Striking a healthy work-life balance is a challenge for anyone, but for teachers it’s even more so. 3 in 10 teachers leave the profession after their first year and in some States up to 50% of teachers leave within their first 5 years.
There are a number of factors. Some are are beyond the individual teacher’s everyday control such as salary and curriculum-based issues.
But this article is not about what you can’t change, it’s about what you can.
So, what can teachers control? Teachers can control how they think, feel, and behave at school and at home to their own intellectual and emotional benefit.
We say teachers are “called” to the profession because of their personal convictions, care for students and concern for the future of society. Those beliefs and emotions can be difficult to turn off when you get home.
Teachers tend to worry about their students, think about their work, and how they can make improvements to their projects all of the time. While this is undeniable evidence of commitment to the craft, it can also be a cause of stress and exhaustion which can lead to the loss of great teachers in the profession.
Making time for self-care, which can include spending time with family and friends or alone time for reflection, relaxation, and activity is crucial to a teacher’s ability to stay effective, creative, and committed all year long.
Practicing self-care happens in big ways and small. The best way to get started is to develop a mindset where the impact of day-to-day decisions on your well-being is considered.
How you manage and control your time, the processes you have in place to get things done, and your ability to easily schedule downtime are also important factors. One simple way to start practising self-care is to centralize and organize your life in a holistic way – this is why Studyo developed a School & Life Achievement System. The reason it’s not just a “school” achievement system is because for teachers, the personal and the professional are all wrapped up into one life.
Here are a few other suggestions to help edtech teachers get on a pathway to developing a work-life balance based on self-care that keeps you enjoying every school year.
Establish digital boundaries
Technology has changed the way teachers work.
Teachers are on the receiving end of email and instant messages from parents, administrators, colleagues, students, tech support, edtech companies, education associations, committees, newsletters – the list goes on, and this doesn’t even account for all the Facebook messages and texts from friends and family. By checking email at the sound or vibration of a notification we shift our focus from whatever task we were immersed in : grading, lesson planning, making dinner, spending time with kids, etc.
A 2008 study shows that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after an interruption.
Consider the number of times you check your email in a workday or respond to a direct message of any kind and multiply that by 23 minutes. Your tally is probably making checking your phone look pretty costly.
How can you overcome this?
Set your digital boundaries.
- Decide that you will check your email once (for the daring among you) or twice per day. For example, develop a routine where you check your email once in the morning and once more at the end of lunch.
- Reduce the number of applications you use to organize your life. Instead of having your calendar, your personal and work task lists, and your student communication all in different places, consider centralizing your world with Studyo instead – Studyo was designed with teachers productivity and well-being in mind.
- Inform those you work closely with that you are adopting practices in order to ensure the overall quality of the work that you do produce and the overall quality of your life. Any true lifestyle change requires the support and understanding of those who may be affected by it (colleagues, supervisors, family, etc) — some of these people may even need to change the way they work with you on the daily.
This is not to say that you’ll never make exceptions to these rules. That’s not realistic. It’s just to say that your default state should be to put yourself and your well-being first by setting digital boundaries that protect your focus and time.
Make “me time” a regular and unmovable calendar entry.
Think of something you like doing. Something that always re-energizes you and gets you feeling good. Maybe it’s hiking or practicing yoga, reading or painting. Start by making time to do that once a week.
Block it off in your calendar.
Let it be known to your whole family and ask that those around you understand the importance of this time.
Protect this time at all costs.
This is the time that you need to be able to stay on top of things as the amazing and effective teacher that you are.
It is in everyone’s best interest that you take this time for yourself.
Do meetings right.
Meetings can be really great ways to get things done that require the voices of multiple people. They are really effective forums for planning, making collective decisions, addressing a difficult or emotionally charged issue, or launching a project.
There are many reasons to avoid calling a meeting as well, for example if the objective can be achieved through an email or a phone call.
Sometimes we are invited to meetings that don’t really require our presence. If this happens to you, practice self-care by declining the invitation. Explain that your presence is not really needed, or offer your clear input via email to the group for consideration at the meeting instead.
Another way to ensure that the meetings you call or attend are conducted as efficiently as possible, respecting everyone’s time, is to make sure that the objective and the agenda for the meeting are shared and clear to everyone in advance. This way people can prepare their thoughts in advance and do less vocal deliberation within the meeting time.
Know when to go off-the-grid
Going above and beyond to limit distraction when you’re working on cognitively demanding tasks is a smart move. For example, the precious little time teachers have to spend on providing our students with meaningful feedback is time that should be protected from interruption and distraction.
Preventing others from distracting you is pretty straightforward and teachers are the kings and queens of finding quiet spots to get work done.
But what is more tricky is finding a way to protect yourself from you. That’s right, the number one form of break from concentration is “self-interruption”.
Self-interruption happens when you’re in the middle of getting work done and suddenly you allow your mind to shift – one minute you’re patiently editing an essay and the next you’re fervently searching for deals on trips to Mexico on expedia. We’ve all succumb to self-interruption before. (Check out this study on self-interruption to learn more.)
With the advent of the internet – having so much information right at our fingertips – we can satisfy any query at the click of a mouse and so we give in to our mind’s desires.
In order to prevent internet-based self-interruption while you’re in the thick of important work try using a focus application, like Self-control or Focus. These applications allow you to prevent interruption and navigation to email and sits of your choosing.
Ultimately, it’s not about remembering to treat yourself in order to offset the pain of everyday work and life, it’s about building a way of working and living that doesn’t make you feel like you need to escape it. It’s about building a life at home and at school that you enjoy!
Putting yourself first can be a challenge for teachers (parents will empathize with this as well).
You are driven by a care and concern for others, but you have to realize that if you are not at your best, then it’s going to be that much harder to take care of others.