Achieving a healthy work-life-balance as a school teacher can be extremely difficult. As I welcome questions from new teachers through my various social media outlets, finding a healthy work-life- balance is something I am continually asked about. In the same way your lessons are differentiated to suit a range of learning styles, you need to find a method of self-care that works for you as an individual. Here are some of the top tips I have tried to stick to over the last six years I have spent working as a school teacher.
Set Realistic Expectations
I am guilty of waking up on a Monday and setting myself a list of fairly demanding targets for the week. These goals can include anything from leaving the classroom at a sensible time each day, to creating a new interactive display for my classroom, or even something more “out there” like signing up for an aerial fitness class. Of course, I also remind myself that I need to be in bed by 10pm, I should try to read a new book and limit my screen time to improve my concentration. The problem with giving yourself so many “rules” or expectations is that it is increasingly difficult to focus on what you really need to do for your physical and mental well-being.
Small Goals, Big Results
Trying to make the difficult decision between putting your own health or the needs of your students first can be a frustrating feeling. My advice would be to choose perhaps one or two of these goals and give yourself two weeks to try to turn them into habits. An example of this for me would be the decision to stick to an earlier bedtime. After several weeks, as my body adjusts and I begin to feel more refreshed, I am more likely to be able to concentrate on and incorporate other goals. In the same way you have realistic, fair and personalised expectations for your students, keep a close check on yourself and your capabilities for the week ahead.
Ryan Speed, the co-creator of the ForTeachers channel (who is conveniently also my best friend) gave me some excellent advice regarding time management and the completion of the never ending teacher to-do list last year. His advice has helped me time and time again to ensure I stay on top of my workload. Ryan suggests ordering your to do list into three sections:
1. Actions that directly affect others (colleagues, support staff, leadership team)
Eg. Replying to an email about a lesson observation slot, adding your planning to your shared drive for the rest of your team to use, contacting a parent who has a worry or question, add your reports to the system on time for peer checking.
2. Actions that directly affect your students
Eg. Gathering resources for your unit on telling the time, creating a wall display for language, considering a new seating plan for your students, researching/ implementing an exciting new scheme of work.
3. Actions that directly affect yourself
Eg. Sorting and organising the files on your memory stick/drive for easier accessibility, writing positive post-it notes to keep in your desk draw, colour- coding your diary/ list, asking for a peer-observation to find new ideas for classroom management/improve your subject knowledge.
Once you have organised your goals into this order, I find myself able to concentrate on what needs to be completed first. Remember you are accountable for your actions and by letting colleagues down you may find yourself stuck with extra work in the long run. Have a go at categorising in this way and see if it helps you to identify what type of goal you find most challenging as a teacher.
A New Mindset
Choosing teaching as a job shows that you have an innate, natural desire to want to help and share your knowledge with others. Turning up to work each day, teaching inspiring lessons and providing steps forward for your students is enough! If you allow the job to become all-consuming you will lose a connection to the world around you. As a teacher with a lot of friends who are also teachers, we make an active effort to limit how much time we spend talking about the classroom outside of the workplace. There is a time and a place for professional reflection; you are allowed to focus your energy elsewhere.
Finding a way to switch off is healthy and important if you plan on continuing to teach long term. Remember to drip feed multiple outlets into your weekly timetable and give yourself the space you need to switch off, rest and reset. You deserve to present the best version of yourself, and your students will thank you for it.
With a keen interest in the neuroscience and psychology of learning, WAGOLL Teaching is about sharing research alongside great, simple teaching ideas to a global teaching community.
Ben has been in education for over 10 years and is passionate about simplifying high quality teaching and learning through innovative and practical approaches in the classroom.