Netflix and chill? More like Netflix and grade.
If your weekend plans include more marking papers and planning lessons than family time and laundry, if you find yourself paying more attention to your students’ homework than your own kids’ homework, you could probably use a hand with your work-life balance.
We get it. Switching from work-mode into home-mode is tough, especially when you don’t want to sacrifice your students’ learning. After all, if you’re like 85% of teachers, you entered the profession so you could make a difference in children’s lives. That switch is even harder to flip during a pandemic like COVID-19, when working from home further blurs those boundaries while pressure mounts to accomplish learning digitally.
But that inability to switch is a leading reason teachers say they don’t enjoy balance in their lives. It’s why some have called teacher burnout an epidemic. It’s why teachers say things like, “I have seen my family grow up without me” and, “Weekends are planned around work.”
Trust us – you’re in good company if that sounds familiar. But here’s the thing: it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. Spend all of your energy on work, and you don’t have time to recharge your batteries and fulfill your goals… which, in turn, impacts your students and your performance in the classroom.
It’s time to break that cycle.
Here are 7 tips on nail your work-life balance:
1. Laser target your priorities
Does that assignment absolutely have to be marked by next morning, or can it wait a few days? How does that stack up next to the lessons you have to plan for the upcoming week? Do those worksheets really require detailed, personalized feedback? The balancing act between what’s most meaningful to your students, what you can humanly commit to, what you can put aside for later or what you can do more efficiently starts with making a list and figuring out what’s urgent and important.
But let’s go a bit further. We’re not just talking about sorting that pile of work on your desk. By “priorities,” we mean all of your priorities. That includes grading along with your dreams of learning how to play the piano (or even eating a proper lunch). By adding your personal needs into the equation, you make sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle.
2. Forget everything else (at least, for now)
Remember: priorities can be urgent, but not everything urgent is a priority. From that “beep!” your phone makes when you have a new message to that crooked display on the wall that just keeps bugging you, every time you leap to respond, you’re actually pulling your focus away from what matters most. That’s why many teachers choose to set schedules for themselves outside of classroom time, turn their notifications off and clear unnecessary tasks from their calendars.
3. Embrace hybrid (aka blended) learning
Gone are the days when learning only happened in the classroom. In today’s “new normal,” education has taken a major detour into the digital realm, with teachers delivering lessons partially or entirely digitally in schools across the world. And there are real benefits, like the flexibility in pace and timing for both students and teachers, and analytics that shed light on how things are going along the way – a bonus for teachers who can adjust their material so it lands better with their classes. You can even plan your lessons, share lessons with other teachers and students, monitor progression, and maintain your grade book digitally through platforms like Planboard.
4. Leave the books out of sight
We can hear you say “yeah, right…” but hear us out. That pile of books in the corner of your living room is a constant reminder that you have more work to do, and whether you mean for that to happen or not, it’ll interrupt time that should be spent relaxing and recharging. The first step is setting your hours of work (say, ending each day at 4 p.m.) and dedicating a space in your home that’s separate from your family life. Then, at the end of your day, tuck your work away or leave that space behind so you can focus on your other priorities. Out of sight, out of mind!
5. Give yourself a pep talk
“Negative thoughts spiral into negative actions.”
The way we frame our challenges influences the way we feel about them. No surprises there. But if you catch yourself thinking, “Ugh, I can’t watch that movie with my kids until I finish this lesson plan,” try this on for size instead: “Just another hour of planning lessons, and I’ll be watching that movie with my kids!” Swap, “I can’t believe I have to do this! I don’t have the time!” for “What are my options here?” Feels a little nicer, doesn’t it? Even if you’re swamped, you deserve that at least.
6. Take a recess
It’s so easy to get caught up in the momentum of a tough task until you feel absolutely exhausted. But even a 15-minute walk through the neighborhood or game of fetch with your pup can give you enough time away from the task at hand to refocus, gain some perspective and come back with renewed energy. At first, finding the time may seem tough, but as you adapt your schedule to fit these short breaks, and enjoy the productivity benefits, they’ll fast become a necessity even on the busiest of days.
What else can you do to give your mind a quick (but much-needed) break?
- Stretch out those muscles?
- Go on a coffee run
- Watch a TED Talk or two
- Read a chapter of a book
- Check-in with someone you care about
- Spruce up your desk with a quick clean
- Practice meditation or deep breathing
- Unplug and write something by hand in a journal
- Throw some cookies in the oven
- Take a power nap
7. Raise your hand and ask for help
We only have two hands and one head. If a task requires anything more than that, or is beyond what those things can control, it’s time to reach out. Maybe that means talking to a more experienced teacher about how they’ve solved a problem you’re having, flagging issues with your administrators, finding technological ways to do things more effectively or reaching out to your community for a little extra support. Some things are simply beyond your control, or just too much for one human to handle on their own… and that’s okay.
Most of all, don’t forget why you became a teacher in the first place: to help your students become the best version of themselves. And ultimately, the best way to go about it is being the best version of yourself, too – even if it means spending a weekend watching Netflix!