similar messages about character, decisions, skills, and knowledge in a variety of ways from a variety of voices.  This synergy provides an incredible foundation for them as they launch into adulthood.  It empowers them in a way that simply learning to read or to do math never could; it empowers them in a way that mixed messages never could.

Your partnership with our teachers, including your child’s voice as they develop it, is absolutely key to the strength of the school…and ultimately key to the self confidence of your child.

Deconstructing Our Mission: Part 3

I am continuing with a breakdown of our mission and philosophy — they are the compass we use to create your child’s experience here.

Our values elaborate on the implementation of the mission.  We’ve identified four major values over the years. The first, and in many ways the most all-encompassing, is the Montessori philosophy.  Very few schools have a philosophy to follow; they piece together a mix of tradition, staff personalities/influences, texts (texts represent a philosophy for their subjects), current fashion, and default chance.

The Montessori pedagogy provides us with more than 100 years of theory, backed up by almost as many years of child psychology and learning theory (Dr. Montessori started her first school in the early 20th century, and these fields really took off after World War II). This philosophy provides a continuity from the youngest students to the oldest students that would be difficult to manufacture.  Our classroom experience, teacher relationships, and curricular engagement should “feel” very similar no matter the age of the student. It changes as their developmental needs change and cultural expectations evolve, but the core expectations and goals really don’t change.  And we believe that this environment is the best context for children to develop into the best version of themselves possible.


Our Values

We believe the Montessori philosophy provides the best opportunity to build confidence, character, and leadership in students.   

We dedicate ourselves to building a joyful, inspired, educational community that develops communication skills, critical thinking skills, and creativity in every child through relevant, hands-on, student-centered teaching.  

We celebrate a diversity of cultures, learning styles, talents, and personal goals.

We create a partnership between parents, teachers, and students, knowing that parental involvement is key to the success of the students and the school.

Our Promise to Parents

To rethink education, making the Fulton School an extension of your home, cultivating your children’s capabilities and character to best equip them for the future.

Deconstructing Our Mission: Part 2

Our Mission 

To provide an academically challenging and supportive environment where students gain the knowledge and skills needed to become globally minded citizens with a passion for life and learning. 

Traditionally, school has been about basic reading, writing, and arithmetic–basic skills that are fantastic to know, but, well, basic!  At TFS, we aim bigger, broader and higher.  We aim to empower children with the knowledge and skills they need to enjoy and contribute to a meaningful life in the 21st century (more on 21st century skills later in our philosophy).  We want them to read, write and compute, but we want them to know how to travel, how to talk to people they don’t know, and how to identify and leverage their own strengths.

Dr. Montessori talked about students gradually finding their place in the world as their world grows from mom and dad, to home, to school, to community, and beyond.  When children have a strong sense of place in the world, they are more confident to approach and interact with the world around them. With a wide range of skills and information in their pockets and a strong sense of who and where they are, they are ready to create a more meaningful life for themselves.

At TFS, we want to be more than collegepreparatoryWe want to be lifepreparatory.  

Deconstructing Our Mission

The last time I posted on this blog was March 2020.
Then the pandemic hit.
Followed by a really challenging and tiring in-person school year.
Today we find ourselves at the start of the 2021-22 school year, in person and feeling more like “normal.”
I am going to kick off my blog by discussing our mission. There are reasons behind everything we do at The Fulton School, and I want to share some of that with you.  Let’s dive right in:

Our Mission – Part 1

To provide an academically challenging and supportive environment where students gain the knowledge and skills needed to become globally minded citizens with a passion for life and learning. 

I talk about our mission a lot at the start of every school year, but there’s always more to say about such an important (and huge) topic.  Challenge is a relative term.  Each of us finds challenges in different places depending on our strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Picture a bull’s-eye with a Comfort Zone in the middle, the Challenge Zone in the next concentric circle, and a Panic Zone as you move towards an outer circle — this is how we approach your child.

There’s little growth in the Comfort Zone and there’s little growth in the Panic Zone.  In order to teach students in their Challenge Zone, you have to know them well.  If they are bored, or counter-intuitively overwhelmed, they don’t grow to their potential.  This is true in academic subjects like math and reading, but it’s also true in their character growth, in their social-emotional growth, and in the broad range of skills we hope they will develop.

It can be tough to watch a student in the Challenge Zone. We provide support by watching closely (to make sure we don’t think they are in the Panic Zone) and encouraging them.  We make sure they have the materials and supplies and preparation for their challenges.  We partner with parents to discuss what we both see — at school and at home — and we create a support network for the student through this partnership.  This is a process; it’s organic and there are a lot of variables.  But it’s always our mission.

Character Series, Part 9: Courage

Taking initiative when you’re scared.

Showing respect for someone when it’s not the cool thing to do.

Being grateful in the midst of bad luck, setbacks and hurt.

Being honest even when it might get you in trouble or be uncool.

Making a responsible decision when you so badly want to be irresponsible.

Remaining appropriately confident in the face of unwarranted criticism or failure.

Showing compassion when everyone else refuses.

Making an independent choice when you’re terrified.

As with ALL of our character traits, courage takes practice.

Mrs. Kay always says “Practice makes easy.”  I love this so much. It is infinitely better than practice makes perfect, because we are not aiming for perfection (and those who do will only face disappointment).  We are aiming for habit. We are literally paving little roads in the brain, whether it’s the motor skills to play a note or the courage to stand up to our peers. The more we practice, the more the pathways between the neurons myelinate, aka pave a road that becomes easier and easier to travel.

We talk of building character–it’s a slow process that takes years.  When our kids don’t show character, we should hold them accountable, but not be too surprised.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are upstanding, kind, successful adults.  We practice, we have setbacks, we practice more, and gradually we bloom.

Character Series, Part 7: Respect

Respect comes in two forms, an external form and an internal form. Our children learn the external form of respect (how they react to people, how they handle authority, how they treat strangers) from our expectations.  This is also known as manners, but I prefer to use respect because it is tied to our beliefs about others whereas manners often don’t have explanations or meaning.  Showing someone respect is pretty straight forward teaching; you tell them what you expect, and they need to meet your expectations. In this case more than any, they will rise to meet your goals for them and over the years their habits will reflect your requirements.

The internal form of respect is much more difficult and much less straightforward.  Here you will teach your children your own personal concept of respect.  What beliefs are at the heart of your respect for others? Do people have to earn it or do they receive it simply because they are human? Does your behavior change when someone loses your respect? What does someone have to do to lose it?  Do you show respect to people you don’t actually respect, and if so, why?  This won’t be one discussion when they’re 5 or 8 years old, this will be 18 years of discussions and role modeling and reactions to positive situations and challenging situations.  The more aware you are of your beliefs and actions, the more intentional you can be as you pass them on.

It works well to have a moral definition of respect, admit to your children that you don’t live it out as well as you would like, and then ask your children to help hold you accountable when they see you falling short.  This is a great way to counter-balance your own weaknesses and team up with your children in search of a higher good (always a great way to teach!).

Character Series, Part 6: Honesty

Honesty is not the black-and-white topic we learned about in after-school specials growing up.  It is actually really complex and abstract once you throw intentions, compassion, passivity, and self-awareness in the mix.  It will take conversations, role-modeling and accountability for kids to navigate, and the conversations will evolve as they get older and situations grow more complex.  When kids are young, it can feel like a lie to say something to make someone feel good, and not feel like a lie to tell a tall, entertaining story. Their emotional perception of a situation may be factually inaccurate, but true to their experience.  As they get older, should they tell the truth even if it sells a friend out?  Should they lie to get someone off their back?  We tend to send pretty mixed signals to our children, most of which are unavoidable.  So how do we teach them?

First, getting caught is always the best thing for the child!  Trust, but verify anything you get a sneaking suspicion about. The more often a child lies without being discovered, the easier it becomes to lie and the harder it is for them to sort the truth from the alternate story.  When they are caught, they are more likely to assume they will get caught the next time and it becomes a deterrent.

Whenever they are caught red-handed in a self-serving lie, they need immediate and proportionate consequences.  They need to feel the significance of it.  The act of lying is usually a bigger transgression than the act they are trying to cover up and the consequences should indicate that.  They should receive consequences for the initial misbehavior, and then additional consequences for the lie.

When the situations are gray, harsh consequences may not be appropriate, but softer, logical and natural consequences might be in order.  If a child doesn’t have the strength to be honest and stand up to a friend, maybe they shouldn’t be hanging out with that friend until they’ve developed more courage. If a child tells lots of tall tales, then folks are likely not to believe a truly amazing story, and when that happens, you can gently connect the dots for them.

Lastly, you will need to be a role model and discuss your choices with them.  Are you willing to call them in sick to school when they’re not?  Have they seen you fib to a policeman when you have been pulled over or to a friend when you want to avoid a situation?  Do the lies that you tell show compassion for others or do they save you from inconvenience?  Do they fit your code of ethics or do they allow you to avoid consequences?  This is worth pondering because your kids will notice, even if you don’t.

There are layers and it’s complex, so talk it through and ask them to hold you accountable too, as they get older.  It’s a great opportunity to share your values and pass on your beliefs.

Character Series, Part 1: Initiative

At The Fulton School, we believe character traits are like muscles–you have to practice them to get strong. We have identified nine key character traits that we look for daily in the kids:

Initiative
Independence
Confidence
Responsibility
Compassion
Honesty
Courage
Respect
Gratitude

We believe these traits are both timeless and timely, and we know that the children’s lives will be more fulfilling and more successful (on many levels) if they are well developed. But how do we develop these traits in our children? I will spend the next nine weeks exploring what research and literature say about developing these traits in our children.

INITIATIVE
Many of these nine traits overlap substantially, as you will see in the coming weeks.  They feed and reflect each other. Initiative, independence, and confidence are like three points of a triangle; today I will hone in on one point of that triangle.

The tricky part of encouraging initiative is that the child has to start it–you can’t!  We develop initiative in our children most directly when we implement a new idea they have. If your child suggests a change in the bedtime routine and you think it’s a good suggestion and you implement it, you have just sent her the message that her ideas are contributing to positive change. It’s rewarding and stimulates more growth in initiative. If your child gets up to take his dishes to the sink unbidden, state your appreciation; if he does his homework on his own, tell him you’re impressed; if she puts away toys or gets dressed before you ask, tell her you like her initiative. You are encouraging something that is undervalued in adults. Sometimes we hover so much, we don’t give our kids the chance to stretch these muscles.

If you have a child who shows little initiative, have a conversation with him at a neutral time in a neutral way to let him know you would like to see more initiative. Depending on the child’s age and why you think he resists, you can brainstorm ways for him to take more initiative. If he follows through on it, practice it, acknowledge it, and go with it! Sometimes you may need to set the stage for him and let others know that this was difficult for him in order to pave the way. When he experiences success a few times, he will continue taking initiative on his own and hopefully it can take root as a habit.

What do you do when your child has a lot of initiatives that you cannot or do not want to implement?  Thank her for her creative thoughtfulness and explain why her idea won’t work. Or maybe take part of the idea and tweak it.  Here at school, we will go some distance to give an idea credit and action–whatever morsel of productivity we can find in it.  We believe deeply that in doing so, we are nurturing initiative in our students.

Screen Time Series, Part 3

The Benefits

Last week was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of reasons for minimal screen time, but there are wonderful benefits for the screen time that we do allow.  As with most things in life, the benefits increase the more proactive we are about them. The internet brings infinite opportunities for research and learning to our fingertips.

There is a wealth of informative videos (informally on sites like YouTube or formally on something like Khan Academy) that we can use to teach kids. The opportunities are mind-boggling. From how car engines work to what happens when you drop a ping pong ball three stories into a pool, this is all content that can support curiosity and learning.

Watching a show or movie with your child and discussing it together is a completely different cognitive experience for a child than watching something alone.  Such shows provide great content for discussing your values, social situations, and decision making.

Apps and websites can make rote drills more fun — typing programs, math facts, names of countries/capitals, etc. through websites like JetPunk, Sheppard Software or Quizlet.

Connecting with friends and family is amazing (this just needs to be supervised and limited with kids).

There are options to organize kids who aren’t naturally organized (take pictures of assignments, homework apps, Google Docs).

And there are great coding practices for kids headed into STEM. The list goes on and on.

Back to my dessert metaphor: there is SO much good and joy and, better than dessert, really constructive uses of screen time.  We don’t need to stay out of the candy store, we just need guidelines about how much we’re going to eat and how long we’re going to be in there (and who’s going to enforce that).