The power of routines

Achieving more with less

Hey 👋

Hope your week is treating you well. This week (and next), we’re taking a skinny dip into routines

Big idea 🍉

A routine is a sequence of actions that gets triggered by a 'cue' (aka prompt), all of which happens largely unconsciously and with minimal cognitive effort.

For example, when you come to a junction in your car, you squeeze the brakes and clutch, drop down through the gears, check your mirrors, and pop on the indicator... all without really thinking about it. You could be listening to the radio or talking to your co-pilot… insane, eh?

When we have routines in place in school, it means that:

  1. We can help students to achieve lots with little effort (both from them and us).

  2. Students don't have to expend their finite and precious attention on the process of learning, and so can focus more on the content of our teaching.

Not only do routines supercharge student learning, but they also create a sense of safety, which is particularly valued by students with special needs. And when a routine is in place, we teachers also must think less about what is happening, and so can spend more of our previous mental capacity on monitoring the classroom and responding to student needs as they arise.

This is why routines are the bedrock of responsive teaching.

Now, I'm not suggesting we just have one big formula for our lessons... it’s better to think about having a 'repertoire of routines', that we deploy for different situations at various times, so that the overall student experience is more one of familiarity rather than one of novelty (while novelty does have a place in school, it’s probably a fairly small one).

Examples of routines include how our students enter and exit the lesson, how we call for listening, how we check for understanding, how we set up class discussions or independent practice. TLAC 3.0 or the Teaching and Learning Playbook are great places to look for inspiration.

Now, is this not boring for students? Effective routines set students up for success, free up the precious mental capacity needed for creativity to flourish, and act as a collective ritual which can foster belonging—a key ingredient in meaningful education. So… no.

🎓 For more, check out this review of routine research in healthcare.


  • Routines are sequences of action which are prompted by a cue, all of which happens with minimal thought.

  • They have the potential to enhance student learning, confidence, and belonging.

  • Overall, the student experience should be more one of familiarity than novelty.

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Stay sane.

Peps 👊