ResearchILD’s 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference brought together educators from across the globe to hear from speakers at the forefront of executive function research and implementation in schools. One idea that rang true across many presentations was the impact that an encouraging mentor or supporter can have on a student’s sense of self-efficacy and success.
Dr. Robert Brooks, who kicked off the conference, shared ideas about how to nurture resilience in students during challenging times. In order to help students cope effectively in the face of adversity, Dr. Brooks emphasizes that children need a “charismatic adult” from whom they can garner strength. Teachers, who often provide this role, must ensure that their students feel welcomed and supported at school before launching into the instruction of academics and executive function strategies.
This sense of security and community is a key ingredient in creating a classroom context that empowers students. Morning meetings and homeroom times can include opportunities for building student mentorships so students feel heard. Dr. Brooks reminds us that it is crucial to build relationships with students and help them feel a sense of purpose, especially in the era of virtual learning.
The Power of One
Dr. Anthony Bashir, a professor at Emerson College and co-founder of Architects For Learning, led one of the conference’s panels alongside two SMARTS alumni, Chace Nolen and William Warren. Dr. Bashir introduced the idea that a single mentor can help guide students through “liminal space,” a place of uncertainty and unknowing.
Supporting this concept, William described a teacher who never gave up on him, trying multiple strategies until he received the help he needed. Chace, recounting the ways he saw aspects of his younger self in his fifth-grade mentee, noted how the SMARTS program gave him a framework for understanding how his brain worked and how it could grow and change.
The importance of relationships for executive function learning and academic success is clear. Whether it is a “charismatic adult,” a peer in middle or high school, or a friend in elementary school, having someone who believes in us can truly change the story we tell ourselves about our self-worth and strengths.
- Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern