-by Dan Jones and Sue White-
Much of the chatter in educational discussions revolves around education being student-centered, and there is nothing wrong with that, but at some point, education needs to focus on the well-being of teachers as well. The demands of a K-12 educator are overwhelming, to say the least. We give and give until we have nothing left to give, and then we give even more, sometimes to our own detriment. For an educator to meet the demands of current educational expectations, teachers end up sacrificing things that help make them great educators: time with family, health, and mental well-being.
So how do we balance trying to be the best teacher we can be with ensuring that we are taking enough time for ourselves? How do we can continue being our best, not only as a teacher, but for ourselves, our families, and our students? Unfortunately, there is not an easy answer to this question, but there are some surefire ways to improve teacher well-being. Here are the top five things you can do before school, during school, and after school to take better care of yourself:
WHY: Once you enter the classroom, you are busy: busy prepping for lessons, grading, dealing with student issues, teaching, etc. You need to mentally prepare yourself for the day that lies ahead. Suzanne Kane wrote an article titled 7 Reasons Why You Need Quiet Time. One of the reasons she points to is something that educators can genuinely relate to: when it is quiet, you can make order out of chaos. There is a sense of centering yourself and being able to prioritize how you want to approach your day, and there is a restoration to your soul when you take time to be still.
HOW: The first thing to do is get enough sleep so that you can wake up rested; otherwise, your reflecting and daily preparations will turn into an extra 10-15 minutes of sleep. It is also essential to wake up early enough so that you can go through your typical routine but still give yourself an additional 10 minutes to engage in quiet, peaceful exercises. Whether your quiet time starts before your morning routine or after, the important thing is that you build it into your routine. It needs to become a habit. What are some activities you can do? Yoga, prayer, meditation, daily devotionals, journal, listen to an inspirational podcast or find your own thing that will energize you. Make it personal and meaningful, to the point where you look forward to it and miss it if you forget.
WHY: Planning time at last. We have papers to grade, copies to make, and lessons to design. Only you can’t find that paper you needed to copy, and you can’t remember what you were going to work on next. If we aren’t careful, our desks can turn into a cluttered mess, and time slips away as ‘looking for’ rather than ‘doing with.’ In the article, Your Messy Classroom Is a Problem, written by author Paul Murphy, he discusses the research behind disorganized rooms and the negative impact it has on you and your students’ ability to focus, affecting productivity and creating stress. He also revealed a study linking cleanliness and order to student behavior. By ordering your physical space, you can improve your productivity during the day, which is essential since you need to leave school at a set time each day. Though this may seem impossible due to the mountains of papers to grade, parent phone calls to make, and lesson planning that needs revising, it is critical to improving your productivity. Jay Bacrania discusses the importance of leaving on time in his article, Why You Should Leave Work On Time. He points to the simple fact that leaving on time requires people to be more disciplined in their work, and it will also improve the quality of your work and home life. Your work quality will improve due to the simple fact that you are taking time for yourself.
HOW: For your physical space, remember this simple equation: Folders + files = no piles. There’s a place for everything and put everything in its place. For organizing your time and workflow, there are many tools you can use. But first, you must prioritize. By prioritizing, you will not only get more accomplished during the day, but you will also be able to leave on time. Francis Booth, a contributor for Forbes.com, wrote an article called How To Leave Work On Time. She has a list of dos and don’ts that will help you to be more successful leaving on time. Some of her don’ts are: Don’t answer one more email or make one more call. These things always take more time than you realize. Try setting an alarm on your phone so that you have a five-minute warning before you intend to leave. Typically, this is enough time to come to a stopping point and get ready to leave for the day. Remember, time management during the day will not only help you get home at a decent hour but could set you up for a more relaxing evening.
WHY: School work can quickly become a constant drain, even at home: everything from grading papers to lesson planning. Feeling pulled between your family and your classroom can seem like a battle, but finding a balance can help you to be present with your family and re-energize you for your time dedicated to your students. If you just work, work, work, your productivity goes down. Brooke Nelson, in her article for Reader’s Digest titled 8 Subtle Signs You’re More Of A Workaholic Than You Think, cites research that was released by Ford Motor Company suggesting that the more people work beyond the traditional 40-hour workweek, the less productive they become. This is true for teachers, too. We have to take breaks, refocus, and come back refreshed.
HOW: Lauren Gelman wrote an article for Reader’s Digest titled Successful People Do These 10 Things After Work. In it, she writes about the importance of compartmentalizing. Education is a field where there is not enough time in your day to get it all done, so work spills over into the home. Compartmentalizing home and work, though, can enable you to have time with your family and still use the time to get school things done. Prioritizing is vital for creating a healthy at-home schedule. Determine what has to get done, what you want to get done, and what you would like to get done. Set a time limit (this can vary depending on your personal commitments, as well as your family commitments). You need to be able to say that from this time to this time, I will work on school, but then you need to actually be done. It is easy to say, “Well, 15 more minutes…,” which turns into an hour and 30 minutes. Be strict with your end time.
WHY: It is essential to find time for ourselves and put work entirely aside. Harvard Business Review published an article in 2016 titled Don’t Take Work Stress Home With You. In it, authors Jackie and John Coleman discuss the importance of minimizing work stress in the home. They remind us that without realizing it: We could be bringing work stress home, impacting our loved ones, and our health. So what can we do to unwind and let the day go?
HOW: One decompression technique suggested by the Colemans is to develop healthier device habits. With our advancing technology, it is often too easy to check a text message or to answer an email. Placing limits can help open more time for other more relaxing things. In the article Rethink Your After-Work Routine to Make the Transition Home a Happy One, Sue Shellenbarger, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, talks about the need to create routines in the evening to develop “mental space” between work and home. One suggestion is to hit the gym. Exercise, in any form, can give you focus, clarity, and stress relief. Other ideas to relax after your workday include reading a book, engaging in a craft or hobby, and meditation. If you don’t have a routine for decompressing in the evening, now is the time to start one. You’ll be glad you did.
WHY: Grading papers. Late nights. Early mornings. Stressful days. Repeat. Does this sound all too familiar? In 2008, Marc Ransford wrote an article outlining a study conducted by Professors Denise Amschler and James McKenzie at Ball State University. In his report, Study Finds That Teachers Are Fighting To Stay Awake In The Classroom, Ransford’s summary of their findings revealed that 43% of teachers are getting less than the 7-9 hours of sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). That lack of sleep could impact your morning routine and overall mood, creating a cycle of stress for the day. So, how can we break that cycle?
HOW: The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) published a great article about sleep and recommendations for getting enough of it. In the publication, How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?, the NSF advises making sleep a priority by “scheduling sleep like any other daily activity.” Another way in which you can improve your sleep is to create a bedtime routine. We do this for our children, so why not for ourselves? Part of your bedtime routine should include having a consistent bedtime. The NSF suggests keeping the same bedtime every day of the week, even on weekends. Creating a relaxing, consistent ritual is very important to get a good night’s sleep. Creating a good bedtime routine not only helps you get a good night’s sleep but helps set you up for a smoother morning and next day as well. What could you prepare for the next day to make your morning routine easier?
Teachers are notorious for not being able to shut off their profession, sometimes at no fault of their own. However, the steps mentioned above are a good start to taking better care of yourself. Your students, colleagues, family – and most importantly, you – will thank you for it!
Which of these tips resonated most with you?