The Importance of Structure

body-paragraph-structureWhen I taught developmental writing years ago at a community college, the first lessons revolved around structure. Good paragraphs require topic sentences plus 3-5 supporting sentences plus concluding sentences. All the sentences within a paragraph focuses on a single topic clearly stated in the topic sentence. Later, as students’ abilities grew, we moved on to the structure of good essays, building on what we learned about paragraphs.

When students came to class the first day, they lacked confidence not just in their writing abilities but in their ability to even learn to write well. After all, those entering a developmental writing class in college typically either failed miserably in high school writing class or had not seen the inside of a classroom for over 20 years.

Right away, I encouraged students to trust the process. If they did, they would learn to write and communicate more clearly, a great benefit in whatever career paths they chose. I focused on teaching structure in writing that transferred easily to whatever situation their future jobs presented.

As I encouraged students to trust the process of learning to write, I also worked to provide a consistent classroom structure to help them feel safe while building trust. I believed this structure would go a long way in not only developing them as writers but also in preparing them as individuals for life in the “real world.”

shutterstock_106489583Little did I know that years later this same approach would also provide much-needed structure for my own kids both in their schoolwork and as individuals. The idea of consistent structure proved immensely helpful for my youngest son who,  until we adopted him at age 9, knew nothing of structure.

In addition to experience in the classroom, years working in business services and from watching my husband climb the corporate ladder illustrated the necessity of structure for business success. Then, when my kids started playing organized sports, the need for consistent structure once again proved itself important.

Scripture also supports the need for structure. The Old Testament law attempted to provide structure to keep the Israelites from losing focus on God. Paul provides structure for speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:27. Several scriptures, Old and New Testament, provide structure for making decisions about tithing & giving (Numbers 18:25-29; Deuteronomy 26:1-10; Malachi 3:6-17; & 2 Corinthians 8-9). Even details about end-time events (Daniel & Revelation), while still quite mysterious, provide structure helping to identify the unfolding events leading to Jesus’ return.

Whether in the classroom, the corporate world, the baseball team, or a home, structure provides a safe arena for growth. In fact, structure is so important that God’s Word exists to provide us with a guide around which we can structure our living.

Perhaps the best way to understand the need for structure, though, exists in considering its absence. Over this past summer, I lost some sense of structure partially because of travel and partially because of summer vacation from school but largely because I failed to adapt to the changing season. As a result, my youngest son’s behavior became inconsistent, and he began to struggle in ways similar to when he first came to us. I even noticed the affects of lost structure in myself as well, realizing that my productivity both physically and mentally depended on consistent structure.

adler quote

Humans need structure. We need the comfort of what to expect in order to be willing to experience the discomfort of growth. Some people need more structure than others, and needs vary by situation. Some people need others to establish structure, and some do well establishing their own. No one’s needs for structure are exactly the same, but everyone needs it to some extent.

The upcoming post “Creating Structure” looks at the essential elements of structure, the results that can be expected with appropriate structure, and why, even though we need it, we sometimes tend to resist structure.

DISCUSSION: How has the existence and/or absence of structure impacted your life?

21 thoughts on “The Importance of Structure

  1. Even though I do a lot of "flying by the seat of my pants" I have noticed there is a need for some structure. I study best at the office. I don't do well away from the office, my books, and the friendly confines. At the same time, I have noticed vacations throw me off my game in a big way. The loss of structure throws me a curve. I never come home from a vacation on a Friday or Saturday and try to preach on Sunday, for example. That loss of structure while gone ruins my mojo. 🙂

    • Good examples. I think everyone needs structure, and even the most “unstructured” have it if they are at all successful. We need the comfort of structure in order to venture into the uncomfortable areas if life.

  2. I really need structure, I find myself getting flustered when I don't have it. My son is the same. We went on vacation last week and this week is a struggle to get back on pace. He enjoyed staying up late, sleeping in and even skipping naps because we were out having so much fun. This week is a total bummer for him 🙂

    • Our youngest is the same way. He really struggles after vacations as well as if my husband & I are gone even just for overnight. Plus, he has a bit of separation anxiety. We just quickly get back to structure knowing he'll get back on track fairly quickly if we do. Not sure of the age of your son, but the more we talk to ours and explain what we see going on, the more he seems to handle it. At least, he is as he matures.

      • My son is 2 1/2. He also has some separation anxiety issues. It is getting easier now that he communicates better and I'm sure that will improve with his age and with our understanding his needs.

        • We've definitely had to help our son find the words to describe his feelings. He wasn't taught that kind of stuff when he was younger. The need to communicate, while how we do it changes with seasons of life, the actually need itself never changes.

  3. I do think that structure is important is all areas of life.. not so structured that you don't have any freedoms but structure that molds and helps one toward success. When I teach pitching and hitting I give a structure the student has to work within and I ask them to trust the structure because I know if they get good at repeating the structure they can have success. Like you say you want them to "trust the process". Sometimes I have students give up on the structure and process before they find success and ultimately never do because they try to find it by chance. Those that trust the process and structure and are willing to put the time into it until it bears fruit are most successful. Fruit bearing does not always come at expected times and can make some want to quit. Long term you have to believe in what you are doing and have faith that it will result in an abundant life.

    • Well said & terrific application to sports. Also, seems to connect with what I'm studying for Sunday school in the parables about seeds & growing. Jesus taught to a varied audience, and He knew that some would hear and not doing anything with what He said, while others would be fruitful with it. I know that's a really rough summary, but I hope you get my connection here. Success is found in trusting the process like the farmer has to trust that the seed is slowly growing even though he isn't and can't do anything to help it. (I'm specifically studying Mark 4 for my lesson.)

      • I grew up on a farm and I think what is true on the farm is true in life… there really are no short cuts to the harvest… you have got to cultivate, then plant, then water, wait, then weed, then nourish, wait, wait some more,,, then harvest, then turn the soil over in preparation for next year. A farmer can do everything right and still not have great success… but doing things right gives him the best shot at success. In life we don't always have the success we want or expect but we have got to continue to do the right things not only to give us the best shot at success but because it is the right way to live.

        • Yet another great further application, Mark! My husband grew up on a farm too, and I told him the other day that we need to write a book based on how is experiences growing up on a farm have made his life successful. It's really impact every area from work to marriage to parenting. There's a reason Jesus used farming analogies. I love that the people of His day understood them, and they are still clear and understandable for us today.

  4. Structure is an interesting thing. I think it's particularly useful and necessary when we are learning something – when we are in the beginning stages of developing a skill, for instance. But I think at some point you get to a point of mastery where you break the rules. The problem is that we often want to get to that point too early.

    • Very true, Loren. We really do need to learn the basics before we can venture into breaking the rules. But too many people tend to rush the process, and doing so means we don't gain the strength needed for the next level.

  5. I just think I need you as a teacher for my writing! I think one of the reasons I sometimes get off track is I forget about the structure. I know it is necessary, but sometimes I think I just want to be lazy and not apply what I know I should do. Yes, having been a farm girl I know the structure of raising crops, and a s a mom, raising a child, and as a homemaker there is a need for structure to keep things running smoothly. I believe God has a structure in the way of creation that is a model for us as well. Sunrise…sunset. love them both.

    • Structure is definitely an important part of life and fits really into about every area. Usually when I get off track, I need to go back to the basic structure to get back on track.

  6. For me structure is super important when I'm writting sermons. Until I feel the structure and have a concrete simple outline that I can look at I tend to just flounder around.

    I also see structure as vital to my children's lives. The daily structure of having a regular schedule while homeschooling helps them to be successful.

    • I feel the same way when I am writing or preparing to teach. I need that structure to make progress. And the example with homeschooling really speaks to.the necessity of structure in order for growth to happen.

  7. I think structure is a requirement in so many areas (learning, starting in a new job, etc) but it's never been a strong point for me. I'll live within the confines of a thing until I get comfortable but then want to break the rules. Maybe it's creativity trying to bust out or just rebellion.

    • I think structure can work against us if we get too comfortable. I also think creativity allows us to sort of break the hold that too much structure can put on us. Structure is definitely a requirement for so many areas of life, but too much structure can stifle us. Balance is necessary too.

  8. I've worked with youth for over 5 years and have learned the importance of having structure with them. I really liked your point: "structure provides a safe arena for growth." That statement is defiantly true. Thank you for another great post!

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