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  • Sean McCormick

Three Steps To Help Your Student Be More Organized

Do you want to intentionally enhance your student’s executive function abilities? Are you willing to clearly define for them (and you) what “being organized” looks like?


One of the biggest barriers to an organized student is an adult who communicates intentions and not goals. This approach has two negative consequences: first, the parent(s) can never be satisfied because the child always appears disorganized and lacking to them. Second, the child never has a clear barometer for success and perpetually feels like they are “failing” their parents, in addition to challenges they may be experiencing at school.


How do you avoid this? Set goals that your student can achieve and support them toward them.


Here are three steps you can take right now that will make a BIG difference.



Step One: Define Your Intention

Many parents have good intentions, but do not not realize that good intentions can be confusing and even harmful to their children. For example, a parent that consistently tells their child, “Be more organized,” but does not describe exactly what they want done, risks communicating to their child that he or she is a disorganized individual.


To prevent this, the first step is to recognize that an intention is NOT a goal. Intentions can look like the following ideas:


I just want Marcos to be more organized.


I need Sarah to be a better communicator.


It would be so great if Jasmine was a better test-taker.


These are all wonderful intentions, but they need to be crafted into actionable goals before being communicated to students. If they are not actionable, they are not possible, and an undefined hurtle is something a student can never leap over.


What you must do is turn that intention into a goal.



Step Two: Transform Your Intention Into A Goal

For simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on the intention of wanting Marcos to be more organized. Squeeze that intention into as many organization goals as you can. If you cannot define what you want, how can Marcos ever achieve it? Here is an examples of organization goal born from the intention of being more organized:


By (upcoming date at least one month in the future and no more than 6 months) Marcos will utilize a planner to identify and write all upcoming assignments with due dates included, for 2 weeks in a row as demonstrated by proof (picture, screenshot, etc) of his chosen planner and cross-checking of the learning management system to ensure accuracy of Marcos planner.


This is a goal! If you want to check whether or not your goal is actually a goal, you can use the SMART acronym.


S - specific (will utilize a planner)

M - measurable (as demonstrated by proof: picture, screenshot, etc)

A - actionable (write all upcoming assignments with due dates included)

R - realistic (Marcos can write and knows the fundamentals of using a planner)

T - timely (upcoming date at least one month in the future and no more than 6)


This is a process and will take more time upfront, but is so much better than the unnecessary stress caused by holding your child to unclear intentions that cannot be defined.



Step 3: Break That Goal Into Short-Term Objectives

Now that you have your goal, you need to find ways to break that goal into short-term objectives. This is the art and science of good executive function coaching. My rule of thumb is that a good objective is one that can be done in 30 minutes or less. For students with even serious attention challenges, get their input with a question like this:


I know that you need to plan out your assignments so we can figure out what to prioritize. Would you be willing to do this for 5 minutes? I can set a timer and we won’t go past that.


Start small and build up your student’s confidence. Remember, you have had a lifetime and a career to learn how to manage your tasks and responsibilities. Building your student’s confidence will snowball into them taking more and more ownership over the system in the long-run.


So Remember…Clearly Define Success For Your Student


If you are willing to act on these recommendations, I promise you will see your relationship improve with your student. They will understand your expectations and know exactly how to meet them. You will also start to feel more at peace with their progress because you will know the smallest next step they can take to meet your expectations. Do yourself and your student a favor and try it out!