Croskey’s Corner: Orderliness
Resolving to be Orderly
– Bill Croskey
Ah, New Years Resolutions! What a way to kill the holiday spirit! I will share with you what my Resolution was for this year; I resolved to buy and eat only quality donuts. No day-old pastries. No bargain basement delicacies. No stale, unglazed, cardboard imitations of the real thing! You’d be surprised how difficult that was! Of course, then I discovered that the UDF near the park where my dog and I walk carries Busken’s Kettle Danish! I have been more successful at this resolution than almost any I have ever made. (Confession, I have also tried to cut out real butter on my bread. So, I am not a complete glutton.)
What did you resolve for this year? Or did you resolve not to resolve? In either case, you may often begin the school year declaring that you will be more organized than previously. In the case of school, your resolve to be more Orderly may carry over to your students. Mike loses his homework in the mess that is his backpack. Jameel has a desk that is cluttered and beyond help. Ashley forgets her materials and must either borrow or sit and do nothing. Students are infamous for lacking Order in their school work habits. This Orderliness problem should probably be called Order-Less-ness. There is NO Order.
Of course, we know that many students improve their Orderliness as they mature and a big part of school involves teaching these skills. Sure, the Kindergarten teacher spends a great deal of time teaching kids how to do school in an Orderly way. But, similarly, the high school teacher instructs students in how to conduct research in an orderly manner or how to follow an experimental procedure in the correct Order. School at all levels is about Order.
There is fancy jargon for this aspect of doing school. It is called Executive Functioning skills. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare define Executive Functioning as a neuropsychological concept referring to a set of cognitive processes that are required to plan and direct activities. In plain English, that means we are talking about the ability to start a task (initiative), follow through on the work of the task (attention), keep in mind the information useful to succeeding at the task (working memory), sustain attention to the task, monitor one’s performance, ignore distractions, resist the temptation to quit the job (impulse control), persist to the goal… and turn in the completed work when and where it is supposed to end up! I would add that it also involves the ability to stop in the middle when the teacher interrupts, put the task away when a schedule – or a CHANGE in schedule – demands, and be able to pick the task up later, find where one left off, and continue.
In a December, 2012, article in Communique, a publication of the National Association of School Psychologists, the authors of the article, Rachelle H. Cantin, Trisha D. Mann, & Alycia M. Hund, note that a student’s level of Executive Functioning is the single best predictor of school readiness. It influences social–emotional competence, emotion regulation, academic performance, success in dealing with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, and the ability to cope with psychological difficulties such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They also point out that Executive Functioning emerges in the first few years of life, develops fully by late adolescence, and declines with normal aging. As I approach 65 years of age, I can attest to that decline in… hmmm.. what was I saying…boy it has rained a lot lately… OH! Are you still here?
Sorry. Educators have an in-bred skill at teaching Executive Functioning skills. Indeed, if you ask teachers who the smartest kid in their class is, they will ignore IQ and tell you about the student with the best Executive Functioning skills. So, I am not going to lecture you on how to get students to be more skilled at starting, sustaining, completing, and not interrupting their work. Rather, I have two questions for you to ponder. First, what are your own Executive Functioning Skills like? It is a given that teachers find students with strong Executive Functioning easier to teach. But how well do you do? For example, can you work well at home, away from the gaze of your principal? Do you handle your graduate courses well? Do you procrastinate? In committee work, are you task-oriented or social? In other words, look within yourself to see if you struggle with the same obstacles that your students do. That may give you some empathy for their challenges.
More importantly, what tricks or shortcuts help you stay Orderly? Accordion files? To-do lists? Cell phone alarms to remind you of where you are supposed to be? An unstimulating environment to help you focus? But, Part 2: just because these help you, will they help everybody? Teachers have a tendency to figure out their own organization needs and to impose them on their students. Yet helping someone be Orderly is a Consultation process, not a One-Size-Fits-All endeavor. Case in point: if you decide to buy a Franklin Planner, you do not just buy a uniform set of materials. You buy a consultation and training with a Franklin Planner expert. Why? Because the consultant is going to assess your Orderliness needs and sell you what you need. Or at least what he or she thinks you need! Teachers might do well to be Executive Functioning consultants for students. Accordion file? Helps some, not others. To-Do/Done colored folder. Helps many, not all. Handcuff a briefcase to the kid’s wrist and lock his homework in it? Might help somebody. So, assess their needs and then “sell” them the materials they need to Function Executively! Happy New School Year!