Routines, Writing, and Excellence


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Phil Jackson was interviewed on NPR about his new book not too long ago. He talked about the importance of practicing the fundamentals of basketball and how his teams  always started practice by working on the nuts and bolts of the game. Jackson related this to a story about Pablo Casals, one of the greatest cello players ever. When asked about his playing, Casals stated “I go through my fingering for an hour before I start playing a piece of music.”

This got me thinking about the fundamentals of writing. I don’t think we give students enough time to really practice the basics or build stamina for writing. We need to be more mindful of our established routines and ask ourselves “Is this activity/assignment helping the students become better writers?” If the answer is no, then we need a different routine.

The importance of keeping a writer’s notebook/journal has been underscored for me recently. For the past week, I’ve been participating in TeachersWrite! by responding to daily prompts. Some of this writing had nuggets taken from my journals, thoughts I’d jotted down without any specific purpose. Giving our students time to write each day about what interests them gives them the opportunity to practice the fundamentals in an engaging, meaningful way. Who knows what nuggets they’ll come up with when given the opportunity.

Providing our students with a daily opportunity to write about topics of their choice has the added benefit of getting them to think like writers. Since I’ve been writing regularly, I find myself observing the world differently. Telling students that they should see the world with “wide awake eyes” (Did Lucy Calkins write that? I can’t remember where I read it.) and actually getting them to do it are two different things.

A daily writing routine, one that offers students a period of time to just write, whether they respond to a prompt, take that prompt in their own direction, or just write about what’s on their mind, is critical if we want our students to be writers. Not just effective writers, but passionate writers. Writers who learn about themselves and the world through writing.

After I first heard the Phil Jackson interview and started drafting this post, I got side-tracked by work. In the meantime, Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts posted “The Do-Re-Mi of Writing,” a thoughtful and practical piece about students improving their writing by having them go through their “scales,” just as musicians do. Be sure to read their terrific post.

Maria Popova also recently wrote about the importance of habit in “The Pace of Productivity and How to Master Your Creative Routine” on Brain Pickings. She gives lots of examples of famous creators, their daily routines, and the excellence they achieved through habit.

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly Slice of Life Challenge!

6 thoughts on “Routines, Writing, and Excellence

  1. Teachers Write is wonderful for this reason – it keems me from slcaking off nmy notebook in July, when I’m slacking off from so much else. Great post!


  2. Morning 🙂 I was in the middle of reading your slice when I came to your link about the Do-Re-Mi of practicing writing, building the writing muscle and I had to have that link for our brand new Summer Institute blog. Of course I also took some time to read the post for myself.
    Perfect! We want to create to teacher writers first and foremost and then support them in their classrooms as they return to pass the process of writing every day on to their students. Seems so simple…
    Glad I stopped by,


  3. Who knows what nuggets they’ll come up with when given the opportunity.- Such a great thought to keep in mind as we work with students! Thanks for the good ideas here and the good links, too.


  4. Routines, Writing and Excellence addresses the power in teachers writing. When teachers write they become aware of the metacognitive process involved. Routinely writing provides the space to notice and note what it takes to write. Hopefully, noticing how hard writing is will shed light on the need to provide space for students to write everyday to develop routines and excellence. Thanks for sharing!


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