The upper school language therapists stumbled upon Sarah Ward (M.S, CCC/SLP), Co-Director of Cognitive Connections, in November 2018, when we attended a presentation on executive functioning skills during ASHA (the Annual National American Speech Language Association Conference). Since we work directly with students on executive functioning skills, we are always interested in learning more. We walked away in awe. Our eyes were opened to a new perspective and approach that we just knew would be a game changer for our students who needed help with executive functioning skills.
Language therapists in all three divisions recommended Sarah Ward for Professional Development to address the growing number of students in our school with executive functioning challenges. February 18, 2020 was the first training at MMFS of “360 Thinking Interventions: An Executive Functioning Model and Program,” developed by speech and language therapists Sarah Ward & Kristen Jacobsen. This training led to the quickest application of PD interventions across all three divisions. Teachers’ immediate use of Get Ready, Do, Done was integrated into current practice and the implementation of this “planning backward to execute forward” method began. We also began providing specific instruction in different components of executive functioning skills, including developing a sense of time to help with effective time management, stopping and orienting prior to entering spaces, and visualization of final products and future self. We were off to a strong start, but the COVID pandemic led to remote instruction and restrictions. Even when the upper school returned to our building on Sidney, continuing restrictions presented multiple roadblocks.
This past summer, with the support of an MMFS PA grant, the upper school language therapists organized and developed a universal executive functioning program for the upper school that is a continuation of what is being implemented in the lower and middle schools. Our goal was to create a schoolwide program that addressed executive functioning skills across the board. While teachers in the upper school have been trained in Sarah Ward’s 360 Thinking program, each teacher has been implementing aspects of the program independently and to different degrees. We worked to create a common language and set of expectations to ensure that concepts are being reinforced and practiced throughout the day.
We began by isolating three major skills that we believed would be most helpful for our student population as a whole: Time management, Planning, and Orienting.
We broke down these tasks and created a plan for each that could be implemented in any classroom. We presented the techniques and language to all teachers during our faculty orientation and to students during student orientation.
For “Time Management,” we ensured that clocks were available in all classrooms and modeled how to have students predict the passage of time during daily tasks. With teachers doing this regularly in multiple settings, the hope is that students who struggle will begin to develop a sense of time that they can then apply when working toward any goals.
For “Planning,” we set each classroom up with ‘Ready, Do, Done’ magnets on whiteboards. We then created a sample lesson for each subject area and videotaped a demo lesson. To further support teacher instruction, we included visuals and written steps and components. The ultimate goal is for teachers to have the tools to teach students how to successfully plan backward in order to execute steps forward to achieve their goal, whether it be a homework assignment or getting a driver’s license!
For “Orienting,” we placed small stop signs outside of each doorway to an office or classroom. This serves as a visual cue to orient to space in order to prepare for what will occur in the space. This important skill teaches students to think about expectations prior to entering a space so that they can be well prepared and ultimately, more successful overall. We presented “Stop and Orient” to teachers during faculty orientation, and to students during grade-level meetings on the first day of school.
This is a work in progress and we are continuing to push into classes and work with teachers to model and utilize these strategies in all classrooms. We are excited to see the impact that we are confident “360 Thinking” will have in the upper school.