Reimagining work-life balance boundaries is crucial for teachers. In today’s fast-paced world, finding some sort of balance between professional commitments and personal well-being seems to have become an unobtainable dream, but I’m here to tell you it CAN be different. You don’t have to sacrifice your well-being and balance in order to be a “good” teacher. You CAN live a happier, more fulfilled life…all you have to do is be reading to do the work of extending your reach and possibilities.
Today during our Hacking Teacher Burnout Summer Book Study Series, we are going to be talking about Hack #5! I absolutely LOVE this chapter because it's all about extending your reach and possibilities and making time for the things that bring you growth and joy year-round, NOT just during the summer! What brings you joy doesn't have to only exist for two months of the year, it can exist all year long!
To kick this off, I want to start by sharing one of my favorite quotes from page 119 of Hacking Teacher Burnout:
“Just because you’re doing a lot more doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done. Don’t confuse movement with progress.” - Denzel Washington
This quote brings to mind the PERECT story that I want to share with you, but first I want to share a reflection that Denise (a Burned-In Teacher University Student and Member) posted in the Podcast Facebook Community after reading Gretchen’s introduction. Denise said:
“Burnout is a signal for change, but it isn't a death sentence. I love teaching, my students, and their families, but I do not love the stress. My program was brand new in my district this year, and it was not as supported as it should have been… My burnout type is Burned and Over-It and I’m at a Stage 2 moving towards a Stage 3. My goals are to learn more about myself, my values and strengths, and where I can go so that I can thrive. I want to be excited and fulfilled again and to be able to understand and control my emotions. I am so excited about this book study and all that we are going to learn from each other.”
I’m so grateful for Denise sharing her heart and for being vulnerable by sharing about what’s going on in her current reality and what she wants for herself moving forward.
I also posted a poll to see what action steps listeners took from Hack #1, and here were the results:
Continue diving into The Burned-In Teaher Podcast Facebook Community and sharing your results and participating in the challenges! I love to hear from you and I want you to know that you are seen and heard as you go through this book study.
So…back to Hack #5!
The story that came to mind as I was preparing for today’s episode is about how important it is that we are always extending our belief that there ARE other possibilities than what we have thought in the past.
I recalled an interaction from 2018 that I had with a dear friend and someone who was one of the first people to ever go through The Burned-In Teacher Program back when it was a group coaching program. At the time, I was presenting at a local conference, and my dear friend was in the audience. When I went to talk with her, we exchanged greetings but while she was happy to see me, I could tell she wasn’t happy.
We stepped outside into the hallway next to the cafetorium and I asked, “Are you okay? Is there something I can do to help?” She responded with, “I’m just so absolutely drained and I’m ‘on’ all of the time.” I pressed further to find out what was making her feel drained and she said that she was receiving notifications from parents at all hours of the day and night and she couldn’t keep up with responding to all of them. “I’ll be in the middle of making dinner for my family and I’ll find myself having to answer a message from Canvas. It’s just so frustrating,” she explained to me.
I asked her why she had notifications to Canvas on her phone turned on, and she didn’t really have a solid answer. She thought for a while and said, “I want to answer their questions because I don’t want to leave them hanging.”
“Are you getting paid to answer their questions after your contract hours?” I asked her.
She shook her head ‘no’ and I asked, “Do you feel like they EXPECT you to answer their questions at all hours of the day and night?”
She thought for a moment about this question, not quite sure how to respond and I said to her, “Right now, you’re telling them what they can expect from you, but you don’t have to settle for that. You CAN turn your notifications off and you CAN choose to check the notifications when you get to school in the morning. You’re not obligated to answer questions from parents and students past your contract hours.” And then I gave her this challenge, “I challenge you to take your notifications off your phone for just a few days and see what happens…”
And so, I checked back with her a few days later to see how she was doing with the challenge that I gave to her. She explained that she sent a message to parents and students explaining that she would answer any messages sent in the evening when she returned to school the next morning. And you know what…NO ONE responded to this message. NO ONE. This showed me that they really didn’t care and that they were sending messages when it was convenient for them and not expecting her to respond right away. It was an expectation she placed on HERSELF.
Extending your reach and possibilities is about setting boundaries. This is about choosing to not accept certain “expectations” that you have had for yourself or that other people had for you because you never HAD boundaries in the first place.
In this week’s Hack, we’ll dive deep into what it means to extend your reach and possibilities for seeking joy and growth. It’s about looking at hobbies and other things that you enjoy doing simply for the fun of it and bringing those things into your life intentionally through the school year and beyond.
Let’s dive into the actual Hacking Teacher Burnout Book Study Guide, starting on page 18. In this chapter, we’re really focusing on determining what brings you JOY. So many times I've asked teachers, “What would you do with more time? What do you want to do?”
I'm answered with a blank stare and they tell me, “I don't even know what I enjoy anymore. I don't even know what I like to do”.
We're going to determine that today! We're going to think about and remember what it is that we do just for fun, just because we enjoy it. The second thing is we're going to create a vision for what you want your life - both professional and personal - to look like. And then, we're going to create discipline by understanding how to use time budgeting strategies. (I am so excited to share this strategy with you!) This is a powerful way for you to set time boundaries and this is one of those habits where, once you build it into your life, It’s going to create amazing ripple effects for the rest of your life, I promise you.
So looking at the “What You Can Do Tomorrow” section, there are several things that I laid out that you can do. One of them is adopting a growth mindset. Another is researching the things that you have questions about or solutions to things that are challenging you, or even doing some research on things that you think sound like fun. There are more options in the book, but choose two or three from pages 125 - 127, and then, in the book study guide, you can list them out and see the possibilities ahead of you.
Next, from the “Blueprint for Full Implementation”, we are going to decide what brings you joy and thing what you want to learn. In this section, I encourage you to do what I call a “Big Dreams Brain Dump”. In the space provided in the book study guide, you’re going to list all of your dreams, no matter how big or how small - no one has to see this except for you. What are some things that just sound awesome to you? What sounds fun and fulfilling? There's no comparison. There's no shame. This is YOUR life and this is YOUR list.
If you find yourself really struggling with coming up with things that bring you joy, I’d encourage you to do this practice once a day for two to three days. Just take 5 minutes a day to just list things that sound cool and fun to you and dedicate time to researching them to build up your dreaming muscle. If we have felt stagnant on the hamster wheel of busyness and we've been living on autopilot, being creative about your future is going to take some practice. It's a muscle that you'll have to build through discipline and practice.
Step two is to create a vision for HOW you will dedicate more time to these activities. This is the beginning of my time allowance and time budgeting practice. If you want to do this in a really condensed space, I do have a TPT product - The Teacher Time Management Worksheet - that can guide you through this process as well.
We’re going to stop using the phrase, “I don’t have enough time” as an excuse. “I can’t” is a euphemism for “I won’t” and “I’m not willing to do the hard work and make the changes I need in order to make this happen”. If you want something bad enough - as Marie Forleo says - EVERYTHING is figeroutable. And the fact is, we make more time in our lives again using the lens of opportunity cost when considering what to do with our time (I talked about this in the last chapter). Remember, opportunity costs refer to when you say “No” to some things, you are saying “Yes” to others.
So dream about how many hours you want to work. I always go with 45 because although it’s over my 40 hours of contracted time, it’s not much. I tend to lean toward 40 - 45 hours a week, but I’m typically closer to 40 because I usually leave or am done working on school stuff at 3:30 or right when my contract time ends. But, your time allowance might look different because we all have different roles and different lives outside of school.
On page 20 of the study guide, there’s space for you to begin to budget your time. You’ll see in the study guide that I provide space for you to budget how you’ll spend your time Monday through Sunday where you can record the different times you’ll arrive and leave work and then space for you to add up how many hours that is so you can keep track of them. Are the hours you’re working really add up to 45? Or is it less than 45? More than 45? And you’ll see that I included Saturday and Sunday, and I did that because - for some people - it gives them peace and they don’t mind coming in on a Saturday morning to work for an hour or two when there’s no one there. When my girls were young, I enjoyed coming in on a Saturday morning for a couple of hours because it was easier to get things done than when there was no one there to interrupt me.
The next step is to dedicate yourself to discipline. Think about all of the high-priority tasks that you need to complete in a week. For me, I know I have to plan for the upcoming week, I have to make sure that I’ve graded something, and that copies are made. We have these typical flow things that we have to get done weekly. You’ll start here by listing these tasks out and then you’re going to use the steps on page 21 to being to batch and block out time in your calendar to get these specific things done each week.
The last step in this Hack is setting your intention. Being intentional about HOW you spend your time is important. On pages 132 - 133, I talk about the Pomodoro Technique, which is a strategy that I use that supports your focus. What you do is set a timer for 20 minutes and choose one task to work on during that time. Once the time goes off, you take a short break, reevaluate how far you’ve gotten on achieving your goal, and decide if you’re going to continue to work on it for another 20 minutes or if you’re going to save it for another day. This is a way to help you to structure time and you're also breaking bigger projects into smaller tasks, which makes things more manageable.
Summertime is a great time to dream about what your days and weeks could look like. This is a perfect time for you to explore the possibilities and build those healthy boundaries because the truth is we can’t find time to do the things we love to do, we have to be disciplined and intentional about MAKING the time. And if you’ve been along this journey with us this summer, you know that building habits takes practice and trying again and again until you find a way that works best for YOU to build these habits into your daily life.
As always, I encourage you to share your reflections and wins in the Facebook Community (I can’t wait to see you in there!) And, to prepare for next week, read Hack #6: Determine Your Long-Term Goals.