There has been a lot of talk and buzz lately about work-life balance in the teaching world. Teaching is a demanding profession and any sort of balance that one can achieve would be wonderful, don’t you think? The point in trying to balance your work and personal life is so that you don’t load up on your stress during your work day rendering you too exhausted to enjoy your evenings or weekends. (Sound familiar?) Even worse, that buildup of stress is a big cause of you getting sick. Work-life balance is an important thing to strive for in your teaching life. I have done a lot of research over my 25+ years in the field and I’ve come up with some tangible strategies that go beyond exercise and organization.
Exercise and organization are SUPER important in your stress management. I’ve written about Teacher Balance and Teacher Stress tips before including these ideas. It’s a good read. But I’ve grown to realize that work-life balance – in any profession is about more than that.
The Work-Life Balance Myth
I hear young teachers getting into the profession already talking about the work-life balance and that is great awareness! It is important though, that in striving for work-life balance, you don’t find yourselves searching for “quick” answers to teaching like an overload of worksheets, “craftivities” or activities requiring less thought from students. You want to look for high quality resources that require students to think critically, engage with their peers and support the creative avenues that children thrive in. I am referring to all children young and old. We all want to feel empowered to learn, not feel like someone is feeding us information all day or giving us things to do but not challenging our minds. This is the basis for the first steps in work-life balance: creating an environment for learners. It is a myth that everything cute is effective in learning. By flipping learning on its back and allowing the students to be a huge part of the development of the learning, you are buying yourself some much needed release from decision fatigue.
Stress is everywhere. I can be just as stressed out as the next person but I have definitely found ways to identify my stress and tackle it intentionally. What makes me the authority on this? Nothing. I’m not. But what I have done, is spent over 25 years in the field, rode the waves of things that made me feel good in teaching and things that didn’t. I’ve sought out advice on stress management which led me to the realization that I never “felt” the stress because I thrive on adrenaline. Not the jump off a cliff adrenaline! I thrive on being “busy” and taking on multiple projects. I balance this with meditation, yoga, exercise and healthy eating etc. I guess you could say I got caught up in the multi-tasking “positive stress” that wasn’t really too positive. Does that sound familiar to you? I realized that there were more effective ways to teach without losing my mind – and my personal life. Stick around for my tips so that you can do this too.
Stop Giving and Start Taking
First off, you must realize that as a teacher, you have to work hard. Very hard. Probably harder than you ever expected. But the desire to serve our children and make the world a better place far outweighs the thoughts of hard work. Teaching is one of the most important yet profoundly misunderstood professions. Teachers give. They give a lot. They give their time, their energy, their money, their compassion…the list goes on. So, how can you strive for work-life balance with all this giving? Stop giving so much. Really. Start taking.
Take the time to listen to what your students really need. Take ideas from them and they will love it!
Take the time to use formative assessment strategies so that you know what you are planning for.
Taking the time to plan an overview to be prepared for learning. Learning does not happen in a straight line. Learning is messy, but having an overview, or a road map is key to keeping your sanity.
Take some time to share your procedures with the students (ie. when can they use the washroom) and then plan the “rules” with your students in a classroom meeting format. Taking their ideas for rules gives them ownership. I like to have students share in the process but I guide them towards social responsibility so that they feel good about the way the classroom is running.
Take some professional development. I know, I know. Sometimes pro-d is not what you were hoping for and not a topic that you need right now in your classroom. Professional development does not have to be the same all the time. Find an area you are passionate about or one that you really want to work on. Notice the word one. Keep focussed. PD can come in the form of in-person professional development, online courses, podcasts, and professional resource reading.
The Importance of Planning
Speaking of planning: be prepared that it will change. Allow the learning to take new shape but make sure you plan accordingly. I am seeing SO many teachers asking for people to share their plans online. It’s great to have something to go by as you plan but having someone else’s plan just to use is not effective. It’s not effective for the same reason that it’s not effective for students if everything is already up in the room as decor and wasn’t at least partially created by the students.
Creating your own overview for your students or creating it collaboratively WITH someone is so powerful. Teacher teams are amazing energizers. It gets you motivated to teach, helps you understand your content AND enables you to go to your colleague if you need support or want to share resources. Trust me on this one. Grab a Starbucks and meet that colleague and plan together. If you don’t have the luxury of a same grade colleague, grab that Starbucks anyways and go find a lovely place to sit and think, and begin to plan.
The “Life” Part of Work-Life Balance
Why am I spending so much time on the “work” side of the work-life balance? It’s because once you have a “learning and building together” mindset that you can implement with your class, you will be able to leave earlier knowing that you have strong foundational plans laid out for the next day, your students will be learning and you will be able to relax and enjoy your life outside of work.
You must know that you design your own life. As a teacher, you want to give your students a great education – both academically and socially/emotionally. (You won’t be able to achieve this with an overload of worksheets and “filler” activities.) When you design your work life to be rewarding by providing students with what they need, it addresses your own need of teacher fulfillment.
We work hard. Very hard. We deserve to have an after work life that is just as fulfilling where we can shut off until the next day. You can only achieve this if you build a strong curricular foundation full of ways to have students construct some of their own learning.
What is it that you want from your life? Some of you want to spend more time with family. Some want to spend more time outdoors or being more active. The list goes on. Decide what it is that you want and plan for. Set your intentions.
Teachers spend a great deal of their time and energy feeling under appreciated. Many teachers are so underpaid (I’ll never understand that) and spend so much of their own money creating nice learning environments for their students and paying for supplies that many kids don’t come to school with. What if you switched your focus to tuning out the public rhetoric and working to create a compassionate and caring classroom where everyone (including you) feels valued and appreciated AND a happy fulfilled life outside of school? I mean REALLY focus on it?
By following some of the ideas for creating a strong classroom by TAKING more time for important plans to create a classroom full of self directed learners and TAKING time to do things for yourself, chances are, you will feel so much more fulfillment.
As I write this post, I have also looked at myself in the mirror. I went to see Tony Robbins this week for his Power of Success conference. I made some plans for myself too so that I can spend more time doing the things that I love with the people that I love. Part of those plans include spending time with teachers sharing ideas like in this blog post. I love teaching and sharing ideas with teachers to make their life easier. But I also know that you never get time back so today is the day to reach for more… or should I say less? Less time sitting and more time engaging with others. I have a plan. Do you?