Work/Life Balance – in teaching

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about anything, mainly because I’ve been trying to achieve the illusive work / life balance which is so often dreamt of by us teachers.  However, since returning to work in September, in my eighth year in the profession I have managed to achieve something I only dreamt of – reading three books (non educational and for my own enjoyment) in a half term, seemingly working harder than previously and getting all my work completed!  I didn’t want to blog until I had things to share that I knew worked for me, so hopefully some of the things I suggest can help us weary teachers or at least guide us onto a path what is right for us.

Things reflected on in this blog

  • What do we mean by ‘work / life balance’
  • What is our motivation working
  • Why teaching can become all consuming
  • Quick wins to achieving work / life balance
What do we mean by work / life balance?
Typically as I was writing this blog, @teachertoolkit published one with one of his #5min plans about the same topic ( http://teachertoolkit.me/2013/10/23/the-5minwellbeingplan-by-teachertoolkit-and-leadinglearner/) .  Work Life Balance seems to be something everyone wants who is sane as most of us have family and friends who want to see us, and we have hobbies and interests which just don’t fit into our busy lives, meaning that we feel unfulfilled in some way despite our best efforts.  I guess it comes down to us knowing our heart, and knowing what is important to us.
When we know that, we can begin to unlock the mystery of how to achieve this ‘chasing after the wind’.  I am defining work / life balance as achieving a level of work that both ourselves, pupils and employers are happy with, combined with the happiness of those around us, as well as us having time for our own interests and pleasure.
I guess we first need to reflect on this big question – do we live to work, or work to live? I am really addressing the readers of those who, like me, fall under the work to live category.
What is our motivation working?
From what I realise, every person who teaches has a different reason for doing the job we do.  Below are some reasons teachers give – and there are many more as well.  We may do what we do for a combination of these rather than just one.
Why we work
Why teaching can become all consuming.
I found it really difficult to believe that teaching does not have to be your life until recently.  Being honest, there are many reasons why teaching can become our lives.
• There is always something to do – if we care about our work we always want to do the best we can
• We want to be the best we can be (if we didn’t we wouldn’t read blogs like this!).  We want to be effective for the pupils we serve, ew want our subjects curriculum and school to be success and we want to feel we’ve done a good job
• Emails never stop – or so it feels.  We can send them to our mobiles, tablets and laptops. When we are away and connect to mobile internet we can be in contact with our school life.  It’s very difficult to switch off!  However I once read of someone who did an auto-reply over the holidays that stated they were away, and any emails that were sent during that time period would automatically be deleted and not read.  If it needed attention please send it when they had returned to school.
• Outside agencies – working with outside agencies is essential to school life but these meetings and arrangements may happen outside of our normal teaching timetable which puts time pressures on us.
• Internal meetings – The hours in meetings that happen around schools must be scary.  If they are purposeful and have solid outcomes that is great, but there is nothing worse that being in a meeting that feels it is has little point of end in sight.
• We probably have unique roles and responsibilities in our schools – and it is also unlikely we’d meet other people from different schools with the same tasks as us as each school is different and has different pressures.
• We want to meet targets and be proud of our work
Quick wins to achieving work / life balance
Our first thoughts need to be our priorities – what really needs to be done.  I found making a list of all of my roles and responsibilities, compared with what I actually do, and then sorting them into an order of importance (Red Amber Green (RAG)) really helped.
Meetings – Why not email out key points before the meeting so they don’t need to be gone through during the meeting.  It may take time to type them up but this would be done for the minutes anyway, so only the action points need to be discussed or try to use the  #5 min meeting planner (http://teachertoolkitdotme.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/the-5min-meeting-planner.ppt)
Every teacher needs a To do list.  Personally I use mine electronically, it means that I can access it on my phone, tablet and PC. There are loads available depending on your operating system, but personally I use 2Do.  http://www.2doapp.com/ I know it’s more pricey than some on the market, but it interfaces both with iOS and Android well, and done everything I want it to, from recurring tasks to being able to tag code them, adding locations and copying and pasting emails into the notes section.  It also links to the amazingly useful Toodledo website meaning I can access and edit my to do list anywhere even if I don’t have my devices!  http://www.toodledo.com  There are loads of apps that interface with toodledo.
I also considered what was the most time consuming tasks I faced then tried to do think of ways to reduce thee times.  My main time consumer was marking.  See my blog about different ways to mark just as effectively but in less time by clicking here.  Typing up lesson plans also took time – but http://teachertoolkit.me/the-5-minute-lesson-plan/ helped here.
Sharing resources with other teachers – I created #RE:Share, but there are loads of subject specific drop boxes set up – which saves time going through tesresources – http://www.classroomtm.co.uk/teaching-dropboxes/
Getting other people involved to help you.  Not only will this help you get some of your tasks done more effectively it shares the load, and helps other people’s professional development.  There are a number of things I am involved with that I would truly struggle to get done well if I didn’t have others support.
Having a date night.  Rob Parsons, founder of Care for the Family once suggested that couples should have a planned date night with their partner.  No laptops, mobiles turned off, tablets away etc.   When my wife suggested this to me I didn’t think it was achievable as there was always things to do, but after a painful few weeks my work seemed to fit in around this event.
Forward planning.  It’s not difficult to see that things come round time and time again, year on year. Why not just keep a log of what need to be done, and forward plan?
Conclusion
I know this blog (ironically) has taken time to read but I hope it’s been useful.  As ever, please feel free to post a comment, follow me on Twitter (@sheltont101) or read over some of the other articles in my blog.  If you do have anything you can share to help others please do so! I know I rarely get it right, but I’m working on it.
Additional edit – ‘For Singleton’s’
After writing this blog, I had a comment on Twitter about how work/life balance can be achieved for singletons.  That has made me think as for some it’s not easy to be a singleton whereas for others its great.  What is likely is that unless you are very disciplined you may work all hours with no one to stop you – and if you are like me the time just passes you by.  One primary teacher I knew of frequently worked until 1 or 2 in the morning each day.  It’s difficult unless you are really disciplined, but my thoughts (and they are only thoughts)…
  • make sure you have a hobby – if you don’t find an evening a week that you can start one off – anything at all from learning a new language, keep fit, art etc.  This will help you keep contact with ‘normal’ people as well educationalists.
  • give yourself a cut off time each night and stick to it
  • make sure you watch a film one evening week or read a book – whatever is your interest outside the Twitter world and the educational one!
  • apply what you can from the rest of my blog – the main principles still apply!
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4 responses to “Work/Life Balance – in teaching

  1. Pingback: Michele's Community Classroom Blog

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