Executive Functioning

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Executive Functioning (EF) is a really big buzzword in education and social science research right now. It’s a term researchers use to encompass several brain-related functions that are shown to have a significant impact on children’s future success. Children who display higher levels of executive function skills are more likely to finish college, be employed in a good job, have more successful relationships with a spouse or partner, be a better parent, and have fewer health problems in later life.

You’re probably thinking, “Where do I sign?” “I want that for my child!” The good news is that EF develops over time, and we all play a role in helping to develop it in our children. According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, EF is a group of skills that help us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time and revise plans as necessary. These skills include: 

  • Working memory - the ability to hold onto and manipulate multiple pieces of information over a short period of time
  • Cognitive flexibility - the ability to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings
  • Perspective taking
  • Impulse control - the ability to set priorities and resist impulsive actions or responses
  • Delayed gratification - directing attention and effort toward longer term goals, rather than what’s easy to accomplish NOW

Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child has a wonderful video on executive functioning that I highly recommend to any teacher, parent and caregiver. Last month, our entire staff from both the Collins and Oxnard campus viewed the video together and engaged in professional learning about brain development and on developing executive functioning in children. We are very excited to integrate executive functioning development into all areas of the program and curriculum. Your child’s teacher can share ideas for fostering executive functioning outside of school (a few suggestions are listed below).

How do we build executive functioning in school?

  •  Circle Time/Morning Meeting
  •  Predictable routines
  •  Organized environments
  •  Clear rules and behavior expectations
  •  Games and songs that require turn taking, memory, sequencing, or stop/start actions
  •  Open-ended creative play
  •  Continually increase time on task
  •  Student-centered classrooms/student-led activities
  •  Involve child in solving problems/promote perspective taking
  •  Open-ended questioning

 How can you build executive functioning at home?

The rule of thumb is to avoid doing things for your child that they could do for themselves. If it is something they will have to do independently at school, then try to avoid doing it for them at home. This can include:

  • Feeding child or cutting their food (when age appropriate)
  • Pouring water, milk, etc.
  • Letting them walk instead of being carried
  • Putting on jacket
  • Carrying backpack (allowing them to struggle a little is an investment toward future independence!)
  • Picking up toys

Harvard's Center on the Developing Child also suggests that you can help your child develop EF through SOAR:

Support imagination: Being able to step outside of the present moment is a key aspect of executive function. It is easier to use good executive functioning when thinking about a problem as if it was happening to another person rather than to oneself.

Offer choices within limits: Avoid telling your child what he or she is going to eat for breakfast (no choice) or asking your child what he or she wants for breakfast (unlimited choice). You might ask if your child wants cereal, oatmeal, or eggs (choices within limits).

Assist reflection: Talk with your child about options available and the consequences of different choices. When your child interacts with others, talk about emotions that other people may be feeling and how other people’s point of view may be different than your child’s. 

Raise activity levels: Increases blood flow to brain and reduces stress. Many exercises are also good practice for executive function skills such as body awareness and control, remembering rules, and controlling emotions.


The Leader in Me

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

This year, our school is adopting a program called The Leader in Me! The Leader in Me is an age-appropriate adaptation of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and is based on universal, timeless principles of personal, interpersonal, and organizational effectiveness, such as responsibility, vision, integrity, teamwork, collaboration, and renewal. Throughout the year, you will see activities and discussions in each classroom and at school-wide events that relate to the 7 Habits:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Students learn to take responsibility for their choices and behaviors.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Students learn to think about how they would like something to turn out before they get started.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Students learn to decide what is most important and to take care of that first.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Students learn to think win-win, which is the belief that everyone can win. It’s not me or you—it is both of us.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood
Students learn that it is better to listen first and talk second.
Habit 6: Synergize
Students learn to work together to create a better solution than either would have thought of alone.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Students learn to have balance of the body, brain, heart, and soul.

A few of the exciting enhancements to look forward to this year as part of The Leader in Me:
Mission Statements – Each student will craft his/her own mission statement. This is designed to help students begin to identify their own sense of purpose and values. Each classroom will also create a class mission, which will guide their work together.
WIGS (Wildly Important Goals) & PIGS (Personally Important Goals) – Each student will identify, record, and track their progress with individual academic and personal goals.
Leadership Notebooks – Every student in TK-5th grade will have a leadership notebook in which they will track personal progress with their leadership habits and their WIGS/PIGS.
Student-Led Conferences – This year, the Elementary Division is launching student-led conferences. The student-led conference process empowers students to take ownership of their work and report on their progress. During the conference, students will report on academic progress, articulate goals, show their parents assessment data when appropriate, and share examples of their work.

I am looking forward to practicing the 7 Habits alongside our students and teachers.

Welcome to our Elementary Corner blog!

Written by Mr. Pozzi & Ms. Dexter on .

Welcome to the 2016-17 school year! Our WHPS Elementary has a truly exciting year planned, and the school blog is a great place to find information school policies, child development and about what to look forward to. 

Parent Survey Results

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Woodland Hills Private School (WHPS) families,

We are proud to have served your family during the past school year. Because WHPS constantly strives to provide an outstanding educational experience, we take your feedback seriously. We would like to share some results from this year’s end of school year survey, which enables us to identify notable areas of strength as well as areas for future development.


The survey findings indicate a high level of satisfaction among parents: 98.45% of all respondents stated they are likely to recommend our program to another family.

Top strengths that were identified:

  • 99% of families reported that WHPS nurtures their son/daughter's self esteem.

“[The best thing about WHPS is] the fact that my kids know everyone and feel comfortable and loved at the school. They walk with confidence and truly love going, that's all I can ask for, thank you!”

  • 98% of families whose child graduated from WHPS reported that their child was well-prepared for their next school environment.

Over 90% of families cited the following strengths of the school:

  • The teachers understand my child’s individual needs and employ effective techniques to aid learning.

“[The best thing about WHPS is]the caring administration and teachers. They are all nurturing and wonderful. My child has grown as an individual and has learned many important life lessons.”

  • WHPS provides a balanced, developmentally appropriate educational program.

“[The best thing about WHPS is]the sense of community and balance between academics and a loving, nurturing environment. Individualized attention/learning & groups based on abilities.”

  • WHPS developed my child's critical thinking skills.
  • WHPS offers well-equipped classrooms with educationally appropriate equipment and materials.
  • WHPS was responsive to any concerns I expressed about my child’s progress.
  • WHPS teachers and administration were open to suggestions.
  • WHPS provides appropriate opportunities for parent involvement in the school.

Specific to the Elementary Division

  • 82% of families reported that their child took part in advanced academics this year.

“[The best thing about WHPS is] the attention put on customized education programs, so that students who are advanced or a little slower can move to higher or lower grades as needed for particular subjects.”

  • There were a few families in our elementary program who had checked out other private, public or charter school options in the past two years. 95% of these families reported that compared to other schools, WHPS is stronger at teacher attention to individual student needs.


We have also learned about areas in which you want to see us do more.


While many families appreciate our focus on the outdoor classroom and the Animal & Nature Center (Oxnard campus), several parents expressed that they would like to see some upgrades to the aesthetic of the preschool buildings and classrooms. We agree and have spent this past school year planning some exciting improvements to take place over the summer and the following school year.

Collins Campus

  • Campus Beautification & New Music Wall

Throughout this year, the Collins campus will receive updated lighting and enhancements to our outdoor learning spaces, including the addition of a new music wall.

  • Technology and Infrastructure

The campus has received upgrades to the wireless network and overall technology infrastructure, including each classroom receiving upgraded computers, to better support the needs of teachers and students in the classroom.

Oxnard Campus

  • Preschool Rooms 1-7

Rooms 1-7 are receiving all new flooring and updates to the bathrooms. Also, construction has just wrapped up in Room 6, which now has a brand new bathroom and open concept floor plan.

  • Elementary Building

The interior of the elementary building has just been freshly painted and spruced up. Updated furniture is coming soon.

  • Library

Our entire elementary school collection will be leveled according to the Columbia University Teachers College system that underpins our literacy program. In addition, the space will become more modular, allowing for a variety of flexible uses.

  • Computer Lab

The computer lab is being overhauled as a mobile learning and maker space. Our 3-D printing system will be located in the lab, and we are upgrading our laptops, which will be housed in the lab and can be used anywhere on campus.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math)

Building on our educational philosophy of providing the right balance between rigorous academics and social-emotional learning, we have some truly inspirational enhancements in store. All divisions are expanding the STEAM emphasis in their programs.

LEADERSHIP - “The Leader in Me

Next year’s annual theme in the Elementary Division, The Leader in Me, is designed to promote leadership habits in the entire school community. Leadership is the umbrella term to encompass the many character traits and basic life competencies that parents, business leaders, and educators are voicing as the desired skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century (below). Emphasis will be on The 7 Habits of Happy Children (adapted from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

The program focuses on the following competencies and skills:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Executive Functioning
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Leadership and Responsibility


We have found that some mornings, prior to our 8:00 a.m. start time, parents wish they had more opportunities to converse with their child’s teacher. Teachers were sometimes inside setting up for the day and weren’t always readily available before 8:00 a.m. For next year, we have adjusted the schedule so there will always be a teacher from every classroom on the playground from 7:45-8:00 a.m.


Your feedback and opinions are incredibly important to us. While there are many ideas we would love to incorporate, we are not able to do everything right away. It is our sincere desire to continue to have excellent two-way communication with you, and please know that the administration is always at your disposal for any questions, comments or concerns. 


Increasing Social-Emotional Independence

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Something happened a couple weeks ago. It was nothing new; it is nothing out of the ordinary. However, it epitomizes our school’s (and our teachers’) approach to social-emotional learning.

THE SITUATION: A kindergartner is having a difficult time saying goodbye to Mom. The teacher is outside the classroom helping the child prepare to join the class.

THE SOLUTION: Rather than an adult trying to solve the problem or the parent entering the classroom, the student was able to make the choice to come in and go directly to the classroom library to take a break and regain composure. More importantly, the student was able to self-select a tool (one of the calming sensory bottles stored in the library area) to help herself calm down and transition into the school day. If you haven’t yet seen them, they work like magic for many children!

Within less than two minutes, the student had calmed down and was able to sit and watch the beginning of Morning Meeting (by far the most important time in the school day). And within another one to two minutes, the student had joined the class on the rug for Morning Meeting.
 Belief that the child is capable of overcoming the situation.
 Belief that children, like adults, need autonomy and opportunities to make choices.
 Belief that adults don’t need to solve every challenging situation a child faces (though we do provide support!)

This is a small situation that occurred within a matter of minutes, but I believe it sends a strong message about our school’s philosophy of teaching children various tools and allowing them to use these tools with increasing independence.

I congratulate our teachers for constantly innovating and bringing in creative ways of teaching, both academic and social-emotional skills. If you have not been on the school blog on the WHPS website recently, I encourage you to take a fresh look at even more of the ways our teachers and our school continue to live out our ESLRS (Expected School-wide Learning Results).

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