Balancing Work and Life: The On-Going Challenge for Educators | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia Community, this post is a desperate plea for help! My school year began on August 1 with no easy transition. It's been an exhausting, consuming two weeks of intense, rewarding work coaching leaders.

But I'm back into 11-hour work days, which I'd promised myself I wouldn't do again.

I have to find more balance this year. Especially since I'm also writing a book on instructional coaching (to be published by Jossey-Bass in spring 2013) which is very exciting, but: How am I going to do this? I also have a family and commitments beyond work. Can you hear the panic rising in my voice? I know you have ideas and I'm begging for your input.

I've always struggled with balancing work and life. For many years, I neglected my physical health, then, I neglected my husband. It's gotta stop.

So I can spend more quality time with my family, take care of my physical, mental, and spiritual health, and achieve a beautiful balance, here are a few things I'm intending to do this year:

#1 I'm using Google calendar to manage my time and I'm scheduling everything. I use different colors to indicate different areas of my life ("Work," "Writing," "Exercise," "Family," etc). If I put something into my calendar, I'm way more likely to do it. It's on my calendar; I have to do it. I can also take a quick glance and see how the colors balance out -- does the color orange (which represents work) dominate? Is there any purple (family) this week? It's a quick reminder that if I'm committed to balance, I need to block out time.

#2 I'm budgeting money for a housecleaner. I'll have less money for other luxuries, but I've decided that I want to spend less of my weekend cleaning and more with family. It's a relief just to imagine this.

#3 I'm signing up for yoga classes. If I pay in advance, I'll go to the classes. And yoga is really good for me, good for balance.

#4 I'm also going to say no more often. I really am. Although I love my work, I need to turn down some opportunities and draw some boundaries. This will be hard.

But that's all I have on my list. I want a longer list. I need more ideas. How do you balance work and life? What strategies do you use to manage time?

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Regan Ross's picture
Regan Ross
Educator, Entrepreneur, Author, Game-Designer

Hey, I saw this on Twitter and couldn't help but reply after reading your ("Work," "Writing," "Exercise," "Family," etc) calendar idea. If you don't mind me suggesting, I think David Allen's GTD philosophy -- especially his organization of taks lists in a context-related way -- is the best way to organize stuff like you're mentioning as it's sooo ninja-like (his book is great and his Google Talk on YouTube is a good primer).

So, using Gmail tasks (which I'm assuming you are as you mentioned Google Calendars), I create different lists for my different context-related task lists:
* .Projects
* @ Calls
* @ Errands
* @ Internet
* @ Office
* @ School
* Read/Review
* Someday/Maybe

What's great about doing this is that you only have to worry about certain tasks in certain contexts (while on the phone, or running errands, etc) and it really works minimize the overwhelm and time creep.

Then, with a Task List open, you can easily turn an email into a task under that list by clicking "More Actions" and THEN ARCHIVE IT and come back to it in your Task lists. As a fellow educator/entrepreneur, though, I have found "saying No" is everything, but, what's nice is that the Someday/Maybe list allow me to say, "Definitely not now (I'm swamped), but let me add it to my list for some time down the road."

What's amazing is how little of what I just about committed to (in the immediate) I never bother getting around to as it just sits and sits in the Someday/Maybe list. Then, after a few weeks go by, I feel less emotionally attached to the initial conversation and have no bones about deleting those items from that list.

But, indeed, as an educator/entrepreneur, I think your #4 is the MOST important.



Ryan Birch Birch's picture

Using Google Calendar is a great idea. I use it myself and sync it with my calendar on my computer and smartphone. I teach Grade 9 Math and Science and have students mark as many assignments as possible in class. Due to privacy issues, we are not allowed to have a student mark another student's work. So, I have each student clear their desks, hand out red pens, and either read or post the answers on the projector in my classroom. Then I collect them and input the marks. I randomly check the odd assignment for "cheating". I also inform my students at the beginning of the year that this "cheating" will constitute in a mark of zero on the assignment. I took the time two years ago to complete each of the assignments on my own and scanned these answer keys into a PDF so that I could project them at the front of my class. This has saved me a tremendous amount of time. I also take the time on the weekend (usually about 30 minutes) to plan the following school week in its entirety. This organization has eliminated all those unnecessary last minute rushes that take away from my professional time and personal time. Finally, I post all my assignments and lessons on my website as PDF's. When a student misses a class or loses an assignment, I direct them to my website to download the assignment and/or lesson (notes). Again, this has freed up much of my time.

Jim's picture
6th Grade Math Teacher

I think balancing work and life is difficult for every educator. I remember my first year of teaching, I was in my classroom for 12 hours a day. Because of this, I stopped joining softball and basketball leagues, my friends became distant and I felt burnt out! Being in my third year, things have changed and I truly enjoy this profession and feel I have a great balance of work and play in my schedule. The big thing for me was being organized. Now, I come to school at 7 instead of 7:30 a.m. I try and get most of my work done before school and usually can leave by 4:30 p.m. each day and not bring work home. This doesn't always happen, but most of the time it works. Also, on Fridays I stay after school until I finish my work for the weekend. To me I would rather be at school until 6:00 p.m. on a Friday than to come back on Sunday night. I do not use google calendar but plan on checking it out. Thanks for the blog and tips!

David Orphal's picture
David Orphal
Introduction to Education and Cyber-High teacher from Oakland, CA

I couldn't agree with you more. Even for some of my colleagues who shut their classroom doors and focus entirely on their students, they often put in a 9-10 hour day once their students' work is graded and the next lessons and units planned and prepared for.

For those of us who want to have an impact beyond our classrooms, the time commitment can get out of balance in a hurry.

Sometimes, we get paid for these extra hours. For example, I am going to earn extra money this year to coordinate a federal grant for my school. I'll be working for a couple of hours every day, after putting in a full day with children.

Sometimes, teachers get involved with these extra-professional activities without extra compensation. I'm heavily involved in public school reform, the new common core standards, and helping my union evolve to meet the new challenges of the educational landscape. All of this work takes time: in the evenings, on weekends, and during the "holidays" that my profession is infamous for having.

Just this summer, I had a long weekend before I taught summer school for four weeks. After that, I had another long weekend before I was off to the East Coast for a week of meetings with an educational policy think tank that I work with. The following week, we had a professional development series at my school. I'm enjoying a final long weekend before another week of professional development, before the "summer break" ends and kids are back to school.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I love my job. I love teaching. I love having opportunities to develop as a professional and become an even better teachers next year than I was the prior year.

I also love being involved in the larger discussions happening in my community and across the country about the future of public education. I think these discussions are important and I think it is important for classroom teachers to have a strong voice in the decisions about the future of education. Classroom teachers are not only educational experts, we work where the rubber of educational policy and reform meets the road of student learning.

What I am complaining about is two-fold. First, I would love to see the pundits who insist on bashing teachers about our "high salaries and pensions" and our "easy work schedules" take a year off and get into a classroom. Frankly, I think they use their own memories as students, watching their teachers interact with them for an hour a day over one-hundred and eighty days and infer (incorrectly) that this picture is the sum total of a teacher's professional life.

Second, I would love to see more hybrid teacher-leader roles for professionals like Elena and myself. In my perfect world, my school district would be able to afford to have me in the classroom 1/2 time, while using my expertise 1/2 to coordinate grants, train new teachers, design professional development, or loan me to the state dept. of education to consult on policy issues.

I think there are a lot of teachers out there who have expert leadership skills that we are not utilizing. For more about the teacherpreneur concept, check out Barnet Berry's awesome video, here at Edutopia:

The teacherpreneur concept has real promise to become one of the reforms that "works in education."

Carmen Macharaschwili's picture

This is a great topic--thank you to fellow busy people out there!

One program that I have found extremely useful is called GhostReader--it converts all text into voice. I upload professional articles, student journal/blogs, and other items of interest into my ipod, and then when I'm driving, running or on an exercise machine, or waiting in line I listen to to them. It is a great way to save time,multitask, and brainstorm. Sometimes I use the voice memo on my smart phone to record ideas I get as I'm listening to a ghostreader.

Elena Aguilar's picture
Elena Aguilar
Transformational Leadership Coach from Oakland, California

Thank you so much for your comment. I can't wait to try Ghost Reader! What a brilliant concept that will meet a very real need for me - I always have a massive pile of articles I want to read, and I do spend quite a lot of time driving. Thank you so much!

Elena Aguilar's picture
Elena Aguilar
Transformational Leadership Coach from Oakland, California

"I would love to see more hybrid teacher-leader roles for professionals like Elena and myself. In my perfect world, my school district would be able to afford to have me in the classroom 1/2 time, while using my expertise 1/2 to coordinate grants, train new teachers, design professional development, or loan me to the state dept. of education to consult on policy issues."

Thanks for your thoughts - so glad you're a local colleague!

Elena Aguilar's picture
Elena Aguilar
Transformational Leadership Coach from Oakland, California

I will definitely check out David Allen's GTD philosophy, but based on just what you've described here this makes perfect sense and seems like it could be a great time saver! I'm really intrigued by your comments on the "Someday/Maybe" as a way of dealing with saying no. What a useful way to think about that list and manage the emotions. Thank you so much for making your way over from Twitter and commenting!

Luria Learning's picture
Luria Learning
3rd Grade Teacher and Founder of Luria Learning

I hear you. As the mother of three children under 5 and a teacher, life can be very full. Here are some ideas:

1) I've started using a virtual assistant for many tasks. You would be surprised what a VA can do for you. S/he can type up letters, do some basic grading, find pictures for vocabulary words, enter data into excel etc. I budget $16 a week for 5 hours of help. Here is more information about how I do that:

2) Use time estimating. Here is a post I wrote on how to use a time estimate to make better use of your time:

3) Reflect and work with your strengths. Everyone has strengths in terms of how they organize. The more your work with your strengths, the easier it is going to be to manage your time:

Good luck!

Rodrigo's picture

What a great topic. It's something everyone I know in education struggles with. I don't have a lot of ideas to contribute and I'm going to explore Google calendar. Like another person, I try to get to school early and leave by 5:00 every day and not take work home. Thanks for writing this - and I look forward to reading your book.

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