A Word On Structure

by Jessica Bennett 

As I was sitting in my Grammar for Grown Ups Linguistics class Saturday afternoon with my teacher Gina, it occurred to me that the theme of structure keeps popping up for many of us this week.  

Whether it is muddling through distance learning, training your child’s executive functioning, helping students tackle a writing assignment, waiting to hear our school schedules will change (and how they will change), not being able to sleep, working out, committing to steal a minute for self-care, or trying to understand if a part of a sentence is a clause or a phrase, structure is at the center of it all. 

Structure:  mid 15c. from Latin structura “a fitting together, adjustment; “arrangement, order” 

Related to struere “to pile, place together, build, assemble, arrange, make by joining together”

(My favorite resource for word study is here.)

The word structure can take the form of a noun or a verb.  As a noun it also serves several functions.  I have notice structure pop up in either form and various functions within the past few days. 

This observation and distinction of how we use the word structure in our language and more importantly, how we intentionally program for structure,  relates to our overall health and mindfulness practices. If you will allow me to divulge: 

Structure (n.) The structure of our school day went to the wayside when we went to full distance learning. What can I say?  I know what I should be doing to help my kids get through this, but the structure of distance learning is hard on their little brains.  And it’s hard on my brain as I try to squeeze in a few hours of tutoring and fundraising during the day. With a 3-year old at home running amuck. So maybe my 4th grader had 19 missing assignments as of Saturday?

Maybe the truancy police keep emailing me (again) about my Kindergartner?  Maybe the structure of distance learning just isn’t working for them (or for us) and what matters most is that we were kinder and gentler with each other today than we were yesterday? Without this new structure, we would not have had that opportunity. At least that is something. 

Structure (n.) If you struggle with executive functioning, you need to come up with a structure for learning and studying. My favorite 11th grader texted me in a panic. Without the structure of our in-person sessions, she was struggling to stay afloat. We zoomed.  I did triage, “What you need is a system.  A structure for figuring out what you need to do and when you need to do it.” We walked through each period and what work was missing. 

I loaned her my frontal lobe and jumped on excel to make her a weekly checklist for “how to” attack the week of courses, assignments, quizzes, tests, finals, and oh yeah, studying for ACTs. If there is no structure in place you don’t know what you need or when you need it.  If there is structure, at least you have a way to find out without feeling like you are falling off a cliff. 

Structure (n.) Phrases are the defining and delimiting structure of grammar; structure is the sequencing of meaning.  If you know me, you know my lifelong pursuit of figuring out the structure of our written language so I can make kids’ learning lives easier. I spent two hours on Saturday learning about the structure of words and phrases and clauses. Sentence diagramming and all. It’s hard to explain how something works if you don’t understand the structure. If you don’t have the vocabulary to articulate the parts of the whole. 

Structure (n.) It is imperative to our musculoskeletal structures to move in a way that feels good. I spent the month of November hardly able to walk because my muscles were so sore from Crossfit. I joined the gym because it has big open space, open doors, and I can go when there are not many people around. I have never felt so good. Sore muscles remind me that my skeletal structure is alive and well. However, without a structured schedule, my physical structure doesn’t get what it needs which effects the structure of everything else. Man. 

Structure (n.) We are bending the structure of our society to function during a pandemic. You know what?  We are all doing the best we can, and it is good enough.  Look at us! 

Structure (v.) We all need to structure our days in a way that allows us to optimize basic functions like nutrition and sleep. Okay.  So here is a big one.  My friend texted me the other morning and was so distraught from not being able to sleep the night before.  Horrid feeling, isn’t it?  We started talking about what she could do to restructure her central nervous system. 

Part of the work we will do in our mindfulness course is exactly this. And the whole point will be so that when all the other external structures don’t work for us, at the very least we can program our internal structure to be highly functioning. 

This week so many of my interactions with students, parents, assisting my children, and my own learning somehow all go back to structure

Whether it is in the noun or verb form, my conclusion of the week is that when one is struggling with the details, it is important to zoom out and examine the structures in place.  

Perhaps we need to make tiny adjustments to the structure in order to function properly. 

Perhaps we need to make big adjustments to structures. 

Perhaps there is no structure at all and we need to start from scratch. 

Perhaps we need to completely tear down a structure that just doesn’t work anymore.  

Or perhaps, no matter what structure is in place, the only thing we can really do is change the structure in our own mind-body. Examine our own system. 

This is especially imperative when we have no say or control on the outside structures that are or are not functioning properly. 

Drink water. 

Move. 

Eat whole foods. 

Sleep 8 hours a night. 

Word hard. 

Rest hard. 

Zoom out.  

Examine the structures in your life. 

What do you need more of?  

What do you need less of?  

If we work diligently on structuring our own mind-body, the rest of the details and minutia falls into place.  Like pieces of a puzzle. 

Or maybe it still won’t feel easy and everything will still fall apart.  

But if you are taking care of your mind-body structure at least your system will be able to cry it out and recover with more fluidity. 

I love hearing from you after you read these blog posts. 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me!