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The School Planner: From Enemy to Friend A Coaching Case Study Example

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 12.57.31 PMMiddle school brings new experiences for students: multiple teachers and classrooms, lockers and the school planner, also known as the assignment book. Some students take to the planner like a long-lost friend, happily writing down their assignments and jumping at the chance to use different colored pens, stickers and post-it notes. Others, particularly students with ADHD, executive function issues or other learning differences, quickly view the planner as a hammer coming down on them day after day.

With the onset of new assignments, parents and teachers quickly ask, “Why don’t you just use your planner?” I call the planner the one-size-fits all solution to school organization. The problem is that students come in more than one size.

If your child has organization issues, you may have already taken him or her to tutors or other organization specialists. These well-meaning individuals may have explained to your student why using the planner will help them remember their homework assignments, due dates and upcoming tests and quizzes. There may be optimism that the tool, once properly explained, will turn your student into a pro planner. No more tears, anger or frustration when they don’t know that evening’s homework, realize they have left a worksheet or textbook at school, or forgot about an exam. In some cases, the student and planner begin to work well together. But what about those students who just don’t use their planners, no matter how many times they are told to? In these situations, coaching may be the answer.

As a coach who is asked by a parent or student to help with organization of school assignments, I first ask to see the planner. I then ask the student:

“How does each of your teachers give you your homework assignments? Do they give them at the beginning or end of class or on-line? Are they written down or given orally?”

“Tell me about your planner? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it?”

The purpose of these types of questions is to learn about the student’s specific school environment and how they personally like to work.

After I get a feel for how the student’s teachers work, the student’s working style and the student’s likes and dislikes, I give him or her a blank sheet of paper and ask the most important question, “If you were to make the ideal planner for you, can you show me what it would look like?” I give the student time to think and start to put it down on paper. As they are creating their planner, I ask them questions to help their thinking and development process.

When the student is done, we talk about how they would actually use the planner during their day and make any adjustments they feel is necessary. As the coach, I ask, “Would that work for you?” When it is done, I ask the student whether they would be willing to try their new planner for a week to see how it goes. I let them know that inventions take time and often have to be adjusted before the final version is found. If the student agrees to the trial, when we meet next, the student will tell me what worked and what did not. In addition, the student will have thought through potential changes for the things that did not work as well as they would like.

If the student is not receptive to trying their individualized planner, I ask questions designed to unearth what may work as a motivating factor. Perhaps they want to get good grades, go to a certain college, have a better relationship with a teacher, or have fewer arguments with their parents. If I can find a way to show them how utilizing their self-designed planner will help them achieve something they want, they may change their mind about trying the new planner. Young people, like adults, are far more likely to do something if there is something meaningful to be gained. The coach’s job is to help them see the process that leads to the goal.

When a student is still not receptive to trying their planner, I tell them we will do a different trial. For one week, the student will not use any planner to prove they do not need it. They will have to remember all their assignments, tests and quizzes and everything else they need to complete all their schoolwork. At the end of the week, we will see how they did. Most kids with ADHD or Executive Function issues will not be successful—not because they don’t want to be but because of working memory problems. If the student is not successful, then the following week they take their self-designed planner for a trial run and we go from there.

It is extremely worthwhile to work through this process with a student. For many, being asked what works for them is a new experience. Understanding the connection between using a planner and achieving a goal can also be illuminating. The process empowers students and gives them ownership over the strategy to help them become organized. They are invested. All of this increases the chance that the solution they devise will ultimately be successful. Every student has a successful planner within him or her; it is the job of the coach to help him or her find it and put it in place.

The start of the new school year is just around the corner. Get a jump on the planner experience now by stopping in to your school to see the principal or guidance professional and asking to see the school’s planner. Show it to your son or daughter, and ask them to think about it. If you think the planner might present a problem, consider hiring a coach to work with your student to devise a planner and/or assist with other organization, time management and executive function strategies that speak to their working style and strengths. Start the new year a step ahead of the game.

© 2015 Romaney Berson/BFocused Coaching

Romaney Berson is a life coach with specialization in ADHD, executive function issues, organization and time management.

 E-mail her with questions:

Parent of an ADHD Student? What to Ask When Touring Colleges



It’s September and the start of another school year. Seniors are getting in last college visits and preparing their applications. Juniors and their families are preparing to start, or are into, the college search process. This summer, Nina Berler, my good friend and founder of unCommon Apps, interviewed me about questions parents of students with ADHD or other learning differences should ask when touring colleges. This interview was originally posted on Many thanks to Nina for allowing me to repost this interview and its very important information.

The summer before junior or senior year of high school is a popular time to check out colleges. Typically, when a family tours a college campus, it listens to a pitch from an admissions officer and joins a group led by a designated undergrad. Usually, prospects hear about the class profile, fun traditions, and sports teams and ask about class size, job placement, food quality, and roommate matching.

Certainly, these are all important considerations. But what happens when a student has been diagnosed with ADHD or another learning difference? While parents may have played a key role as their students’ advocates, their teens will soon be independent. Can the college provide necessary accommodations, and will students be able to rise to the occasion once they leave home?

Romaney Berson, a life coach with specialization in ADHD, executive function issues, organization and time management believes that the college visit represents an unmatched opportunity to ask the right questions. Recently, unCommon Apps sat down with Berson, a Duke and Harvard Law School grad and mother of two based in Summit, New Jersey.

Romaney Berson, ADHD Coach

Are colleges that prominently display support services and mentoring necessarily better than those that don’t?

“Just because a school doesn’t advertise, it doesn’t mean they don’t have good services or accommodations available. You have to know your child and have some sense of the level of support that they’re going to need. By all means look at schools such as the University of Denver, Marist College, Lynn University, Curry College, Bryant University and the University of Arizona. In addition, some schools provide specialized services available to all students that greatly benefit students with ADHD and other learning differences. One example is Tulane’s Success Coaching Program. But the college experience is a mix of a wide variety of factors, so don’t limit yourself at the outset.”

Should I ask questions during the information session?

“Most definitely ask about a school’s resources and accommodations when it’s question-and-answer time. If an admissions representative makes himself or herself available after the information session or tour, take advantage of this opportunity if you don’t get called on or want more detailed information.”

What is the one question you should be sure to ask a tour guide?

“On tour, learn as much about the advising system as possible. This is important for two reasons. Academic advisors aren’t necessarily told about advisee’s diagnosed disabilities, especially in this age of privacy concerns. At some schools, advising means a short session with your student once a semester prior to registration. An uninformed advisor can mean your child is set up to fail before they even walk onto the campus.”

What happens if my student falls in love with a college that doesn’t have many services?

“First and foremost, you have to know your child. If you feel like your child could be successful at the school but you wish there were better services, you do what so many of us do when our kids are in high school: you supplement and look for outside support such as a coach, tutor, psychologist or psychiatrist. In today’s technological world, most students are never in the same place physically with their coach or other support provider. You figure out what your child is going to need, and you line it up. This is where doing the homework on the schools and what they provide ahead of time can benefit you; you won’t have to scramble to put something in place just before your student arrives on campus.”

There are two terms commonly used with students having executive function issues like ADHD: resources and accommodations. How do they differ?

“Resources include extra-help services such as writing workshops, math help, tutoring centers, and a staff of mental health professionals. Accommodations are different and result from passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  A student has to apply or make a request to get these accommodations once he or she gets admitted to a college; some schools require approval on a semester or annual basis. Typically, students need to submit a professional diagnostic testing report, among other requirements, to be granted some level of accommodation. If you don’t have professional testing, don’t necessarily despair. Some schools say they will review accommodation requests without formal testing reports.”

How do accommodations at the high school and college levels compare?

“The majority of colleges offer far more than high schools, for example, providing note-takers and allowing students to record classes. Always be sure to look at all accommodations a school offers. ”

Should ADHD parents and students check out additional resources while on campus?

“Before you go on your trip, set up an appointment with the office for disability services or other office responsible for accommodations.

Don’t leave without getting information on how to apply for accommodations, what accommodations are offered, whether there is an additional fee for accommodations and, most importantly, what your student has to do to utilize accommodations once granted.

Foreign language learning is particularly challenging for ADHD students, for example, so be sure to ask about requirements and support in this regard. Ask where on the website information about resources and accommodations is located.  At the very least, you want to ask these questions when they apply or certainly when they accept.”

How do you feel about gap years for students with ADHD and/or executive function disorder?

“A gap year can be a tremendous benefit for any student, not just those with ADHD or other learning differences. The transition to college is difficult in many ways, and not all students are prepared for it upon graduation from high school. If you or your child have any doubts about readiness for college, by all means consider a gap year. A post-graduate year, work experience, volunteering and other opportunities may be just what your student needs. Considering a gap year does not necessarily mean you put off applying to colleges. Many schools allow admitted students to defer their admission for a year. It is best to speak with your student’s college counselor about this option.”

With the transition to a more open class schedule, the expectation to meet specialized office hours, the temptation of extracurriculars, late nights and parties, not to mention having to deal with real life responsibilities such as laundry and getting to meals, time management is a stretch for the best of entering college freshmen. But for students with issues such as ADHD, the tasks may seem insurmountable. Moreover, the number of students diagnosed with executive function disorders continues to grow. According to the 2014 National College Health Assessment, a research survey organized by American College Health Association, 7.8 percent of students reported ADHD alone. Comments Berson, “Self-advocacy is one of the most important skills your child is going to have to learn.” Hopefully by asking the right questions and checking out resources while on campus, you can help your student find the place where he or she can maximize his or her college experience.


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