Work life balance can feel like an elusive concept, partly because there is no ideal mathematical equation that works for everybody. As teachers we often work intensively at certain times of the year and then have, what many others see as, very generous holidays. But on a day to day basis, or even week to week, most of us want to make a stab at having a life as well as a career.
This is where we need to shift the way we think about what’s going on with the school/home balancing act. Balancing often conjures a picture of scales, where the things on either side need to be equal in order for there to be balance. This is where work life balance falls down every time for most people and certainly teachers. If we count days it’s 5:2, in favour of work. If we count hours, including marking and prep outside of school, it is skewed even further in the wrong direction.
Quality over Quantity
Therefore we need to reframe how we weight our time. It is not about quantity, it is about quality. We know this to be true for so many things and it also applies to our home lives. This is the bit you get to make your own timetable for. Which means you need to schedule in quality blocks of time that are going to refresh you. These usually fall into two categories, Social Connections and ‘You’ Time.
Extensive research highlights how important social connection can be. And this is where quality really matters. Being present with that person for just 30 minutes is more valuable and energising than spending 2 hours with someone but being totally preoccupied or talking only about work.
Schedule into your week some social connection time, this might be with your kids, a friend or a partner. And the remit is to enjoy it! It’s Pancake Day on Tuesday, so I’ve got some friends coming round to make pancakes. It should be fun, if a little messy. Pancake flipping has never been my forte!
This could involve the 1 minute mindfulness exercise that I mentioned in a previous blog - extended to 20 minutes, or going for a 20 minute walk or reading a book for 20 minutes with no interruptions.
I know that if you have family commitments, as well as marking to get done, giving yourself 20 minutes out doesn’t seem like a priority. But, I would argue that it is. This is a negotiation with yourself. You must schedule in this time, otherwise you will never have it. There will always be something else to do or someone else needing your attention. Make agreements with family members and make the agreement with yourself.
If this is totally new for you, try to do it just once this week and then build up to 2 to 3 times in the working week.
Being present or Mindful
Being really present and enjoying the moment you are in, is one of the key ways to swing the balance in favour of life. If you can be really present (Mindful) in a 20 minute chat with a friend or family member, it will hold more value than the whole of a difficult day.
Clare Martin is a the founder of the Positive Teacher Network who specialises in helping teachers to find the ultimate Work Life Balance and supports them with many of the difficulties teachers face today.
The Positive Teacher Network provides practical tips and strategies to busy, tired teachers to help them improve their lives allowing them to focus on being great teachers.