#088 Executive Function Skills for College Success with Lauran Kerr-Heraly Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:40

My guest, Lauran cursorily believes that your student having the right skills is just as important as having the right education. She is a college professor empowering students and families to be prepared for and thrive in college. She encourages families to start while their teen is still in high school for a smooth transition. She’s joining us to not only identify those skills, but set your teen up for a successful transition to college. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Lauran, welcome.


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  01:27

Hi, thanks for having me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  01:28

Oh, I’m so thrilled that you could join us today, before we dive into the skills that are going to set teens up for success and figure out what they need to be doing now. I want to hear how you got here because you’re a college professor.


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  01:46

Yeah, so I’ve been teaching community college for a long time. And prior to that I taught in college prep high schools, I actually taught through the college counseling department for a while I taught an entire year of AC T prep embedded courses. So a lot of my career has been helping students get prepared for college. But what I’ve started to see was that they might have had the sort of academic preparation, but they weren’t necessarily prepared, prepared emotionally, and also with the sort of just like basic study skills, and then I started to view that under the umbrella or executive function. So what I wanted to do was create a program that would help families identify those executive function skills, and help them work on it. And also kind of help with some of the burnouts that I see particularly in community college, I have students who have started and stopped and maybe they’ve come back later, or they tried University in their community college. And obviously, I’m a community college professor, I love it. But I do think it’s, you know, it’s better if it’s an intentional choice, and not sort of you’re the backup. So I developed this program, and also my spouse and my child have ADHD. So the language of executive function is something we’ve been developing within our own home in the last several years, and being flexible with the different ways that we think and operate. And so I wanted to kind of provide that help for families, particularly for students in high school as they look forward to college.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:26

There’s nothing like real life to set us up right for success. You guys are walking out what you you’re doing what you preach to others. So I love that. You know, it’s funny what you said about when you were in the high school setting, because I started out I was a high school teacher for eight years. And then 25 years, I just, I just out myself on my age all the time. But then 25 years ago, I left the classroom and I started a test prep an academic tutoring company was my first company before I created flourish and started helping teens with the college major and career piece. But, you know, while I was in the classroom, and even since then, I’ve always befuddled by the study skills piece. It’s like, it’s so important, but yet nobody owns it. It’s, you know, we all know that algebra one’s probably going to be an eighth grade or ninth grade, depending on your math skills in your particular high school. But it’s like, this doesn’t belong anywhere. You know, most juniors are taking chemistry, I just wish nationally, you know, maybe it’s eighth grade is the study skills year and we all decide we’re going to hit it hard. And everybody feels like there’s so many I feel for those that are in the classroom teaching or those that are in the school counseling office, because they have so many things competing important priority. They’re all important, but this is one that falls through the cracks all the time. And I just, it is something that has bothered me for years. It’s almost like, you know, you saw that and now, it’s inspired you as a professor and in your own coaching business, like I saw the gap as, okay, we’re all focused on where we’re going to college, but we’re not focused on that end result, the college, specifically the vehicle to get us to the career that we’re gonna work in for 95,000 hours. So you are, you know, you resonate with me, because you’re filling a void, and that you saw, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. And I think it’s so rewarding. So, okay, let’s back up. So we’ve got this umbrella of executive functioning skills that really are, I guess, is kind of a compass for if you’re what direction your kids headed in, and if they’re even ready, maybe it’s a thermometer or a barometer and making things up as I go. Talk to you about these executive functioning skills, like what you are putting under that umbrella as you’re helping families,


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  05:57

or, well, executive function. The definition is basically it’s the set of skills that help you get things done, their brain processes that allow you to complete tasks to follow through on things, and to be happy while you’re doing them. So I’ve kind of divided them into four categories, and I call them the four S’s. So the first one is scholastic skills. You know, that’s your reading, writing, arithmetic, of course. But it’s really the critical thinking that’s involved in going through those subjects. So working memory is kind of your short term memory, remembering things as you go along, being able to put things in an order, being able to synthesize them, those are all executive functioning skills. And we talk about those as sort of, if you’re familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, or if you’re not, it’s a ladder of critical thinking. And the highest order of critical thinking is creative thinking. But you have to really work your working memory in order to get to any of those skills. So really, all those orders of critical thinking, are executive function skills. So if you’re asking a student to analyze, and they’re working memory is spending all their time just trying to remember the basic order of things. They’ve used all their brain space, and they’re not going to be able to focus on the other. So one of the things I do you want to work with families is to help them come up with tricks, to, you know, what, to deal with, maybe some deficits and working memory so that they can go on to those higher levels of critical thinking. The second asked is study skills. So we’ve already talked about that, how we see sort of a lot of that missing. But that can be you know, time management is the biggest one, we spend a lot of hours studying inefficiently, we spend a lot of time in class, and then we’re expected to go home and do more work. So managing time effectively is really important. And for someone with a deficit and this executive function skill, they might have a kind of time blindness, or they might not have any idea how to measure how long things actually take, they might think this is going to take three hours, I’m not going to start it but when they started, it actually takes 10 minutes. So that is part of executive function as well,


Lisa Marker Robbins  08:23

that is so interesting, when you say I’ve never heard that term before. Time blindness, where you think it’s gonna take longer, and then you’re suddenly done, or the others probably way worse, you think it’s gonna take 20 minutes, and it takes two hours. You know? And as you relate, you know, in the intro, I was saying how you’re all about like, are you know, are you ready, like, there’s, you might even academically scholastically as you put it, be ready, but maybe you’re missing the second S this study skills. Because the freedom that comes at college, my daughter’s going into her senior year of college, and I’m like, oh, man, this year, last year, greatest amount of freedom with the least amount of responsibility, real life starting pretty soon. But, you know, when you go to college, you’re sitting in that classroom for, I don’t know, 1516 hours a week, and there’s so much more that has to go on outside, you’re going you’re sitting there less than you were in high school, and they you still have this time management piece. On the other side, it’s like, you know, right now I’m in physical therapy for shoulder surgery just had, and I’m talking to everybody about their jobs as I go through this process. So I yeah, there’s a student, PT guy. He’s in his graduate program. I said, How much time will you actually spend each week and he said, You’ve got to be great at time management just to get through this program because I’m in class 16 hours a semester, but I literally will put in 70 hours a week total when I do that time plus the outside time, so time blindness could really hurt. And I think we forget the amount of freedom and kids think they have all this free time, but they have a lot of demands on that time once they get to college, would you put organization skills under the the study skills as well? Or is there anything else that falls under organization or falls under the study skills umbrella?


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  10:19

Yeah, under study skills, I would definitely put organization I would put planning and goal setting in there as well, which is part of mental flexibility. adapting to new information is a big part of study skills, we think of like, you know, some kids are like, well, I don’t mean to do this thing. They said, read the chapter, and answer the questions, I did that, but then they can’t adapt it for there. So that’s part of mental flexibility, sometimes called cognitive flexibility. Um, so that’s definitely executive function as well, planning, organizing goal setting, all we both


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:55

love it, we use actually, I have a resource if anybody wants it, it’s over on our floors coaching Co dot page, under the resources tab. And it’s it’s goal setting for students in it, I tweaked it from a business what I use with my business coaching clients, for students, because we think quarterly, but I always say students have like five periods a year or bigger in college, you maybe only have three semester one, semester two, in summer, but how do you set goals so that at the end of that you’re where you want to be. So what is the third s,


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  11:28

the third s I call social skills. So you might not think of that as an executive function in itself, but there’s things that fall under the umbrella communication is one of them. So one executive function is being able to sort of read the room, if you will, it’s self awareness. And so I have students who will attempt to communicate to me, like they’re reading a text message to a friend when it’s an email to a professor, and they haven’t adapted to a different environment. So that’s an important executive function. It’s also being able to initiate a task. That’s social skills, because I’ll give my an example of myself, I hate making phone calls, I will do a video call all day, I will do a text message, making a voice call is the worst thing in the world to me. So initiating that task to have that social connection is really difficult for me. So if you think about what tasks you have to initiate, what kind of you know, some people are afraid of rejection, right? That’s very common if you have executive functioning deficits, since there’s that sort of feeling rejection, and so students don’t reach out for help. They might not ask their professor for help I get a lot of emails after I grade something, I don’t get a ton of emails before I grade something. Yeah. So it’s, that’s part of the social skills, as well. So it’s relationships on multiple levels. But if we’re talking about within school and how you interact in different environments, that’s why executive function so important, I, you


Lisa Marker Robbins  13:03

know, it makes me think of to in a lot of times, parents of teenagers don’t know this, but you work in the college level, me having adult children, once they leave your house in there on the college campus, community college or four year college. Parents, you are not You’re not permitted to if you email a professor, unless your kid has signed the FERPA release, that Professor can’t even reply to you or acknowledge that your kids in their class, you can’t call the university and check on them. And I would argue that even if they have signed the FERPA release to allow you to do you know, this like FERPA it for people who don’t know, FERPA, I always say is the privacy laws that govern education and students records, were HIPAA governs our medical records privacy among that. So if a kid is ready for college, and they’re being successful, and you send them, it’s really not the parents place to be calling and checking and all the things anyway. So we’ve got to teach our kids these skills.


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  14:13

Well, and we think that we’re doing the best for them. And we are when we’re trying to find them the best tutor and find the best school and we’re trying to organize their activities. But when you take those structures away, they need to be able to do things on their own. And there’s bumps in the road. And parents sometimes will say, Well, how can how can I make it so my kid won’t struggle? And I said, Well, you can’t. But you can give them the one that’s the fourth that’s actually is sensibility, or emotional awareness. You can give them the emotional awareness to say, to be able to identify how they feel, and then to know what to do with that feeling. And then maybe go back to the social love the thought the task initiation to ask for help, that kind of thing. But emotional awareness is hard. It’s an executive function and multiple itself. regulation, it can be about controlling impulses, it can also be about showing emotional restraint. But I like to think of it a little bit more positively as just to say, you know, in our family, we use the feelings wheel. And I’m not just talking about my 10 year old child, I’m talking about my spouse, and I get a feeling we all and say, how do we really feel right now let’s identify what the feeling is, and then make a plan from there. But that’s pretty mature executive functioning skills. And what we see is that the demands on a teenager in high school do not meet the level of their executive function skills. And part of that’s not their fault, because their brains aren’t fully developed. And part of it is because maybe we’ve scaffolded things too much. And the other part is that we just haven’t taught them the skills or given them the room to learn that practice them.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:51

I, you know, I love that one of the things you said, when you’re like, they don’t get to practice, no, we just put them out there. The sacking made me think like, as a business owner in I have like three avenues to my business businesses, but the one business has more employees and contractors and the others. And when we get a new team member, I always say like, we’re training somebody, whether it’s a new team member, or giving them a new role, and they’ve not done it before my mindset as a business owner, or what I want my employees to do with the people that report to them as let them watch you do it. Do it with them. You watch them do it. And then let them give it a try. You know, so it’s like, it’s it’s four stages of moving somebody towards independence. And so as I heard you talking about, you know, calling or emailing the professor or making the appointment, or any of these things, it’s like, okay, that’s ways that we can set them up right now while they’re still in high school. Like, what other tips do you have for families to start setting their teen up at this point?


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  17:07

One of the things I suggest is to start tracking these skills, and I’ve got an infographic on my website that have these four S’s. And I suggest just making more columns, Scholastic, study, social sensibility. Start off by writing down a couple of positive things that you note, skills that they’re doing well, for example, a lot of parents tell me their kids have zero time management. But I said, so what about when they’re doing things that they absolutely want to do? Can they manage their time? Well, for that? Can they get the things done they need to do in order to do what they want to do. So you know, it could be under scholastic skills. It could be they read a book, and they told you about it, because sometimes kids read books, and they’re like, on earth about it don’t be. So did, were they able to explain it, were they excited about it. So write down some positive things in each category, do that for a week, and only takes about Biden rule today. The second week, write down some areas for growth. And I wouldn’t go to your child and say, Well, I’ve been taking notes on you for the last two weeks, then here’s what I’ve learned the observation and here’s our plan. But at that point, have a conversation with them to say, you know, I’ve noticed that you’ve been struggling with this particular thing. Let’s try practicing by X, Y, and Z. And part of why students struggle in certain areas is again, there’s always an emotional root for everything, right? We see with a lot of high school students, again, I taught high school for a long time, and my my spouse taught high school for a long time, and we’d see these juniors in particular, just come home and fall apart emotionally. And they would be so overwhelmed by all their activities and their very long school days, and that they have to write their college essay, that they would just collapse and be frozen. So that’s why we have to look at the emotional things that are going on. So as a parent, if you’re writing down these areas for growth, and you’re seeing, there’s an emotional thing happening here that is stunting, what you know, whatever skill it is, and sometimes you can see that they used to be really good at something like maybe they studied really efficiently at one point, and now they’re not. So what are the emotional roots on that? And what can we do about it?


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:24

I love it. So we will link to that infographic that you have, because I think that’s like, I always give everybody a college bound challenge of what to do one thing to do this week after they listen to the episode, and I’m going to I’m going to teach that when I record this that part later, but we will put that link in the show notes directly to it because it sounds like that’s something that would they can print it out right and then have it at home print it out download. Post it somewhere so you don’t forget all of those important things. So well. These have been it fantastic tips do you have any parting words of advice for families, you know, as it relates to getting your kid set up for success?


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  20:11

Well, I just want to reiterate that the right skills are one of the most important things that you can do for them. Because after they get into college, they are kind of on their own, but they still need you, right. So if you can have some positive avenues of communication about these kinds of things, then they won’t be embarrassed to come to you and say I need help with this, or they won’t wait until mid term and they’re failing, of course to tell, maybe you can give some advice that I think can translate to on their own. So I think open warm communication is really important. And then scaffolding as much as possible so that you can set them up to not only be successful, but happy because that’s what we want. We want people to enjoy their college experience and get to the career that they would ultimately desire.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:57

Awesome. Thank you, Lauran, for making time.


Lauran Kerr-Heraly  21:00

Thank you so much.


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:06

regular listeners know at this point in the show, I give you a weekly college bound challenge. I think Lauran made it really easy on me this time, head to the show notes and grab the executive functioning skills infographic link, download the graphic, and print it out, then it gets us so it’s not going to be something quick this weekend like I usually do. But I love her idea of what she said about looking for the positive in your teens executive functioning over the next week. And then the following week, look for those growth opportunities. As you’re seeing those successes, I’m going to encourage you to sprinkle them into your conversations throughout the week. We all like to hear from others, especially our parents while we’re doing something well. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share it with a friend who needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and confident about your team’s future.