The Power of Routine

One of the small pleasures of summer for me is that I can set the alarm for a bit later time during the week than is the case during the school year.  In spite of my many years going to and working in schools, I still am not a morning person and apparently never will be.  So I perhaps savor this treat a bit more than many.  This week has marked a return to my school day alarm schedule, a sure sign that we are about to embark on the routine and rhythms that the school year brings. 

It is amazing how quickly routine can set in for some of us.  My wife Jan and I had a wonderful experience in June exploring parts of northern Europe on a Baltic cruise.  In spite of the fact that we were only on the cruise ship 10 days, I woke up our first two nights back at our home convinced in my sleepy fog that I was still in our cabin.  It certainly had not taken me very long to acclimate myself to that space!  Time was a different story since vacations of some length tend to make it challenging for us to remember what day of the week it is. 

There is great benefit to routine and structure, for young people and adults alike.  School brings both routine and structure to those who spend their days here.  It also enhances the teaching and learning process in significant ways.  My administrative colleagues and I read Great by Choice this summer, the latest book by business and organizational sage Jim Collins.  In the book he makes side-by-side comparisons of pairs of similarly focused business.  In every pair one organization has prospered for the long term while the other has had short-lived or erratic success.  In analyzing the factors that made the difference, he notes that all the winners are those organizations that have taken the “20-mile march” approach.  Collins illustrates this point by examining the dramatically different outcomes of two simultaneous quests to reach the South Pole.  Lead explorer Roald Amundsen charted a consistent and steady daily progression toward the destination that led to success.  Robert Scott chose a less disciplined approach, not only failing to reach his destination but perishing in the process- a very dramatic historical example of “slow and steady wins the race.”  Successful schools are structured for 20-mile marches.  While students (and adults) can experience welcome break-through revelatory moments, those moments are grounded in the disciplined daily routine.

Nonetheless routines can also have their downside.  Routines have a way of becoming, well, routine.  So they must be balanced by the occasional change of pace, special projects and events, and variety and differentiation in pedagogical approach.  In that way routine does not grow stale but remains the stable platform that undergirds success for students and teachers.

Until next time…

My best,

Leo