The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Enhancing professionalism in education since 1965

Work-life balance

As busy professionals, we can overlook that teaching is a public service, and as such shares attributes with other public services such as police, fire, paramedic, ambulance, healthcare, social care and armed forces. These shared attributes include expectations that services will be discharged effectively by highly qualified professional staff who would contribute to service consistency and quality.

Normally, teachers do not think about themselves in these terms, they just get on with the job, but teachers would, and frequently do, think like this when considering their interaction with other public service personnel. If a healthcare professional kept yawning, or seemed distant, or did not know your health circumstances during a consultation you would feel uneasy, uncomfortable and somewhat annoyed. Yet, similar examples can, and do, happen in any of the public services (including teaching). This does not indicate something wanting in relation to discharging professional duty, but perhaps can be an indication that an individual has an imbalance in their work/life routine.

Online advice

Good Mental Health for All, NHS Scotland:

bit.ly/good-mental-health-for-all

How to be Mentally Healthy at Work, Scottish Association for Mental Health:

bit.ly/samh-how-to-be-healthy

NHS South Glasgow Wellbeing Services:

wellbeing-glasgow.org.uk

Information on how to improve the health and wellbeing of the education workforce:

educationsupportpartnership.org.uk

Advice on how to manage the increasingly demanding work culture:

bit.ly/mental-health-foundation

As a teacher, you are “full on” during the working week, and you eagerly seek opportunities for downtime. Most will find this difficult, choosing to spend additional hours in an evening (beyond what would be reasonable) dealing with work-related tasks. Without a healthy balanced work/life routine, teachers quickly suffer from wellness challenges that impact on the quality of the learning and teaching they provide within their school settings. The “silent slow hit” of an imbalanced work/life routine can be avoided through the implementation of effective workable solutions that can be personally tailored. Teachers already have access to a wide range of healthy work/life balance solutions, but it does require that leap of faith to engage with these. It does begin with taking responsibility for ensuring that personal work/life balance is being kept in check.

The “work smart, not long” strategy is effective and successful in a range of workplaces and this can also be helpful for teachers in beginning to manage and prioritise increasing workload. It is important that entitled breaks are taken during the working day, and where possible get away from the classroom environment.

Successful strategies that are helpful in both home and work settings include meditation, relaxation breathing, a 20-minute walk, quiet reading, drinking a herbal tea, a 10- to 20-minute power nap, a five-minute nano-nap, and listening to soothing music on headphones. Within the school workplace setting, some of these activities can take place before learners assemble at the beginning of the working day, during morning, lunchtime and afternoon breaks, and after learners have departed for the day.

There should also be clear boundaries in relation to what would be identified as work and leisure activity, and a helpful strategy, if bringing work home, is to adopt a specific area for such tasks to be undertaken, where a door can be closed when moving to non-work related activities.

It is important to recognise that exercise, relaxation, hobbies and friendships are undervalued protective factors in relation to teacher wellbeing and that these should not be sacrificed to working longer hours. Perhaps it is time to review your current work/life balance routine and implement a small change that will contribute to longer term wellbeing.

About the author

Hugh Smith was Head of Career-Long Professional Learning within the School of Education, University of the West of Scotland until 2015 and now works as a Mental Health and Wellbeing in Education Consultant. Visit his website at mentalhealthandeducation.com

Teaching Scotland

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Editor contact: Evelyn Wilkins teachingscotland@gtcs.org.uk


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