Teacher work life balance can be tricky. After all, this job can go 24-7 if you let it.
There’s the grading, the paperwork, the initiatives, the parent contacts, the planning, the lessons, the professional development.
Oh, and the students, right. We almost forgot about teaching the students.
They come with their own baggage, learning needs, attitudes, abilities.
They can cheer us up in an instant or haunt us in a way that makes it hard to go to sleep at night.
When we leave school, it’s hard to leave this alllll behind us. First of all, because our jobs are never done. Second of all, because we are emotionally invested in our classrooms and our students.
But teacher work life balance must be achieved somehow.
Because, I don’t know about you, I have two sweet kids at home who need me to be 100 percent theirs when I am with them.
I have things to do around the house, a family to maintain, not to mention friendships and hopefully more than a hint of a social life.
This post is all about how hard working teachers just like you can find balance in the chaos.
Because it is possible to have a teacher work life balance.
You just need to work at it.
It doesn’t just happen.
You have to make it happen.
How to Find Work Life Balance as a Teacher
A: Add up the minutes. Try keeping track of how you spend your time in a detailed way for a week. Then, look for trends. You might be surprised! Typical time wasters might include screen time, including time spent scrolling through social media feeds, checking notifications and emails, and watching nighttime television. If you can take control of your habits in and out of school, you can more purposefully use the time during your teacher work time and you can make sure to be fully present during your personal time.
B: Backwards plan. When I first started teaching, my school preached UBD (understanding by design) and backwards planning as they shared how to be a good teacher with us “first years.” I didn’t really understand the power of it, though, until years later. It’s so easy to get caught up in day-by-day planning, to see the immediate vs. the long-term. Having that end goal in mind and aligned with skills will allow you to be purposeful in communicating that goal to students. It will also allow you to be purposeful in planning your lessons. You can also avoid the urge to plan knee-jerk activities that may end up leading to more work on your part. Backwards planning helps you to have a “North Star” as a teacher and to keep the main thing the main thing.
C: Consistency in everything. When it comes to teacher work life balance, it helps to set-up a routine and stick to it as much as possible. I know that Fridays are going to be spent creating agenda slides for the upcoming week. I simply copy from the current week’s Google Slideshow, change out the dates, and make sure the next week’s work aligns to the end goal and builds on the previous week. Before I leave on Friday, I post this slideshow to Google Classroom and make a list of what needs to be done to prep (copies to be made, resources to find, etc.). Then, the first thing I do on Monday morning is to send a “weekly update” email to parents and students including the link to the agenda slides for the week as well as reminders and a friendly narrative.
D: Divide and conquer. As I’ve written about before, teacher collaboration is one of the most powerful ways to increase student achievement and learning in our classrooms. It’s also my secret weapon in the fight for teacher work life balance. Every week, my PLC members and I discuss, plan, and work together to divide and conquer. This ensures that we can do what’s best for students and also have time to practice teacher self care.
Efficient grading. Oh. My. Goodness. Having a toolbox of feedback strategies as well as a clear purpose for giving feedback helps me to work smarter, not harder. If you haven’t checked out this ultimate teacher grading tips post, bookmark it for later. You’ll be glad you did!
F: Find ways to batch work. I started implementing this strategy when I started Lindsay Ann Learning. In the business world, this tip is a huge time saver, so why not try it in my teaching world, I thought. This goes hand-in-hand with backwards planning and knowing the end goal because in order to batch you have to have a plan. If you’re new to batch work, essentially, you are working on all of one thing at a time which leads to less time waste. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Do you find yourself constantly at the beck-and-call of other people? Try checking and responding to email ONE time every day.
Do you find yourself constantly running to the copy machine? Try making ALL of the copies you need for the week at once (I like to make mine on Friday before I leave for the week.).
Do you want to get through ONE set of papers to give feedback? Focus on giving feedback on ONE skill for 30 minutes.
G: Gut check. I’m learning more and more to trust my intuition and to make values-based decisions rather than reactionary decisions. As teachers and as humans, it’s important to know what we stand for. What do you value in your life as a teacher? What do you value in your personal life? Then, when you are asked to be a part of a new committee for the students (or you fill in the blank with whatever might seem good and whatever you might otherwise be guilted into doing), you can see if it aligns with your values. If something doesn’t align with my personal AND teacher values, I will not make it a priority.
H: Honor your time. Because you are MORE than a teacher, it’s important to honor your time.
Your time is your time.
It’s easy as a teacher to operate under the assumption that it’s always teacher time, and it’s hard to flip the switch from teacher brain to mom brain or I’m going to go exercise now brain, etc.
But…we have contracts for a reason, so honor your time.
I was forced to learn this lesson only when I became a parent.
And I say forced because I seriously thought I would not be able to be a good teacher and leave 20 minutes after the bell rang at the end of the day.
Still, I had to leave school at a certain time each day because a cute little boy needed me to pick him up from preschool. I left. I changed my routine. And guess what? The school did not blow up. My students did not suffer. I did not fall behind.
I learned that it’s okay. It’s okay to have school fit into your life, not the other way around.
In fact, I’m a better teacher now than when I stayed extra hours on the daily.
I: Ignore the gossip. Want to improve your teacher work life balance 100 percent? Stay away from the haters, the negative Nellies, the teachers who like to steal your shine like black holes. Not only does this make you less productive during the school day. It also reinforces negative thought patterns that steal your joy during your personal time.
J: Joy in small moments. This one is so simple, yet so profound. Find ways to savor the small moments outside of school. Be IN the moments. Practice gratitude for small things. Maybe someone slowed down to allow you to turn in front of him during rush hour traffic. Maybe you can actually see the perfect little unique star shapes in the snowflakes on your window. Maybe your toaster toasted your bagel to perfection when it usually burns it to a crisp. Maybe your kid gives you an extra hug, just because. Savor those moments. Because those moments are fleeting and when we practice gratitude we are saying yes to joy. And joy has a way of spreading.
K: Keep healthy boundaries. I’m still learning to set healthy boundaries as I practice teacher self care. Setting boundaries is a skill, one that you learn with time. It’s important to realize that in our desire to please others and “be there for the students,” we allow a blurring of the line between teacher and personal lives in ways that can lead to teacher burnout. If you have ever felt unappreciated, burnt out, resentful or even angry as a teacher, this may be a sign that you haven’t taken the time to set healthy boundaries. To start, you really have to reflect on what you feel and what you need as a teacher and as a human. Set limits on what you can and should be able to do in a day, and don’t be afraid of others’ reaction to those limits. In fact, boundary setting may be met with resistance by others who are used to imposing their agendas and values upon us and our time. Don’t feel guilty or bad for clearly defining what you are willing and able to do for your students.
After you’ve clearly set boundaries to separate work from school, it’s also important to set boundaries to guard your personal time. Otherwise, you may end up overcommitting so much in your personal life that you have little personal freedom.
L: Lists. All the lists. Apps for productivity help me to balance work life and personal life. At the beginning of each week, as I’m fine-tuning plans for the next week, I like to do a “brain dump.” After writing down everything I need to do, I categorize and prioritize. Then, I use Trello to organize my tasks into “cards” and Airtable to help me plan larger projects, keeping the links and materials in one place. Throughout the week, I resolve my cards and progress through my list. I also have a place to keep record of new needs as they arise so that I can address them right away (if urgent) or add them to the next week’s brain dump. To help with work life balance, add your personal life into the brain dump, too.
M: Move it, Move it. Exercise is everything for me. If I don’t exercise, I’m noticeably less focused and productive during the day. If you feel that you don’t have time to exercise, try to carve out time in 10 minute chunks or choose a quick HIIT routine. You can exercise effectively in 30 minutes or less a day, and learning this has forced me to grapple with my limiting belief that I just didn’t have time for it as a teacher. I set my alarm, count down 5-4-3-2-1, get out of bed, put on a Fitness Blender video and am always SO glad that I made time for myself.
N: No. It’s okay to say no. But, in order to be able to say “no,” you have to know (see what I did there?) what your boundaries are and what you value in life (See tips K and V)
O: Outdoors helps. Sometimes, a teacher friend and I will take 20 minutes to “walk and plan.” We get outside, the sun warms our little teacher hearts, and we are still having our “meeting” and getting things done. After school, weather permitting, try to get outside, even if just for a few minutes. This practice helps me to feel refreshed which, in turn, helps with work life balance.
P: Put your phone away. Mmhmm. I said it. It is SO easy to pick up the phone, check the notifications, send text messages, scroll social media, but those minutes really do add up. Instead, focus on being productive when you need to be productive rather than trying to multitask.
Q: Question convention. Who says that you have to do things the way they’ve always been done? Try a new student-led learning strategy. How about an inquiry project? Maybe even slam poetry if you’re feeling jazzy. Refreshing your practice and finding new ways to do things can help to balance your teacher life.
R: Re-set your brain. This tip is so important that I wish it started with an A so I could have written about it sooner. Like I’ve said, routines are so important. This is going to sound silly, but actions trigger our responses. Take specific actions as a part of your routine to signal to your brain that teacher time is over and personal time has started. Maybe it’s making sure to put your teacher bag IN a closet where it will be waiting for you the following morning. Maybe it’s changing clothes. Maybe it’s sitting down for a few minutes to read a book and have a cup of coffee or tea. That pattern of actions will trigger your brain.
S: Student-led learning. As teachers, we need to make sure that we aren’t the ones working hardest in the room. I find that the more I find ways to shift the focus to student-led learning, the more I am freed up during the day to work with students, guide and facilitate. This gives me more energy instead of less energy, and it also helps my students to grow as learners. Win-win!
T: Technology transforms learning. While there are pros and cons to teaching in a digital classroom, I find that technology, when used effectively, can help me to achieve more balance in my teacher life. It helps to facilitate learning in an efficient way, and it also helps me to save time in giving feedback on student work, track student data and performance, etc.
U: Use your support system. It’s important to seek the support of those who can empower us and build us up. Who are your go-to teacher friends, the ones who will have your back? Do you maintain a support network in your personal life? It’s important (and healthy) to take time to keep up with and form friendships outside of work. It’s also important to be honest about how you’re feeling and what you need. People don’t know unless you ask. This is probably the thing I struggle with the most because I like to take care of people and need to remind myself that it’s okay for people to take care of me sometimes.
V: Visualize and Value. Have you ever created a vision board? Clearly visualizing what you want from life is part of knowing yourself and setting clear goals for what you want from this year, from this one life that you’ve been given. It focuses your energy and provides clarity.
W: Work during your prep time. This one is no fun, but in addition to finding ways to be efficient during the day, you actually have to do the work, sis. Treat your prep. time as sacred and slay that to-do list.
X: No excuses. Once you get your boundary-setting, routine-following, self in gear, don’t allow that tiny voice in your brain to come in and make excuses. When you make excuses, you’re really just saying that you don’t believe in yourself enough to do what it takes to achieve teacher work life balance. You have to work to make sure you don’t derail yourself.
Y: Yes. It’s okay to say yes, too. In fact, there is power in your yes. Consider what you’re saying yes to, though. Say yes to things that inspire you and fuel your creativity. Say yes to things that keep you learning and keep you smiling. Say yes to new experiences. Say yes to your loved ones and yes to yourself.
Z: Zen. The practice of zen values meditation and intuition, and I think that slowing down and reflecting benefits every busy teacher. Whether you use a meditation app, color on those grownup coloring pages, take time to garden, or read through a self-help book, find something that calms and focuses your mind. For me, I find that reading a chapter from the Bible and praying truly helps to center me at the beginning of my day. What practices can help you find your center?
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