Prompted both by the below tweet from Dr Emma Kell and the replies to a tweet I put out last night saying I didn’t have a problem with receiving work related emails in the holiday, I thought I’d write my first blog post of 2020 – in fact my first post in ages. So here are my ramblings on workload, wellbeing and maintaining a decent work-life balance.
Find your rhythm
When do you work best? How can you maximise your time? For me this revolves around the fact I have a 20 mile commute to school so to avoid sitting in queues of traffic where I can’t be productive I shift my working day forwards; arriving at school early (typically 7-7.30) and leaving very close to the end of school unless I have a meeting. For others I know this means staying at work after school until a set time and making home a completely work-free zone. Some colleagues choose to stick in earphones in the shared work space so they can focus rather than engage in off-topic chat. Just find what works for you.
Set your boundaries
You come first, so schedule in any time for social events, gym classes, running, reading and then schedule work around these. I like to start each half-term by booking some theatre tickets or scheduling in some meet-ups with friends so I have a) things to look forward to and b) am forced to not do work at those times. I’ll always have one weekend day where I do no school work and I try not to work past about 7pm so I have time to properly rewind and relax before bed.
This is not one of my natural talents. If something is on my to-do list I want to do it now and cross it off. I’ve adopted a colleague’s method of using a diary as a to-do list and writing things in on the day you think you’ll be able to get them done. I’m a massive fan of highlighting rather than crossing off complete tasks. There is really something in the build up of colour as you get through tasks. The fact the list is daily means I usually manage to end the day with a completed list. If something hasn’t got done, it gets crossed off and rescheduled.
Always prioritise anything that has a direct impact on learning; for most of us that means planning, marking (see “small tweaks” below) and feedback. If someone gives you an admin task with an unreasonable deadline (we all know it happens) be brave enough to tell them it won’t be met and that you’ll have it done by X. Do not stress yourself out because someone else is being disorganised/ not forward planning.
As a middle leader anything concerning staff wellbeing jumps immediately to the top of my list; never let a member of the team leave without a chat if you know they’ve had a bad day/ have dealt with a horrendous behavioural incident/ are struggling. However, if there’s a difficult conversation to be had – don’t do it on a Friday, it can and should wait.
Turn your phone notifications off. Like ALL of them. OK, nearly all – I have WhatsApp on but that’s it and I don’t use that for work. Twitter: off, Facebook: off, Emails: off. Do not let your phone constantly ping and demand your attention – take back control of when you want to engage with these things and when you don’t. I increasingly on an evening leave my phone in another room so that I don’t constantly check – there is nothing that can’t wait if I’m having an hour curled up with a book.
My work email account is only connected to my work iPad. I know others who only access from a web browser so that they have to actively choose to log on. Control – you need to have it.
OK, some simple things I do to make my life easier, maintain balance and keep me happy and healthy during term time. Some of these are work-related, some home-related and some, well some are probably downright frivolous but hey, they help.
- Whole class feedback: confession – I never look at exercise books outside of lessons. Never. I know some of you will be in schools with policies that won’t allow this and it makes me angry that you are – if that’s you, continue to fight against it. I will live mark in lessons, I’ll collect loose homework sheets and mark them, filing in a whole class feedback sheet and then plan some relevant DIRT work for the next lesson.
- Pause: pretty much our whole team sit together every day and chat at lunchtime and it’s one of the things I love most about us. I would go crackers without that time to interact and switch off in the middle of the day. I probably feel this more now I work in a separate office rather than the shared workspace. Teaching is an isolating profession; make the time to connect and have a breather.
- Meal planning: I know it’s not exciting but if I’ve had a bad day I’ll comfort eat if I’m not sorted for what I’m having for tea (dinner to the Southerners!). I am not one of these who can adequately batch plan and box up my lunches for the whole of a term, I wish I was, but I can just about manage to prep some overnight oats for breakfast and decant some soup into a microwaveable container for lunch each evening. I also use Gousto boxes because it’s dead simple, is delivered to my door, keeps meals varied and I save an hour a week by never setting foot in a supermarket.
- Keeping a happy home: I hate mess so I’m generally quite organised and tidy. Keeping the house clean is more of a challenge. I’ve considered getting a cleaner and maybe I will but for now I have a rota of housework tasks so there’s one or two small jobs to do each day; I’m much better of keeping on top of this than motivating myself to do a big clean at the weekend. I’ve also just purchased a robo-vac which is ace and I love the fact he’s just programmed to hoover whilst I’m teaching miles away!
- Unwind: I’m not great at getting to sleep so I find setting aside 30 minutes to and hour before bed to do something relaxing really helps; usually this will be reading a book or occasionally sticking on a yoga DVD if it’s been a particularly stressful day. Even then I can struggle to switch my brain off – I find having a notepad by the bed helps so that when I inevitably remember something I need to do I can quickly jot it down and stop thinking about it.
- Sleep: since reading Matthew Walker’s book I’ve become a bit obsessive about sleep habits. I now try to get between 7-8 hours on a school night and try to keep a relatively consistent bedtime. If we’re not rested we can’t expect to be at our best in the classroom and even the most meticulous of lesson planning will go out of the window if we’re overtired and grumpy.