Achieving a Work-Life Balance: Is it Possible in Today’s Education System?Daniela Schiavo
How is your work-life balance? It’s a question that many teachers dread, mostly because it will bring up a mixture of emotions: guilt, hope and frustration. Everybody wants a balanced life, but the reality is that a lot of people aren’t happy with the way the scales are tipping. So how do we achieve some harmony in our personal and professional life? Below we have some tips on getting the balance right, as well some valuable input from our very own teacher ambassadors.
While it’s often uncomfortable, saying no is necessary to live the life you want. Everything you say yes to is taking up space in your life and the reality is that every teacher’s capacity has a limit. The quandary of how to choose what to give time to is real, but a great way to know what to agree to and what to pass on is to theoretically clear your schedule and start with your core values.
Ask yourself, ‘What is my goal as a teacher? Which areas am I most passionate about?” So, first put in your essentials, like the things that make you get up in the morning, and the things you must do (like assessments). Everything on top of this is secondary, and you should be wary of how much you say yes to in the ‘optional extras’ category. Somebody simply asking you isn’t a good enough reason to say yes, and teachers need to remind themselves that saying no doesn’t make them a bad person, but one with healthy boundaries.
Set your boundaries
So, what are some reasonable boundaries and how do we set them? At times they can be hard to stick to, but they could not be more important in both your personal and professional life. When you place a boundary in your life, you are putting your wellbeing first and ensuring that you have enough energy to commit to the things that you need and want to get done. Boundaries also protect you from getting used in relationships, whether personal or professional, and go a long way to preventing burnout. How do you know if someone has overstepped a boundary with you or if you need to put one in place?
- You often feel guilty or tired
- You dread saying no
- You feel used or undervalued
- You struggle to make a decision
- You don’t feel respected
- You feel annoyed or hard done by and are not sure why
- You’re overly worried about what other people think of you
If anything on this list rings a bell, it might be time to create some stronger boundaries. What are some good examples to get you started?
- Not taking work calls before or after a certain time
- Protecting your time and only giving out when you choose to
- Asking for space
- Speaking up when you’re uncomfortable with something
- Sharing personal information wisely
When we asked our teacher ambassador, Cassandra, about her boundaries, she said, “I will not reply to emails after 4:30, or on the weekends, and leave work after the bell two nights a week. By keeping these boundaries, I find I can keep a better work-life balance.”
Boundaries aren’t meant to restrict your freedom; they’re designed to protect your happiness. All these suggestions above, or a combination of each, can help you design a life and schedule that you feel happy and content with, rather than resentful towards.
When you are goal setting on your own, it’s easy to give up and think “No one will know.” Pick a mentor or an accountability partner that you trust and tell them your wellbeing goals regarding achieving a work-life balance and then check in with them once a month or so, to make sure that you’re sticking to what you’ve committed. With 40-50% of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, it’s more important than ever for teachers to nurture their wellbeing so that they can contribute to the profession in a long-term capacity.
Our teacher ambassador, Raquel, says, “It is very easy to get stuck in a rut of the never ending ‘to do list’ as a teacher … Our job is emotionally and mentally taxing … and then add the mental load of wanting to do best by 20-plus little humans. This would not be possible without that balance; we would work ourselves into the ground and have nothing left to give.”
Focus on your health
The negative impact of stress and an unbalanced life on your wellbeing is monumental. The distressing teacher attrition rates are largely due to teacher burnout, and while maintaining a balance is difficult, especially given department demands, it is of paramount importance. Stress and fatigue can lead to insomnia, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, glandular fever, inflammation, headaches and a lowered immune system, to name a few. Take some time this week to prioritise your health, whether it’s an indoor soccer game, nature hike, sleep in or a mindfulness exercise. As an example, our ambassadors visit the osteopath for shoulder strain, engage in arts and crafts, do Pilates and walk the dog on a regular basis to boost their wellbeing. While it’s easy when busy to take the short-term view, your body will always thank you for taking care of it, and you will have more energy to do the things you love.
Is a work-life balance even a realistic goal?
“It’s an admiral goal,” you think, “but you don’t know my life.” With the almost unreasonable demands placed on teachers by the education department, faculty, parents and students, is a work-life balance even possible, or like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow? While it’s true that major and systemic changes are needed in the education system across all states and territories (for more information on this, see “We need bold schools reform, not tinkering” by Rachel Wilson and Paul Kidson, and “Making time for great teaching: How better government policy can help” by Jordana Hunter, Julie Sonnemann, Rebecca Joiner), there is scope for teachers to create a better balance for their life and increase job satisfaction, as well as wellbeing. The thing to remember is simply placing your health as top priority. Cassandra says, “After the last two years of remote learning, where many of us felt that we couldn’t escape our jobs as everything blurred together, a work-life balance is so important.”
So, to get your positive wellbeing journey started, we’ve got a PDF quiz below to help you answer the question: How is your work-life balance? As well as a goal chart for you to plan some habit changes to work toward the goal of a balanced life.
We have made this free PDF resource to help you and your colleagues assess whether you are maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and how you can improve.
Written by Lil van Wyngaard