We hear a lot about self-care in order to achieve wellness. It seems to be a big buzz word lately. When I began my teaching career in 2002, I had the tremendous benefit of working with several people who were on the verge of retirement from teaching and they were more than generous with imparting their wisdom on me. They taught me so many great lessons from classroom management, to lesson planning, to the myth of work-life balance. What can we do to lead a better "balanced" life?
I recently finished Brene Brown's DARE TO LEAD, and am currently reading GIRL, STOP APOLOGIZING by Rachel Hollis, and I have learned that work-life balance is a myth. We are always going to be "out of balance"in one of those areas. Finding a solution is something that many educators find elusive as they start September with grand plans, but a few days or weeks in, they are buried in marking, extra-curriculars, and emails home regarding behaviour/tests/homework or whatever it may be. Believe me, I have been there. It seems to be a never ending quest to "figure it out".
A former colleague of mine, Meagan Kelly (@meagan_e_kelly) wrote a blog post on her blog, i-heart-edu.com about "bandwidth". She defines personal bandwidth as, "the mental and emotional capacity to deal with a variety of situations, whether personal or work-related." She goes on to talk about her experience with pregnancy, work and other work (including her blog) and how she manages it all. We all carry so many responsibilities with us, and how we deal with it depends on our personal bandwidth. I love this idea. It isn't that some people have super powers, they simply have more of a personal bandwidth.
I would like to extend this idea a little further and propose that our personal bandwidth can be increased - call it a boost to our bandwidth - with a few boundaries. When I was learning and soaking in all of the sage advice from my colleagues in my first year, I didn't realize it, but I was setting professional boundaries as a result that I would carry with me throughout my teaching career. I put into place certain things that I would work on not compromising. It was because of these certain boundaries that I was able to maintain a certain level of mental wellness throughout my career. I have a great amount of personal bandwidth, but it would not be so large if it weren't for my professional boundaries I had set.
1. Work At Home
I decided early in my career that taking work home was something I wasn't going to do. It's not that it NEVER happened - in certain cases it did. I simply made it a priority to use my time at home in the evening spending time with my loved ones and with any luck, spending time on me. Once you decide what your time is worth, you will see that the work and the kids' desire to see their grades can wait. You will get to it, but setting this boundary will provide you so much relief and mental wellness which in turn will benefit your students!
2. Go To the Lunch Room
When I didn't have lunch supervision, I took my lunch down to the staff room and ate with my colleagues who also did the same. I fondly remember many conversations, laughs, and plans that were made in the jovial atmosphere of "getting away" at lunch. The day is long as a teacher and you deserve a break. Allow yourself to go down and take that brain break. You will go back to your classroom for the afternoon refreshed and ready to finish the day. You will definitely thank yourself for this boundary!
3. Treat Yourself a Little
Every once in a while you need to treat yourself - you do a great job every day and you deserve it. When I was in the classroom, my few good friends and I would escape during our lunch hour maybe once a month or so and run down to the local Starbucks for a "treat". This little escape and the treat of a coffee/latte/tea was so huge to us. We would laugh and tell stories the entire 5 minute car ride, and then savour every drop of our drinks. I always found that those days that we did this, I was just that much happier throughout the afternoon. Whether it is a coffee run, an after school pedicure or a massage in the evening - set this boundary and commit yourself to allowing it to happen.
4. Close Your Door After Hours
We have all been there - working after school and you have your classroom door open only to have every person who walks by pop in for a quick "hello" that turns into a 10, 15 or 30 minute chat. When do you get your work done? This is now starting to infringe on your first boundary of not taking work home! Close your door. It's okay! The only way I found that I would get my work done so I could go home without the worry of it not being done was to close my door. If you are an early riser, you may also choose to set this as a morning boundary before 8am.
5. Shut Email Down
In the last few years I worked at my previous school, we were welcome to imparting a time to stop looking at/answering/sending emails from work. I loved this and set this boundary for myself. What a difference this made for me! At 6pm if any emails came in, I would not respond until the next morning. I also got to the point where I wouldn't even look at my email - HOW LIBERATING! I highly suggest this boundary for yourself. You will find that it makes such a difference for your life.
These are a few of the boundaries that I set for myself in my professional life and these truly helped me to "figure it out". I found that it helped me to maintain a level of mental wellness that only benefitted my students. Self-care is not selfish, and when we are good, our students are better.
Take care of yourself and #BeWellEDU.