21 ways teachers can have a work-life balance when teaching from home
If teachers had to choose one word to describe 2020, it has to be ‘overwhelming.’ The suddenness of the pandemic and the upside-down turn in the way they delivered their lessons, teachers have found their work increased manifold, eating up their personal time.
And, it’s not over yet. Even as school reopening is a top priority, uncertainty over safety looms large. For the immediate future, it is safe to say that work-from-home will be the norm for teachers as well as students — and work-life balance is likely to be hanging unsteadily.
In this blog post, we offer 25 ideas, some refreshers and some new, to ease the journey.
Managing your workspace
#1 Create and persist a mini class in your home
Now that working from home is widely known and accepted, designate a separate space for yourself. Perhaps, add an ‘in class’ sign at your door to keep your family from disturbing you. When done with class, leave the space and go ‘home’ for relaxation and family time.
The first step to real work-life balance is thoughtful separation.
#2 Shutdown work before moving to life
Teachers say that shutting down their laptops and putting them out of sight helps set a boundary between work-time and family-time. If you have papers, books or other work material on your desk, pop them in a bag and leave them in a corner when the workday ends. If you’ve sticky notes, for instance, all over your bedroom wall, consider moving them to a notebook and putting them away before going to bed.
Having your work visible 24x7 will affect your ability to relax.
Managing your time
#3 Manage your availability
Given the stress on students and parents, teachers spent the last year being available whenever anyone needed them. This, naturally, took a toll on the teacher’s wellbeing. Now that everyone has gotten somewhat used to remote learning, take back control of your time.
Designate office hours. Set expectations on your availability and leave when you are done for the day.
#4 Keep weekends off-limits
When work overflows, weekends fall prey. It was okay while you were adjusting to pandemic life. But it isn’t sustainable in the long run. Make a conscious effort to shut off work during the weekends. Set up an out-of-office message on your email, and voicemail on your phone to let people know you’re unavailable.
Your offline time will help make your online time more productive.
#5 Are you still doomscrolling?
New Zealand chose ‘doomscrolling’ — the act of obsessively scrolling through online/social media feeds — as the word of the year, with good reason. In 2021, there is enough evidence to know that it does no good for our mental health. Stop doomscrolling to make time to cherish what you have:
- Set boundaries for electronic devices — if need be, put them away in another room in silent mode
- Be mindful of your phone use. If you are thoughtlessly grabbing your phone, remind yourself to stop it
- Replace doomscrolling with something more meaningful, be it a call to a friend, a carefully made cup of coffee or a walk in the park
#6 Plan with the new normal in mind
It’s nearly a year since lockdowns began all over the globe. This has given you the opportunity to learn a thing or two about remote teaching. Every Friday, set aside an hour to reflect on your experience and plan for the coming week accordingly. Instead of trying to replicate in-person classes online — as we all did in the beginning — use your observations to build meaningful online learning experiences for your students.
If something feels like too much, make it a point to discuss that with your school/board. They need feedback from you.
#7 Schedule your breaks
Often, lunch is scheduled into the school time table. But that’s not the only break you need, especially now that your job involves staring at a computer screen all day. To make sure you don’t lose track of time or your surroundings, schedule regular breaks on your calendar.
- Take 5 minutes every hour to look away from your computer
- Stretch your neck and shoulders
- Take a walk to the kitchen for a glass of water
- Hug a loved one or a pet to get some oxytocin flowing
These breaks aren’t a distraction. They are necessary to keep your mental energy intact.
#8 Turn off unnecessary notifications
Notifications on the mobile phone build a sense of urgency where none exists. While it is natural to feel disconnected, or out-of-touch without the phone, no email or text message needs to be responded to immediately. In fact, it’s fair to say, ‘if it’s urgent, they’ll call’. Turn off notifications on your mobile phone and laptop, allowing you to focus on the task at hand.
Set dedicated times a day for emails and other communications, taking care of them all at once, instead of scattering them throughout the day.
#9 Eliminate unnecessary work
You’d have heard that 80% of results come from 20% of your activities on average. Given that lives have changed in unimaginable ways, reconsider all the work you’re doing to see if all of them are necessary. Gradually, drop all the work that doesn’t add value.
Not everything you do will be necessary, but it certainly helps not to burden yourself with too many pointless tasks.
#10 Say ‘no’ more often
As a teacher, your day is already buzzing with endless to-do lists. While evaluating new requests, give yourself permission to say ‘no’. Create a list of your priorities and say yes only when the new request fits within it.
If it comes at the cost of your work-life balance, learn to say ‘no’.
#11 Automate what you can
Spend time setting systems that work for you and use technology to automate anything that can be automated. For instance, you can automate attendance and save time on roll call in your online classes. Giving students access to an FAQs list to avoid repetition is another good example. You can also save time on typing by using voice notes instead of text messages.
Automate anything that doesn’t need your mental and emotional energy.
#12 Automate your days too (hint: No technology needed)
Routines are the most human form of automation, if there ever was one. Train your mind to do certain tasks in a certain order to avoid wasting mental energy on making those decisions every day. Use a wake-up-suit-up morning routine to remind yourself that work begins. And have a workday shut down ritual to walk your mind out of work mode gently. Sneak in an exercise routine like HIIT or a mental rejuvenation routine like progressive muscle relaxation.
Remember that humans are creatures of habit. So, you have a routine, even if you didn’t actively create one. Work on using it to your advantage.
Managing your mind
#13 Observe your mental health
The pandemic has made most of us a bit numb to the happenings. While working from home, days blur past you; you’re high on adrenalin thinking about the next task you need to do; sleep gets patchy.
Take time off every day to understand and record how you feel. Apps like Headspace, Calm etc. can also help you pause and regroup.
#14 Prioritize self-care
As a teacher, putting your students first can be the most natural thing to do. The pandemic has been hard on everyone, including you. So, prioritize self-care. This needn’t be a spa day or a shopping expedition — though, if that works for you, most certainly go ahead — self-care could also mean taking time to bake your favourite cake or read a good book or tending to your home garden.
You can help others best when you are at your best.
Managing your class
#15 Once in a while, flip your class
The flipped classroom method is gaining popularity worldwide as a more sustainable way of remote learning. In a flipped classroom, students watch pre-recorded lectures in advance and come to class to discuss and engage with the topic. This will help you ease the pressures of being the one to ‘teach’ in every class. But, don’t feel the pressure to do it all at once. Take it one lecture at a time — or what the tech world called the minimum viable product (MVP).
Let your students help you help them. Encourage them to take the lead and share their learnings in a class, while you validate or correct them, as needed.
#16 Pair with another teacher
Studies show that pairing up two teachers can help deliver better results for students. This can come in especially handy during the pandemic when practically every teacher is juggling multiple things on their own.
Collaborate with other teachers in your school to give each other a helping hand.
#17 Encourage metacognition among your students
Teachers often feel the need to keep track of every student’s performance and learning gaps. In the online world, this can be difficult. To overcome this, teach your students metacognition — a student’s ability to critique their understanding and adapt their approach.
Empower your students to learn and grow on their own.
Managing your future
#18 Invest in your growth
It might seem like the wrong time to take an extra online course, what with all the work you’re already doing. On the contrary, investing in your growth can help boost confidence, and ease current pressures. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate course. Upskilling can happen through joining professional organizations, reading journals, or participating in community meetings too.
Carefully identify the upskilling that will help you both in the present and the long term. Investing in yourself is also self-care.
#19 Nourish a hobby
One of the key ways to overcome/manage anxiety-related issues is to nourish a hobby. Many teachers use this as me-time, indulging in their hobby in solitude. Many others do group activities with their family or friends, building stronger connections with those around them.
Either way, now is a great time to put an end to the ‘my work is my life’ narrative, and give yourself something to look forward to after school hours.
#20 You can’t control everything
If anything, the pandemic has shown us how little we humans are in control of the world around us. While it can be unnerving to be out-of-control, accept the realities of the present day. If something is bothering you, consider if it’s worth the time and energy you’re spending on it.
Most often, letting go is the right answer.
#21 Focus on the big picture
In the hustle and bustle of everyday work, we often fail to see the larger impact we are making in the world. Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. Even as the small mistakes/frustrations of every day feel gigantic, take the time to objectively evaluate the progress you’re making over the school term.
Don’t get lost in the minutiae and lose track of the bigger goals.
We hope our list of ideas ease some of your stress and help you gain work-life balance this year. If it did, feel free to share this article with your colleagues who might need the nudge.