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Classroom Management Miracle: Executive Functioning

By Lindsey Petlak on October 22, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Remember the first few days of the school year? You know . . . smiling children who can’t wait to enter your room, days running smoothly with students continually aiming to please and hanging on your every word.  Most likely, those days are long gone by late October. The honeymoon is over, and while you still adore your students, classroom management mishaps have probably popped up. Executive functioning in the classroom may just be your management miracle!

What is Executive Functioning?

Simply put, executive functioning consists of the essential self-regulation skills needed to successfully participate and function in a classroom setting — and in life.

Dawson and Guare (2004) guide to the 11 Executive Skills.

I shared these two videos on the 11 Executive Skills: Part 1 and Part 2. with parents at Open House and permanently embedded them in my classroom website for ongoing reference. 


Executive Functioning in Our Room  

So, what does this look like in action? This system is comprised of room adjustments, teacher-directed student training, and great visuals to reinforce, and has TOTALLY changed our classroom dynamics, student independence, and classroom management. If it can work for us, it can work for you!

Room Setup and Furniture: Thanks to a generous donation by our fantastic PTO, our first, second, and fourth grade classrooms are benefitting from the implementation of new classroom tables, chairs and Seat Sacks, as well as organizational drawer storage. This is in an effort to promote executive functioning skills within our classroom as well as building independence, responsibility, and teamwork. Students work in community tables, sharing supplies and responsibilities.

Group tables and supply drawers Seat sacks for personal books Shared student supply caddies Class turn-in drawers and portfolio crates

Get Ready, Do, Done: Planning for proper classroom executive functioning is as easy as 1-2-3!  Use these three steps before, during, and after every activity for success.

1.     Get Ready: look ahead, know and plan your time, gather materials, learn from the past

2.     Do: get busy immediately, stay on task, set halfway point and check in, pace yourself

3.     Done: stopping point/time, tasks to be completed, clean up, reflect


Download the 1-2-3 poster and planning page for FREE!

CHAMPS: Students cannot meet or exceed our expectations for them, if they are not made explicitly clear before beginning tasks together or independently. In conjunction with the 1-2-3 planning visuals, our class discusses CHAMPS expectations before nearly every activity throughout the day. CHAMPS compliments executive functioning perfectly, providing specific guidelines for the following elements of classroom activities:

  • C - conversation

  • H - how to ask for help

  • A - activity

  • M - movement (and materials)

  • P - participation

  • S - sound signals (and success)

Use this CHAMPS visual (printed or on your interactive whiteboard) from Amber Polk to set expectations before every classroom task. I made the CHAMPS system work for me and my room by giving myself permission to add components like materials, and making the activity choices more general with an added section for specific activity tasks. Instead of "S" standing for success, it means "signal" in our room. Set your own sounds and songs for the audio signals for “S.” 

Visit my classroom website for a fantastic YouTube CHAMPS video and to snag the CHAMPS visual.


Time Robbers: Many stimuli may rob our students of time throughout the day. Minimize these time robbers, and your students will become time masters!

  • Body: inappropriate movement, bio breaks, tired, hands on others

  • Conversation/sounds: inappropriate conversations, voice level, environmental sounds

  • Materials: disorganized materials, losing materials, forgetting materials, wrong materials

  • Environment: personal/shared space, overstimulating room décor, clutter

Download this FREE STOP and Read the Room / Time Robber visual poster!

Reward time masters and provide consequences for time robbing behaviors using Class Dojo!

Read more about Dojo uses in the classroom on my posts about Classroom Economy and Countdown to Conferences

Concept of Time: Quite frankly, many students have little to no concept of allotted or elapsed time. It’s simply too abstract for them, especially when surrounded by digital clocks and devices that constantly remind them of the time or upcoming events with no thought required. To help instill a sense of time, try the following tools.  Make time management fun by setting time-based goals, beating past times (or those of other “competing” classrooms), and earning Class DOJO rewards for being “time masters!”

  • Visual Countdown Timers: Using a physical stopwatch or a digital version for your interactive whiteboard, show students the visual countdown of time remaining for an activity. I recommend several from Triptico, but the Circle Timer is my favorite.

  • Marker Clock: Buy an inexpensive wall clock and use an erasable marker to shade in the chunk of time between the start and finish of an activity.

  • Visual Stopwatch: Using a physical stopwatch or a digital version for your interactive whiteboard, time students prepping for and cleaning up after activities.

  • Kitchen Timers: Inexpensive kitchen timers (dial or digital) for each student table will serve as reminders for time remaining on activities.

What's your classroom management miracle?

  • Do you use an executive functioning system in your room?

  • Do you use CHAMPS as a setup for student success?

  • Maybe you have another magic management solution up your sleeve. If so, please share!

Thanks for reading, and be sure to subscribe to my blog feed for automatic weekly updates!




Comments (14)

Nice article but shocking not to see any credit for the work of my dear friends and colleagues Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen. This article comes across as if Lindsay developed the concepts such as Ready,Do,Done; STOP; Time Robbers. I alerted them to the article.


This a nice article that sums up the work of Sarah Ward, a speech-language pathologist in private practice in Massachusetts.

She presented a course for our private practice in January of 2012 and what you have written matches much of what is in the packet she gave us.

I had heard of CHAMPS before, but reading your blog about executive functioning and CHAMPS really made sense. Students are looking for structure and they want to know what is expected of them. I feel that using CHAMPS will make a huge difference in my classroom. The students will know what is expected of them during each activity and this will really help time and behavior management. I look forward to implementing these tools with my students. Thank you!

Edie- Thanks for reading, and what a GREAT comment! You sound exactly like I did about a year ago...and then I finally dove in and tried CHAMPS. Boy, am I glad I did! My biggest piece of advice is to just jump in, grow as you go, and make it work for you. Seeing students learn to "read the room" and refer to the CHAMPS expectations posted rather than needing continual prompting is such a beautiful thing. I can't wait to hear back from you regarding how your executive functioning and CHAMPS adventures go!

Thank you so much for your wonderful post. I am a UDL (Universal Design for Learning) facilitator in our school district and I'm always looking for ideas to share with teachers about executive functioning skills. I look forward to reading more posts in the future!

Thanks so much, Desiree! Implementing both CHAMPS and executive functioning together has been one of the very best things I've done in over a decade of teaching! It's one of those situations where you think you have great class management (and, in fact, perhaps you do), but then you realize how much BETTER it can be once you implement these new systems together. It's great to continue finding new ways to make the classroom run more smoothly to benefit student learning. I hope you find it as helpful with your teachers and students as I have. I'm going to a new CHAMPS training next week to learn more and CAN'T WAIT!! I look forward to reading more comment posts from you in the future. Thanks for following!

This sounds a lot like Sara Ward, which I saw this weekend. An excellent speaker and workshop.

Thanks! I'll be sure to check her out and will hopefully be able to weave some of her useful information and tips into my classroom management. Great suggestion!

This was a very interesting blog. Thanks for the ideas. I teach Special Ed and have MANY students with issues with executive functioning skills. Always looking for something that might click for them.

Thank you! I hope you find the implementation of executive functioning and CHAMPS to be as helpful as I have in my classroom. Best of luck!

I was so interested to see how you incorporate executive functioning into you classroom. I feel this topic will be discussed more and more in the near future, as more parents and teachers become aware. I have been searching for a good handout for parents online, but haven't found one. Any ideas?

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I totally agree about the importance of executive functioning as time goes on. I, too, searched endlessly for great parental handouts to no avail. Instead, I found the informative 2-part videos above and used those to educate parents via website. I'll keep searching for handouts, too!

I absolutely love this blog post. I work at a private school for students who were not successful in the public school (for one reason or another) and the majority of them have trouble with executive functioning skills. I will be reading this post in more detail soon. Thanks for posting!!

Thank you SO MUCH for reading and for your comment! One thing our school has realized through implementing this system is that a lack of these skills is the root of nearly all classroom management issues, regardless of student achievement level, background, etc. We are finding that almost every student needs to improve in at least a couple of the 11 executive functioning skills categories in order to reach their true potential and be best prepared for college and career. I could have written much more about this topic, but hope that you will glean some useful information from what I've shared and the external resources linked within this post. Best of luck, and feel free to leave feedback after you try implementation of some of the suggestions. Thanks!

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