Work and Life: Striking the Right Balance by @FloraBarton

Re Blog by Flora Barton about the importance of striking a correct balance in your teaching life.

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.

~ Barbara Bush ~

So, we didn’t go to the 3-D movie this morning.  In fact, the children did not wake up until after 1:00!  My son has never slept so late!  My daughter and he had a sleepover in his room….they looked so cosy this morning, with the room still dark because of the heavy rain outside….so I let them sleep.  Instead, they painted, played Cluedo and a noisy game of balloon volleyball!  I’m now sitting here on the couch while they are next to me watching an animated 2-D movie instead.  Another wonderful day of quality family time….

Since I have become a headteacher, everyone keeps asking me about my ‘work-life’ balance and making sure I am not ‘burning both ends of the candle,’ so to say.  I have realised how important it is for leaders, on all levels, to model what they expect and what they preach.  Far too often I have seen people tell others to do something, but not actually do it themselves.  For me, this makes me question everything they then say… Fortunately or unfortunately (however you may see it) we have put ourselves in the position of being very harshly judged and criticised, therefore people do watch everything we do, especially those that work with us.

As a National College facilitator for the old Middle Leadership Program, I constantly explained how important it was as leaders to demonstrate this ‘positive’ work-life balance.  It was overwhelming how many of these teachers felt guilty for leaving school early (or what ‘others’ might deem an ‘early’ time) or going home without a box full of marking.  Some even claimed to take a box (they had already marked) just to make it look like they were going home to do even more work!  Often the issue is that there are other senior leaders who make a point of staying late, always being busy, always responding/sending e-mails at all times of the evening, etc, etc….to prove how hard they are working.  The middle leaders that I worked with agreed that other colleagues would make comments about teachers who left before a certain time, or that there was a culture of having to stay late every night or else you would be frowned upon.  I think as teachers we can all relate to this on some level.

My husband keeps driving home the importance of having set boundaries and rules to keep me sane as a headteacher.  So, after talking to various middle leaders and the rationalisation of my husband, I now realise how right he is (he is going to love reading this!); modelling a ‘positive’ work-life balance is crucial in maintaining the work-life balance of the rest of the team.

During my very first Inset with my new team, I told them that I wanted them all to leave work at least two days a week by 4:15 with their hands empty.  My expectation is that they work 110% at school, always, but that when they leave school, they leave.  If teachers give their all during the day, to only go home and spend further hours marking and planning every evening, they won’t be outstanding, they will be worn out!  During some of our staff meetings, we have been working on ways to really ‘work smarter and not harder.’  Simple ideas, such as making sure maths is marked before you come to lunch (once the pupils have marked it already during the lesson, it is only a 15-minute task!).

I have made it clear to them that I TRUST them.  Like many schools, we don’t have an abundance of extra space, therefore, I have told teachers they can go home for their PPA unless I notify them otherwise.  So, if teachers use that time for something else (of course they go straight home to mark!), I TRUST they will find another time during their week to get their work done.  Again, it is still early days, so I’ll let you know how it goes!  But, as long as the children are happy, inspired and ‘learning’ while the teachers keep to deadlines and adhere to expectations, I have no reason to question or doubt any member in my team.

My predecessor, as I have been told, was always at school and as a result, most of the teachers felt as though they had to stay late as well.  Some heads/teachers say they enjoy being at school for such lengths of time, but everyone needs time and distance, a chance to clear your head and come back fresh with a new sense of purpose.

So, this has been a big change.  It is still too early to see what impact it has had on either the school or the staff…only time will tell.

I can’t say it has been easy to model this without feeling a slight sense of guilt (especially with the governors always reminding me how the previous head was always there), but all thanks to my husband, I have kept to my word of leaving twice a week by 3:45.  I do this to ensure that I am home at least twice a week before my son and daughter get home from school.  They love it and so do I…..and it makes all the difference to my week. As leaders, we owe this to our team, our school, ourselves and our family.  In fact, it makes me a better wife, mother and headteacher…..

Sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest difference……so what change will you make to better the balance between work and home?

Flora Barton describes herself as a Christian Wife, Mother, Headteacher and Leader in Education. You can follow her on Twitter via @FloraBarton.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Flora Barton and published with kind permission. The article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020

The original post can be found here.

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