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6 scientifically proven work-life balance tips for teachers
Teaching naturally attracts conscientious people. That's not to say that teachers are saints, but they often have a tendency to put others' needs before their own. And when you are caught up in the daily bustle of school and home life, it is easy to get overwhelmed.
The enormous workload of the job is also a factor. The latest government survey [pdf] found that primary teachers are working in excess of 55 hours a week and secondary staff work around 53. And while some schools have started to implement the recommendations of the government workload review groups, many have not.
Staff are a school's most precious and expensive asset – they are uniquely placed to have an impact on students. But it's hard to be at your best, inspiring and motivating if you were working until 11pm the night before.
How to take control of your wellbeing
First of all, you must accept that you have some responsibility for your own wellbeing – you will have a long wait ahead if you're holding on for others to sort it out for you. The good news is that tiny changes can make a massive difference.
Start of by choosing just one thing to stop and one thing to start and see what impact it has on your wellbeing.
Here are some ideas to get you started – with expert advice from psychologist Bradley Busch on how they help.
Three things to stop doing right now
1. Stop writing your to-do lists on Post-It notes and plastering them all over your laptop. This creates a perception of a workload that is untidy and out of control. Centralise your to-do list into a notebook or device.
What the science says: Interestingly, one of the secrets of very productive people is that they don't use to-do lists at all – they schedule tasks. Try it and see if you feel more in control.
2. Stop taking home work that you don't have time for. A pile of books brooding in the corner will only spoil the evening you should be enjoying with your nearest and dearest. Your marking still won't be done and you will feel terrible. Leave them at school.
What the science says: Nurturing good relationships is key to enhancing your wellbeing, and being able to separate home and work life is central to this. In fact, evidence suggests that when you isolate yourself and feel disconnected from others, it is as bad for your health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
3. Stop reacting immediately to messages and emails. If you are checking your devices all the time, the line between work and home becomes blurred. Just because someone sends you an email at 10.25 pm doesn't mean you need to answer it at 10.27pm.
What the science says: A recent survey found that 81% of adults never turn off their phones (even when in bed). Recent research found that being on your phone within an hour before bed means you are almost three times as likely to get less than five hours sleep. The extra sleep will make you much more effective at your job – as well as feeling better while doing so. And if you reply to an email first thing in the morning, instead of last thing at night, it is almost certainly going to be of a higher quality.
Three things to start doing right now
1. Start checking your emails when you have time to respond to them, not when that thing in your pocket starts bleeping. Turn the notifications off. The key here is to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. Importance relates to "does it matter?" whereas urgency relates to a time constraint. The constant beeping makes people confuse the two.
What the science says: Evidence suggests that constantly checking your phone can lead to forgetfulness and increase stress and anxiety.
2. Start getting outside for at least 15 minutes a day. Even if you can only walk around the block, notice what is around you.
What the science says: If possible, try to go to a park or somewhere that has green space. A quirky research study found that people who took a short break in a natural environment improved their subsequent performance by 20% compared with those who went for a walk in a busy urban area. This because natural environments replenish your brain, whereas urban ones require your brain to stay alert, further draining your mental resources
3. Start reading the #teacher5aday hashtag on Twitter. Search this hashtag to find positive teachers taking control of their own wellbeing and sharing their experiences.
What the science says: As well as having the added advantage of helping develop relationships with like-minded colleagues, it can be a great tool for learning. Learning has a significant positive impact on your mental wellbeing. This is because learning is often accompanied by a sense of achievement, is enjoyable and has been found to help people cope better with stressful situations.
I like some of these ideas. However, putting off any tasks only allows them to pile up on top of those of the next or subsequent days. If I don't mark the books tonight, I will have double the work tomorrow. Surely the responsibility lies with school leaders and policy makers to seriously commit themselves to removing the demands currently placed on many teachers.
I saw the title, then eagerly read through the list. These weren't just tips but 'scientifically proven', so what's not to like. Having read the list, I have to say they are from any kind of panacea for the very real problem afflicting present-day teaching. Let me offer my own thoughts on the different points:
1.Moving your outstanding work list to a little book will do nothing for REDUCING the amount of work you need to do.
2. Leaving books to be marked at school, will still need to be marked.
3. If you are being contacted by email at night regarding work and you leave it to the morning to answer, this will need to be done in the time you have scheduled for other jobs. Nothing more dispiriting that arriving at work in the morning with a mountain of emails to be answered which were sent the night before.
1. See the last point
2. Getting outside each day will still move that chunk of time you could be working to the end of the day and do nothing to REDUCE it.
3. So the tip here is to reducing workload is to check a twitter account for tips on reducing workload. The ideas are so good, that the author hasn't thought to include any of them here.