Helping, supporting, advising and caring for others are just some of the things that we do as teachers which go hand in hand with our roles in educational settings. However, we must ensure that we are giving the same care to ourselves; otherwise burning the candle at both ends soon leaves us feeling tired, stressed and worn out. It is important as a teacher that you find time for yourself and that you manage your work-life balance appropriately. From my four years of teaching experience, I would like to share some of the things that I do in order to sustain a positive well-being and give some hints and tips to those of you who get regular colds and sniffles. Whatever you do, keep it fresh, share ideas & network with others. This may lower your workload, save you recreating the wheel of resources and much more.
This article originally appeared in the free June 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.
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1. Time Management
Time is the biggest issue that most people talk about in relation to ‘work-life balance’ and, although time is fixed, how we use it, appreciate it and schedule it are all things we can control. As a teacher, time is precious, so it is very important that it’s spent doing jobs that need doing. I seem to be one of those people who do all the ‘fun’ jobs first and not necessarily the tasks that are most important. I cannot recommend the Eisenhower matrix (below) enough. It is brilliant for prioritising your time, errands and workloads rather than writing lists of jobs and not knowing where to start. Below are two different versions of it, but honestly – since I introduced it to my life – I don’t have lists of lists or that overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to start when workload is high.
What’s urgent and important do first.
What’s important, but not so urgent, schedule.
What’s urgent, but less important, delegate to others.
What’s neither urgent nor important, don’t do at all.
Too often I hear about staff spending hours marking books – let the students take control. Embrace self and peer assessment activities in order to give yourself time for other work or time to prepare the next activity. Some schools have “purple pens of progress”; at my school we use red pens for student marking along with various stickers designed to assist with feedback. ‘What Went Well’ and ‘Even Better If’ (WWW/EBI) is effective, as the feedback is clear, precise and identifies room for improvement. This has significantly cut the amount of time which I spend marking and it has also had a significant effect on student’s well-being and growth mindset. Students enjoy self and peer assessment tasks as they are getting critical feedback during the lesson, which can help them improve their work and techniques further. Students also enjoy having ownership of their work.
3. Sleep, Hydrate & Exercise
As much work as you might have, make sure you don’t get bogged down with it all; set yourself a time frame for work, and then leave it and take time out for yourself. Your body needs a break so take some time out. It’s important to do something that you enjoy in the evenings: spending time with family and friends, going for a walk, playing sport, listening to music… anything that isn’t work related and makes you happy.
Sleep is paramount to ensuring that your well-being is maintained; staying up late marking, then getting up early to plan is not a situation that you will be able to maintain or enjoy. This will ultimately consume you and you will be left feeling exhausted, stressed and unable to be the teacher you want to be whilst in school. Tea and coffee seems to be what many teachers live on during the school day, but it is very important to keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water throughout the school day too. Staying hydrated can avoid headaches, muscle cramps and fatigue, improve your concentration and promote clearer thinking. Research shows that exercise relieves stress – as the weather is becoming more pleasant, a bit of fresh air in the evenings is a perfect way to get active after a day in the classroom. I always sleep better and feel good about myself once I’ve done something active. Practising simple mindfulness tasks will do wonders for your well-being.
4. Preparation & Organisation
“Fail to prepare, Prepare to Fail” – a motto I tend to follow on a regular basis. However, being organised in every situation is easier said than done, but I have a few tips to help you stay organised:
- Have a desk tidy for key stationary like post-its, spare pens, highlighters, rulers – that way you always have equipment for students, should they need to borrow any.
- Whether you’re a technology whizz, or the paper-based princess – have some form of filing system that you follow. I aim to leave school each day with a clear desk. This way, when I arrive in the morning, it’s a new start to the day and I don’t have things left lying around.
- This is my Challenge Jar – I love it! Inspired by @87History. They are so easy and cheap to make up and they will save you from having to have an extension task ready. For all those students who say “I’m finished”, you are then prepared with something else that they can do. The jar is filled with lots of different tasks that can be re-used with as many classes as you wish. You may choose to make different ones depending on ability, subject or topic. My one is generic, so that I can use it cross-curricular.
5. Communication & Gratitude
Face to face communication is rare nowadays with technology being at the forefront of our lives. However, it is still very important to talk to colleagues. I feel that it is even more important in a school or educational setting, where you are ultimately all working together to achieve student success. You would hate your tone of voice to be misinterpreted or for your message not to be picked up in time.
With all of our busyness, sometimes we forget the effect that gratitude can have on colleagues’ well-being. Never underestimate the power that thanking a colleague has; it has a very positive impact, makes them feel appreciated and can put the bounce back in their step without you even knowing.
I hope that you manage to find time to relax and unwind over the school break. Self-care is all about finding time ‘just for you’ so, if nothing else, over the school holidays make sure you’re indulging in ‘you’ time and chocolate.
Jade @pshee2015 is a whole school leader of PSHE at Elfed High School in Buckley, North Wales. She also teaches Business Studies and Maths.