Education wellbeing coach, Gemma Drinkall, shares key advice for protecting your wellbeing.

Teaching is a terrific job, yet it has a habit of taking over your life. Although you may enjoy teaching and love being there for your students and colleagues, it can slowly drain you of life outside of it. According to Ofsted’s 2019 Teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers report, although 98% of teachers report enjoying teaching, 42% report having a low-medium life satisfaction.1

There are numerous contributing factors which pressurise all areas of school life, including the unrealistic workload, high levels of scrutiny and the lack of funding.

The situation has become so dire that teachers are leaving in droves. ‘Nearly half of teachers plan to quit by 2027.’2 Not only that, the Department of Education ‘regularly fails to meet their teacher training recruitment numbers.’3
When you are a lone teacher caught in this perfect storm, how can you make sure that you can survive or, more ideally, thrive?

The answer? Boundaries.

Boundaries are the red tape that you surround yourself with in order to protect your wellbeing and your work-life balance. They empower you to take control of how much time, energy and focus teaching takes from you each day, week and term. There will be times when your boundaries are challenged. There will be times when you may need to compromise to fit in the demands upon you. Nevertheless, with boundaries in place, you are more likely to prioritise your needs so you can keep turning up for your students and colleagues as the best version of yourself.

3 ways boundaries help you to thrive in teaching

1. Boundaries promote your work-life balance

With boundaries in place, you are more likely to acknowledge that teaching is primarily a job and give yourself the opportunity to enjoy a healthier work-life balance. I know this might be a hard pill to swallow, especially if you sit in the “teaching is a vocation” camp.

At the end of the day, you provide your teaching services in exchange for financial compensation. It is a job.

Boundaries help you to place restrictions upon how much you are willing to give to your job. They also help you to put teaching into its ‘job box.’ You are able to give your best whilst you are working but after that, your time and energy belongs to you.

2. Boundaries empower you to pour from a full cup

Teaching is a full-on job – brilliant, but full on. It takes a lot from you, physically, mentally and emotionally. Often, you may attempt to fulfil all of these demands. You try to be everything to everyone, and still get your own work done. Yet often, this leaves you feeling drained. You become fatigued, whether physically exhausted or mentally with decision fatigue. You find yourself at the end of the day feeling like wobbly jelly, unable to motivate yourself out of school and into your car to drive home. And then you expect yourself to do it all over again the next day.

Boundaries make you the priority. They help you to prioritise your needs so that your students continue to experience the best version of you for the whole term. Boundaries help you to receive what you need to keep being a great teacher. That might include getting to bed on time or getting out for that run you never get round to. Boundaries help to refill your cup so that you can keep thriving in teaching rather than ending the term on your knees.

3. Boundaries help you to say ‘no’ in teaching

It’s a tiny word but one that fills so many of us with dread. There may be a few reasons why saying no is difficult for you. It might be that you are the ‘yes person’ in your department – you don’t want to let people down. It might be that you are a perfectionist and don’t trust others to do a task to as high a standard as yourself. It might be that you are trying to prove yourself to others and fear that saying no looks like you aren’t committed. Whatever it is, being unable to say no leads to one thing: too many plates to spin. And this leads to overpromising, disappointing others, U-turns and/ or burnout. These are the last things that you would have wanted when you initially said, “yes!”

So how do boundaries help you to say no professionally and confidently? Boundaries empower you to have realistic expectations. They force you to review your to-do list before you take on any more, to prioritise your work, and recognise that essentially, teaching is a pretty impossible job (that’s the education system’s failing by the way, not yours) and that actually you can only do your best. Crucially, your best does not involve working yourself into the ground because that doesn’t help you to be your best in the long term. Therefore, boundaries are vital for helping you to say no. In fact, saying no is a clear demonstration of your boundaries in action. It may take a couple of goes to get used to it but you will get there. Click here to

Bonus tips

Now you know why boundaries will help you to thrive, here are three bonus tips for putting them in place.

1) Set a clear ‘home time’

Make sure that before the beginning of each day, you have a set time (and ideally an alarm) for when you choose to go home. Additionally, try to avoid taking work home with you every day. Make sure that you have a clear transition point from ‘teaching-you’ to ‘you-you.’

2) Review your contactability

One way you may be staying switched on in teaching is because it is always possible for you to be contacted. If you have email notifications on any of your devices, switch them off. You choose when to read and respond to emails, not someone else. Finally, if you have school emails on your personal phone, uninstall them.

3) Protect your non-negotiables

Non-negotiables are people, events, activities and hobbies which revitalise you. If you imagine yourself as a battery, they are the things in your life that recharge you. Define what these things are and make time for them. Ideally, plan them into your
diary.

Do this guilt-free because at the end of the day, if it fills your cup, you’ll be able to pour into the cups of those around you.

Taking these steps will help you to begin putting in boundaries into your teaching and life. They will help you to create time and space for yourself. When you thrive, your students, colleagues, family and friends thrive too. It’s a win-win situation.

References

1 Ofsted,(2019), Teacher well-being at work in schools and further education providers. (Accessed: 25 April 2023)

2 National Education Union, (2022) State of Education: The Profession. (Accessed: 25 April 2023)

3 UK Parliament, (2023) Education Committee launches new inquiry into teacher recruitment, training and retention (Accessed: 25 April 2023)

Author

  • Gemma Drinkall

    Gemma is an educational wellbeing coach and trainer who also hosts the ‘Teachers with Boundaries Podcast’. Her ambition is to transform middle leaders’ lives to benefit themselves, their students and team. With 8 years’ experience in education including middle leadership, Gemma understands the challenges that middle leaders face.
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