What are executive functions?

Executive functions are often described as the air traffic control centre of the brain. Residing in the prefrontal cortex, this set of skills is responsible for managing all areas of daily life, from work, to school, to home. We rely on these skills every day, and yet, we rarely talk about them. We decided to start the conversation. When explicitly taught, these ten executive functions proved to be the most relevant to enhance student learning:


Emotional Control

The ability to recognize and regulate emotions in order to achieve goals, complete tasks, and direct behaviour.



The ability to revise a plan in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information, or mistakes; involves adaptability to changing conditions.


Goal Directed Persistence

The capacity to persevere and follow a task through to completion.



The ability to self-monitor and self-evaluate by asking; “How am I doing?” or “How did I do?”


Planning & Organization

The ability to create a roadmap, make decisions, and prioritize for task completion; the ability to design and maintain systems for tracking information and materials.


Response Inhibition

The capacity to stop, evaluate, and think before you act.


Shifting and Time Management

The ability to move appropriately from one situation to another; the capacity to estimate and to use time effectively.


Sustained Attention

The capacity to attend to a situation or task, in spite of distractibility, fatigue, or lack of interest.


Task Initiation

The ability to begin a task in a timely fashion.


Working Memory

The ability to hold information and past experience/learning in mind while performing complex tasks.


Adapted from Guare, Dawson, and Rief