I’ve been pretty quiet on here for the past few weeks, and I’d like to think there’s a pretty good reason for it. Usually the two week break provides me with a lot of time for catching up on my blog, burying myself in study or school work and coming up with new ideas for my classroom. I usually spend a lot of time on my computer during this period.
But these holidays have been a bit different. I started to realise, that my devices – as much as I love them – had become almost an extension of my physical self. I was constantly clicking, tapping, typing and swiping. And it was exhausting.
So it was clear that it was time to take some action with a self-imposed social experiment. I banned myself from my technology. Not entirely (baby steps…Rome wasn’t built in a day, people!) but with significant limitations. I have opened my laptop on four occasions only – to do my tax, to work with a colleague for a day on English and EAL planning and programming, for my final day of my Grad Cert, and to write this blog post. I also switched off my ipad and put it away for three entire days (this is a big deal for me).
When I say I didn’t disconnect entirely, I did maintain my social media interactions, but only on my phone. And let’s face it, who can read off of that size of screen for too long.
By switching off from work and the constant updates of friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances in Adelaide, interstate and overseas, I actually found myself with a lot more time on my hands to do things like this:
Some more of this…
which, if I’m honest, probably looked more like this…
I also got a far better quality of what I find I lack most during the term…
So, as we enter the new term, I have set myself a resolution. I am going to disconnect more often. My ipad and laptop will be switched off from 9pm on weeknights. I will not respond to emails post 9pm. I figure if I am working past that time on a regular basis, I am probably not working effectively and therefore doing myself and my students a disservice. Of course, there may be the very RARE occasion where I have to work late – that happens in all jobs sometimes – but I will make more time to prioritise myself and my friends and family.
Confession. I’m a bit of a work-a-holic. I have always struggled with study-life or work-life balance. And to be painfully honest, at times over the past couple of years, it has impacted on my physical and emotional health. So this year I have set myself some resolutions, both professional and personal. One of these promises to myself straddles the line between professional and personal – to establish a healthy balance between my work and the enjoyment of the other facets of my life.
Drawing upon the wisdom of members of my PLN (including Louiza Hebhardt’s helpful blog and #TeacherWellbeingChat) and a number of the health and well-being experts that I follow across various social networks, I have come up with a few steps for how I (and maybe others who read this) might go about achieving this balance.
1. Establish a routine. This one’s not too difficult for me. I have always thrived on routine and my work day is divided by bells so I’m used to it. Where I have often fallen apart is making time for myself in that routine. So schedule some time to do the things you enjoy. I have recently started attend yoga and pilates classes and am loving it and am already feeling the benefits. When I go back to work this week, I intend to find time in my week to continue them. I’ve also embarked on a few small projects – painting, reading (which is a pastime I ADORE but just never seemed to managed to make time for in my day) and planting my own herbs (the source of much amusement for my partner because “it would be easier just to by the packs from the shops”).
2. Eat well. Drink lots of water. Exercise. Limit alcohol. This was a big mistake I made during my first couple of years teaching. I didn’t make the time in my day to exercise and I didn’t eat well at all. And I soon found myself getting sicker more easily than I ever had before, and started to put on weight. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t assault my body with deep-fried garbage. But I didn’t give it enough of the right nutrients either so my metabolism slowed. Make sure you eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and protein – limit the processed stuff, because while it’s convenient, it’s not good for you.
3. Enjoy positive relationships with colleagues, friends, families and partners. Make time to spend with them without other distractions. Be mindful of your relationship with yourself and others.
4. Learn to say ‘no’ and to ‘switch off.’ If there is something you truly do not feel comfortable with, or that is going to put you under unnecessary stress, learn to politely say ‘no’ and not feel guilty about it.’ And try to avoid taking work home (I know for educators this is a toughie!) and put the technology down for a while. Take time to enjoy the fresh air or have a face-to-face conversation. Until late last year I had my work email connected to my phone. It drove my partner crazy because I felt impelled to check it every time I heard it go off and would then feel I needed to reply. This also meant that parents had access to me at anytime. So now we’ve come to a compromise. The email has been disconnected from my phone (which is with me all the time) and connected to my iPad (which isn’t). It was incredible how much pressure that small switch alleviated from my life away from work.
5. Get plenty of sleep. A no-brainer that I struggle with. Our bodies need plenty of rest. When they don’t get enough we become less productive physically and mentally. During the term, I have previously functioned on about 5-6 hours sleep a night, when an adult should be getting at least 7-8. Wind down for about half an hour before you go to sleep. Switch technology off, read a book, fill in a gratitude journal, or just relax and be mindful of your breathing.
However you go about finding your work-life balance this year, look after yourself. And if you have any tips to offer, I am all ears! 🙂
It’s that time of term/year again. The end of year funk: the last two or three weeks of a busy term when energy levels are bottoming out but your list of things that must be achieved before the kids leave at 12.30 on that last day is growing exponentially by the minute. There are camps, swimming carnivals, socials, end of year masses, Year 7 transition days, alternative programs to keep students engaged in the last week of term, and don’t forget marking, marking, MORE marking and reports, reports, reports.
Schools are always busy, no matter the term, but maybe Term 4 feels different because we are exhausted from the three-term marathon we have already run. And what a marathon! We journey with our students through so many highs and lows, as well as our own highs and lows, that it’s no wonder we might start to feel like we’re fading.
But something always gets us through – maybe it’s our family, our colleagues, students or sheer commitment and determination. I think for me it’s a combination of all of the above. I am supported by a wonderful partner and family who allow me to talk things through but do not allow me to wallow in self-pity, colleagues who I can bounce ideas off of, discuss concerns and have a laugh or a cry with (I share an office with a wonderfully eclectic bunch of ladies who are like family. In fact they’ve probably seen me laugh and cry more in the last three years than my immediate family have!). Then there are my students – the ones I ultimately work for. I received a beautiful letter from one of those students whilst on camp last week and it reminded me that as much as my class is the source of many concerns and frustrations for me, they are also the cause of much joy and pride. And it is they who know teacher-me better than anyone else. They know how to make me laugh, how to press my buttons, and some of them (only some!) have seen me cry (human emotions from a teacher? Shock horror!)
And so I realise that, as much as it is my role to help get those kids over the line and send them off on Christmas holidays brimming with well-deserved pride in their achievements, they also journey with me (although they probably don’t know that) and get me across the line.
So for my Australian readers. whatever it is that helps you keep what’s left of your sanity and reach the light at the end of the tunnel, may your last 3 weeks of the school be the most successful and rewarding for you!
Empathy: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this ” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
On Sunday night I was drawn into a Twitter discussion facilitated by Louiza Hebhardt (@equilibriumctc), a teacher and counsellor with a focus on teacher well-being. Her regular discussion #teacherwellbeingchat provides a great opportunity for educators of all levels and from all location to connect and discuss the importance of maintaining emotional, spiritual, physical and mental well-being. After all, how can we adequately look after our students’ well-being without first looking after our own?
Sunday’s discussion focused on ‘The contagion of emotions.’ In places like schools, where large numbers of people gather and bring with them all the thoughts, feelings and experiences that form their lives, emotions are bound to run high. Sometimes these emotions are positive, other times they are incredibly negative. Louiza posed three questions to participants:
1. Emotions are contagious. Discuss.
2. How do you think empathy plays into the contagion of emotions?
3. Instead of a Q3 next is T3 (T for Task). Watch this –tinyurl.com/bhmkeqv and then let us know what happened. (<—Take a look at the video…great clip)
The discussion about empathy was particularly interesting and relevant to me. I believe anybody who chooses a career/profession/vocation that deals with people and everything that makes them who they are (strengths, difficulties, life experience, etc.) must have an innate ability to empathise with others, particularly when those people are at their most vulnerable. As educators we teach human beings, not just sponges whose sole purpose and motivation for being is to soak up content knowledge. For so many students at risk, learning about English, Maths, Science, etc. does not rate highly on their list of needs. External factors influence their behaviours, attitudes and ability to cope at school. This is where, as teachers, we are called to empathise – not necessarily to lower our expectations of the student, but to understand why they might be struggling to meet those expectations at a particular point in time and consider how we can help them to proactively change that.
It also became clear during the #teacherwellbeingchat that it is crucial not to mistake sympathy for empathy. They are two different reactions. Sympathy implies ‘feeling sorry for’ and taking that person’s problems and emotions as your ownl. Empathy, on the other hand, suggests understanding, consideration, and a willingness to help where possible without projecting somebody else’s negative emotions onto oneself. This is something that I find a challenge in my pastoral care role. When I work with students whose lives are in turmoil (and this sadly happens more often than I had ever expected), I find it difficult, not so much to detach, but to avoid being drawn into ‘feeling sorry for,’ which I know is not as helpful as empathy. I am getting better at it, but it is still something I have to consciously think about.
Hence it was incredibly worthwhile for me to follow and participate in Louiza’s discussion. Engaging with others from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences allowed me to reflect on how I respond to my students and their troubles, and perhaps how I might be more mindful of this. Another resource focused on staff well-being that I find particularly useful is a newsletter called Vital Staff, sent out by one of our wonderful school counsellors. Jarrod Lamshed (@jlamshed) , author of the blog Connected Learning, also made a very pertinent post recently focusing on the need for balance in our lives. Such discussions and publications emphasise the need for us to look after ourselves, in order to avoid ‘the contagion of (negative) emotions.’
But let’s keep the positive emotions contagious, shall we? 😀
Thanks to @MarkeetaRP for suggesting the above video during #teacherwellbeingchat!