Thursday, April 27, 2017

Work/life balance???

At the start of this year I had an idea. Nothing amazing, but it sounded like a great idea all the same. The idea? Not to do school work in the weekends. Awesome I thought, I'll get all my work done during the week so that I can have my weekends free and get rid of that nagging guilt and panic feeling I get on Sunday evenings. Totally doable, after all some of my co-workers seem to make this look easy and my husband thought this was equally a great idea.

So 11 weeks down, how's it all going for me? Well, not so flash but one could argue that I haven't really set myself up for success on this occasion. The old saying 'doing what you've always done and expecting a different outcome' is definitely alive and well here!

After speaking with a specialist about a minor health issue, her advice (one of many) was to lower my stress levels and strive for a better work/life balance. "But how?", my 'poor example for a work/life balance' mother asked when I spoke about it with her. How do you get a balance for a job that is never done? How do you maintain a professional standard, while not answering emails at 9.30 at night? How do you manage your extra work responsibilities while leaving work before 5pm every day? Of course every time I work in the evenings or on weekends it is my choosing and my want to provide the best for the students I teach. I also don't always see this as an issue and the perfectionist in me is alive and well but it has got me thinking again about my idea from the beginning of the year and the way I 'sell' the 'learn, create, share' learning philosophy with others. No ones going to want to try using a multimodel approach to teaching reading if they think it will take them longer to plan than their current programme!

I started watching a series very long winded video about an American couple (created for learning) who discuss this very idea of work/life balance. In a nutshell these are the ideas that I found the most useful, not necessarily rocket science but food for thought.

  • Make the decision to arrive and leave on time every day (with a few exceptions of course). What time will work best for me, my colleagues and provide the time to complete what I need to get done?
  • Where are the pressures/expectations coming from? Or more importantly what unspoken pressures have I instilled upon myself? For example, the idea that I should work in the evenings or I have to get everything looking good on our class site.
  • Make to-do list and actually use them. I envision that for this to be most effective, I would need a longer term to-do list and then to-do list broken down into aims for before and after school. I also like the idea of completing a to-do list for the following morning before you leave for the day.
  • Watch out for 'water cooler' talk. As much as I love to catch up with my colleagues I know that an hour can very easily slip by and I will have been unproductive. I get caught in the whole 'came to the staff room to get a drink and ending up sitting and gossiping!
  • What can I trade. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I like things to look good, but I know that this is effects my time management. Sometimes I like to ask myself "will this have an effect on the children's learning?" Chances are that the pretty background on my slideshow will not have any effect and therefore doesn't really need to be done when time is short!
  • Use any spare moment effectively. Refer to to-do list and make the most of the opportunity.
  • Do similar tasks at the same time eg set aside time to respond to emails 
  • Work at work. Sounds simple but it is drawing a line in the sand and saying when enough is enough. 
As  I said not necessarily rocket science but it has got me thinking about some things I need to make better attempts at in order to get a better work/life balance.


  1. Kia ora Kate, Thank you for sharing your reflection, this is certainly an area that has potentially become more of an issue as the technology has become more ubiquitous. I remember when I first started teacher I took a box of books to mark and jobs to do home everyday and never seemed to catch up. I started leaving the box at school and worked from 7:30am to 5:30pm Monday to Thursday and started to put more responsibility back on to the learners. I guess the challenge now is, our box is our device and it follows us home. I do love my to do list on my calendar, even just creating it seems to make it like their is less to do.
    Your saying "doing what you've always done and expecting a different outcome' is definitely alive and well here!" is interesting as I know you have introduced a lot of new practices into your teaching, however what "old things" have you removed?
    Teaching is a marathon not a sprint.

  2. Good on you Kate for expressing your thoughts on this often discussed topic. I totally agree that a work/home balance is crucial in order to maintain your professional standards and a strong sense of wellbeing.

    The tricky part is how to do this, and trickier for some it seems. No easy answer, it is down to the individual.

    I believe teachers are entitled to ‘workfree’ weekends, if they choose. I have no expectation that staff would be working in their weekends. So the question is, how do you achieve this?
    You have identified a number of ways to possibly achieve this, I hope some of these are successful.

    You mentioned the job is never done and you are a perfectionist. How does one manage this? From my point of view, I do what I can each day to the best of my ability and what I have not completed is on the top of my list the next day. I realised a long time ago I will never get there …! This does not mean you are not acting professionally, it means you are being realistic and looking after yourself.

    Wellbeing is number one! If you don’t look after yourself, how effective will you be in front of your children? This is it for me today, I’m ready for tomorrow, now I’m going home … One needs to have a sense of self assuredness that it is ok to do this. I’m leaving now to look after myself so that I’m feeling good and ready for tomorrow.

    I use a racing analogy when discussing this topic - teaching is like the 2 mile Melbourne Cup, it’s a test for stayers, it’s not a sprint! I want our teachers here tomorrow, next week, next month, next term, … If you treat this as a sprint you won’t be any good for your class and certainly no good for yourself.

    A bit of a ramble, but my thinking. At the end of the day it is what suits you and how you choose to use your time.

    Thanks once again for raising this issue!

  3. Kia ora Kate, Thanks for your post. It is a timely reminder for all of us that like Gary said looking after ourselves and making our wellbeing a priority is so important. In all the years I have been teaching I have never got on top of everything! There are always more comments to make, more lessons to research and endless children's minds to fill.

    We need to celebrate our successes even though sometimes they may seem insignificant to others, schedule time to do nothing even if it is only 20 minutes at a time and take time to notice the little things. Sometimes we get so busy life just passes us by.

    A to do list is something that I have always thought to be a great idea and never managed to keep it going even though I have bought lovely stationery and glitzy pens, but I really believe it's the way to empty your mind of all that clatter and organise your time efficiently. I have got a lot better than I used to be.

    You are a perfectionist and because you are so passionate about teaching there will never be a time when you get it all done. Use the support of those around you, disconnect from the grid and remember to stay positive.

  4. Hi Kate,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. It is a struggle that is close to my heart and one that has been on going for well over a year now. This is not the easiest job and as you put it, one that is never done.

    I'm not convinced that teachers in New Zealand do a good job in promoting the work/life balance and I would say most of us put our job and students well before the well being of ourselves. And the many conversations that happen in the staffroom around this issue seem to support this. So apart from a great uprising across the country to change the way we as teachers function, what else can we do?

    This year my husband told me that the amount of work I was doing and the stress I was feeling couldn't go on, I agreed and so we discussed some changes I could make. They lasted about half a term. This term I started with the same ideas (less work, none at night ...) but here I am, second night this week I'm 'working'.

    I found your thoughts encouraging, thoughtful and helpful. It reminded me that a list is helpful, and I can avoid the staffroom without feeling to guilty (though sometimes its good to actually have a break). I look forward to reading more of your journey in this and maybe being able to borrow some more ideas.


  5. Kia ora,

    We are not alone! Your post was honest and thoughtful - ka pai! It can be difficult to find an appropriate forum to 'share the load'. Yes, it is our choice to do the job we do, but we do expect a certain level of life too! There will NEVER be a perfect solution to this dilemma, but acknowledging it is surely the first step for the majority of people - and not just teachers!

    Hope you are finding wee moments to 'smell the roses', enjoy the fruits of your labour and good luck with your endeavours!



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