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Student Wellbeing and the Importance of Routines

Navigating the Unexpected

Like many of you, the moment I step into my home, I have a specific routine for where I place my keys. Recently I was about to walk out my front door on my way to have dinner with a friend I had not seen in a while. I had been having a good day and was feeling excited about spending time with my friend, but as I reached for my keys that were normally kept in a bowl on a credenza next to my front door, they weren’t there. Panic set in because I always put my keys in the bowl when I walked into my home. What should have been a routine task turned into a frantic search. I eventually found my keys in the pocket of a jacket that I rarely wore, but not before tearing my house apart and being on the verge of tears of desperation.


I felt emotionally drained and off balance for hours after the event and had a difficult time settling into dinner with my friend. As my friend and I attempted to reconnect at dinner, my mind kept drifting off trying to remember the last time I wore the jacket where I found my keys and how the keys ended up in the pocket.  My friend could tell that I was having a difficult time listening and responding to her questions because I kept asking her to repeat herself. Luckily, the stakes were not high that evening and my friend was supportive and even joked that “perhaps I needed a larger bowl”. If I had been going to work for a meeting, or taking my mother to an important doctor’s appointment, given the emotional state that I was in, the results could have been problematic. This incident highlighted the importance of sticking to routines. It demonstrated how such habits provide stability in our daily lives, effectively reducing or even eliminating stress.


The Power of Routines

Whether it's making the bed when you get up in the morning, taking a shower and brushing your teeth, sipping coffee from a cherished mug, or locating those elusive car keys, our brains thrive on established patterns. Consistent routines allow our minds to operate on autopilot for predictable tasks, freeing up cognitive resources for more complex activities. Routines provide a sense of predictability, often reducing uncertainty and anxiety, and contributing to overall stability and wellbeing. Routines can also include social activities or time spent with family and friends. Supportive relationships can contribute to emotional wellbeing, providing a support system and a sense of belonging.


Routines in a Student’s Life

Picture a bustling school morning, filled with the sounds of shuffling backpacks and excited chatter. In the midst of this lively scene, routines play an important role in guiding and organizing a student's day. From the morning rush to get to school on time, routines such as attendance and morning announcements set the tone for the day and serve as dependable anchors for students. These anchors extend beyond the morning, encompassing classroom discussions and lunchtime routines that foster social connections and the formation of friendships. Afternoons marked by routines such as extracurricular activities, afterschool jobs, or dedicated study time; offer students additional layers of structure and predictability. These routines also provide students with a sense of mastery as they navigate assignments, exams, additional responsibilities, and relationships, while also fostering their physical and emotional wellbeing.


When Routines are Ineffective

In my niece's third-grade class, one classroom routine designed to keep order in the classroom caused significant challenges for her. Finishing an in-class assignment ahead of her classmates meant enduring silence until the next activity started—a difficult task for an active child like her. This mismatch between the teacher’s expectation of stillness and my niece's need for activity resulted in problems. Several of her classmates faced similar challenges, leading to occasional bans from recess and, in one instance, a missed class field trip. After the missed field trip, my niece complained to her parents, expressing a reluctance to go back to school.


When a school routine consistently fails to meet a student's needs, their sense of security can be jeopardized and trigger anxiety and stress. This can lead to frustration with the school experience and undermine a student’s overall sense of belonging and wellbeing. In my niece's case, a collaborative effort between parents and the teacher brought about a harmonious change. Instead of a rigid routine mandating stillness for all early finishers, students were given choices. They could read a book, color, write in a journal, or sit quietly. This flexible approach empowered students and helped them fulfill their need for activity while enabling the teacher to maintain order in the classroom as others completed their assignments.


Championing Student Stability and Wellbeing through Routines

Daily routines transcend being just mundane practices; they are powerful tools molding a student's wellbeing and academic success. Effective routines establish a sense of dependability, aiding students in easing anxiety and the sense of being overwhelmed by daily demands. To ensure these routines remain effective and responsive to the evolving needs, students, teachers, and schools can adopt practical evaluation strategies. Firstly, regular check-ins with students through informal discussions or anonymous surveys can provide valuable insights into their experiences with established routines. This feedback allows teachers to understand what aspects of the routines are working well and where adjustments may be necessary.


Additionally, monitoring students' engagement levels during routine activities can serve as a reliable indicator of effectiveness. Are students actively participating, or do signs of disinterest and disengagement emerge? Observing these cues can guide teachers/schools in refining or introducing new elements to maintain student interest and enthusiasm. Another practical approach is to collaborate with fellow educators to share experiences and insights. Engaging in professional discussions allows teachers to learn from one another, gaining diverse perspectives on what routines prove effective in different contexts. In essence, the evaluation of routines should be an ongoing, collaborative process. By regularly assessing their impact and making necessary adjustments, teachers and schools contribute to the creation of a dynamic and responsive learning environment that prioritizes both academic achievement and the holistic wellbeing of each student.


See the resources below to learn more about how developing and maintaining routines can be helpful for students and families.




We invite you to share your experiences. Which routines have proven valuable in caring for or working with children and/or students? Let's learn from each other's insights.


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