George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Wellness

Maintaining Work-Life Balance During the Pandemic

Keeping school and personal life separate, always a struggle for teachers, is even more difficult when they’re both in the same place.

May 18, 2020
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Linda Raymond / iStock

One of the hardest parts of teaching from home is the increasing blur between work mode and home mode. Many of us are struggling to find anything resembling a balance when teaching from home, but the uncertainty around when schools will reopen makes finding the balance even more important.

How to Maintain Work-Life Balance

Develop beginning-of-day and end-of-day routines: In the morning, this could mean turning on all the lamps, opening the blinds, and making a cup of coffee. When the day is over, reverse the routine: Close the blinds and turn off the lamps. You may find that the physical act of closing your laptop or moving it onto a shelf, into a drawer, or back into its bag is a signal to end the working day. If you have a home office with a door, close the door and walk away.

Check email and notifications at a designated time: The first week of working from home, I thought I might cry when I could hear my inbox notifications while trying to eat dinner. I wanted to both enjoy my break and help my students, and I was torn. After speaking with administrators, faculty at my school were given an ‘end of day’ time for email responses, which I found helpful. Some teachers may find it’s easiest to schedule times during the day to check and respond to emails—especially if they’re trying to juggle children at their own homes as well. Making these times known to others can help avoid miscommunication.

Along the same lines, if your home office space is 10 feet away, do you really need to keep your work email enabled on both your phone and your computer? The answer may be yes due to school requirements, but you may find it more helpful to only check email on your computer—that way, when the school day ends, you can close your computer and walk away from the pings and the temptation to check your inbox.

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Focus on the task in front of you: If you’re typing feedback to students on a shared document, mute other devices so you won’t be distracted by notifications. Set a timer for how long you plan to work on one task, then move on to the next one. Be flexible with yourself—you may not be able to finish the task in the time you allot, but you’ll have a better sense for next time.

Add screen-free breaks during the day: Giving ourselves breaks from screens—both work-related and news-related—can be refreshing. Schedule a walk outside or play time with a pet. A coworker challenged me to complete a mile outside every day, and I’ve found this time without my phone freeing. Having a screen-free lunch with a spouse or family member (even if just a few days a week) can provide the same relief.

Find space for something you love: This could be carving out time to listen to music, exercise, FaceTime a friend, complete a puzzle, or work on an art piece.

If your mental health would improve, schedule one day to work late: Perhaps planning on Monday evenings will help you prepare for the week, or maybe working later on Fridays would clear your mind to enjoy the weekend. Negotiate with yourself, if needed: I’ll work later on Monday and spend all of Tuesday after 4pm playing backyard games with my family.

Incorporate mindful practices into your routine: Using a mindfulness app may help signal to your brain that it’s time to reset. Even five minutes of mindful breathing can work like a Zamboni for the brain, clearing out clutter and allowing thoughts to resettle. Most mindful apps have both guided meditations and timers to help, and there are plenty of free options, such as Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer.

Recognize that being a robot does not produce the best version of yourself: Taking breaks and setting boundaries for work hours and non-work hours will breathe more life into your teaching practice. Many teachers are parents or spouses, and, just as the teacher-student relationship needs attention, those relationships deserve care, too.

Many teachers report feeling guilty while working from home, whether because they can’t help students as much as they could previously, don’t feel they’re fully investing in their own children, or don’t have patience for others because their fuses are short. The best we can do right now is to give ourselves grace and reflect that grace onto others. Part of that requires clear communication: Ask for what you need from others (including administration), help others when you can, and remember that needs differ from person to person. Setting boundaries is one form of resilience that will help long into the future.

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