Social Work and Executive Functioning: Q&A with Elizabeth Sorice

The Chicago Family Tutor offers coaching and tutoring services to support individuals, students and families who are seeking to improve their executive functioning, achieve academic or professional goals or live the life that they envision for themselves. In this interview with Elizabeth, we talk about connections between social work, executive function coaching, and community investment.

Elizabeth is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Executive Function Coach with The Chicago Family Tutor. Much of Elizabeth’s work has been centered on helping disadvantaged youth gain the necessary skills to thrive at school. This includes tutoring and providing opportunities for youth to learn their strengths, advocating for Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s), coaching Executive Function skills, and supporting the 8th grade and 12th grade transition. Elizabeth gets most excited when students who were not interested in school become engaged learners.

Q: What kind of learner were you as a student? And how did your experience of school impact your view of yourself?

A: I didn’t know it at the time, but I’m a visual learner, and that’s something I relied on throughout my whole education and career. Flashcards and color coding were systems that I used the most. Having two older sisters who were role models to me helped when it came to habits and how to progress through school. I didn’t really have the language of executive functions until I started my career in social work. Being in this field made me realize that the concepts executive functions develops in students, I had been managing for some time in my own life. I just finally had a name for it. I’m not someone that is “naturally smart,” I really have to work at it, be disciplined and study. My planner is golden, I’m a paper and pen person. Relying on those systems and picking up tools along the way really helped me all the way through college and graduate school.

Q: 8th grade going into high school and 12th grade going into college and/or career are considered important academic transition years. What kinds of support are critical to successful transitions?

A: From my social work lens, it’s finding a community and exploring what wraparound support is available. For example: How much are parents able to help manage their child’s coursework? What is the school offering in terms of after-school programs? What’s happening in your community to connect to from both an academic standpoint and a behavior standpoint? I’ve worked with youth that have experienced trauma and therefore think about support from a systems perspective. Essentially, who are all the players involved to help develop that student’s growth, and how can they work together to ensure a student is growing in all aspects of their life? This is especially valuable for eighth graders transitioning into high school. It is helpful to identify school counselors, programs, clubs, etc. for a student to connect with. Finding that one person in the school building, who may not even be a teacher, is key. They can help be a partner, advocate and cheerleader in the student’s success. The same concept applies for when a student goes to college. There are so many offices and resources that you can access on campus. As a first-generation student, I didn’t really know all resources that were available until I was a junior or senior and wished I would have had that wraparound support the whole time. Get to know what resources and supports exist, and taking a step to access those resources is a step in the right direction.

Q: As a licensed clinical social worker, what do you want parents, caretakers and educators to understand about what it takes to be successful in school?

A: I go back to fostering the whole person. Attending school, completing homework and earning grades are at the foundation of matriculating and growing as a student. But there’s also the other side to their school experience. How is the student socializing? How are they connecting to their school? Do they feel a part of their school community? A student’s social-emotional development is just as important as the grades earned on a report card. That’s why freshman year is especially important, in high school and college. If a student feels connected to their school community, it encourages a student to want to succeed.

If a student feels connected to their school community, it encourages a student to want to succeed.

Q: How do you help students who have ADHD find the best strategies that work for them?

A: When a child heads into middle school or high school, the academic demands can make it apparent that they don’t have systems that work for them. But really, this applies to any student, no matter their age. To determine what systems could work, it starts with asking a lot of questions. Who are you? How do you like to learn? What do you want to do after graduating high school? What are your goals? It helps to ask questions not just about school, but also learning about their hobbies. Maybe they like art which cues you in as a coach that they may be a visual or kinesthetic learner. From there, suggesting tools to try. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Let’s scrap it. As a coach, we can encourage, let’s just keep going, you’re going to find something that works for you. Once they find something that works, and experience success, it becomes a motivator for them to keep using that system and expand their use of it to other classes or other areas of life. Sometimes it can take a while to get to that point, but it is about being patient and finding what works for each individual.

You can tell [a system] works when they’re finally seeing success. And that success is the motivator for them to keep using it and expand their use of it to other classes or other areas of life.

Q: What’s your favorite executive function tool or practice that you use in your personal life right now?

A: I use my planner for everything. It’s not complicated, but it is how I keep track of all my tasks, deadlines, and notes. I have it broken down by day. I’ll include meetings as well as a running task list for that week. I literally write everything down and then scratch it off just to get that personal satisfaction. “I did it. All right. Keep going.” I’ve found through the years that if I don’t have my planner nearby, like when running an errand, I might just try to keep track of things mentally, but then it gets lost. So, I have to write everything down.

Thank you for joining this conversation with Elizabeth. If you connected with this Q&A, let us know your thoughts below. We would love to hear from you! Interested in working with one of our coaches? Please fill out this contact form so we can schedule a free consultation with you.

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