Do You Need to Unplug? A Checklist for Healthy Work-Life Boundaries for Teachers

Advisory board member, Jeanne, describes why it is important to unplug once and a while to avoid burnout. This way you will be able to teach better and live happier.

Updated: May 24, 2019

A checklist to support teachers to unplug from work.

Unlike many other jobs, the time you can spend on teaching is limitless, and the impact feels immense. This can be a dangerous recipe for passionate teachers--particularly if those passionate people do not consciously enforce boundaries. 

Boundaries are what protect your incredible energy, creativity, and passion. They affirm that no one’s energy is infinite. They are a form of self-respect, self-care, and serve as a model for our students who watch how we operate in this busy world.

Here are a few common areas that teachers can strengthen their own boundaries and in turn, teach better and live happier:

1. Turn off any and all work notifications from your phone.

Every reminder of work responsibilities that we receive while we’re off the clock extends that work day a little longer and our anxiety levels a little higher. All of those “dings” can add up. 

This week, try an experiment. Turn off notifications for one work-related app on your phone -- whether it be your work email, a parent-messaging app, or any other application that brings your mind back to school. Turn it off for a week, and observe two things: 

  • How you feel. 
  • How your work was affected. 

When I started shutting off notifications from work on my phone, I felt extraordinary freedom. I turned off notifications one a time, starting with student notifications from Google Classroom and ending with notifications of work email. 

Turning off my email notifications from work was the most incredible one of all. I learned that there was never an emergency that couldn’t wait to be handled until the next morning--and I also learned, as I grew my boundaries, that there was never a school emergency I should handle until the next morning. On top of that, my concentration levels increased both at home and at work. 

Give it a go and see what might work better for you. 

2. Put your phone away when you’re most vulnerable.

Many of us have an entire professional world inside of our phones. Even if we’re not receiving notifications, there is still the temptation to log into email, or scroll through other teacher’s social media feeds, or read news that drains us. 

There is a time and place for all of these things, but when we make it easy to access them when we’re the most tired, drained, or stressed, our phone can turn into distraction from serving our actual needs and adding deeper joy to our lives. 

If you’re interested in learning more about decreasing screen dependence, there is an incredible Masterclass through the Mindfulness app, Calm, about managing screen addiction. While you have to subscribe, the Premium version of the app is free for educators. Well worth the listen, the Masterclass gives pointers on how to detach yourself from the phone-checking habit and focus more deeply on cultivating mindfulness and joy in your life. 

One of the best pointers I learned from the class was to put my phone out of the room when I’m the most vulnerable to checking it. This, for me, are the times I’m tired (beginning/end of day and before bed) and hungry (before meals). Just by keeping my phone outside of the bedroom, I was able to give myself 2-3 additional hours of more replenishing activities like reading, sleeping, or simply listening to the silence (#teacherzen). 

Small steps like this can make a huge difference in setting stronger boundaries to enhance your personal life and keep work at work. 

3. Have set times when work is off-limits.

Just like putting your phone out of the room you’re in, keeping work sectioned to specific hours of the day can go a long way in providing breathing and replenishing space. 

To decide which hours of the day should be designated as “no-work” hours, pay attention for a few days which times of the day you feel the least productive. For me, this was after dinner. I noticed that no matter how hard I tried or how much I felt I needed to get done, I couldn’t get myself to be even remotely as productive as I was during plan periods or before school. So that was my first cut: no work after dinner. 

Eventually, this grew to no work on Saturdays, and no more than 2 hours of work on Sundays. The transformation was incredible. With these boundaries, I found myself saying yes to so much more - board games in the middle of the week, going out to dinner on Sunday nights, trivia with friends on Wednesday. As my boundaries became firmer, my personal life bloomed. Another interesting result? My productivity increased

So, your next challenge this week is to identify what hours of the day are particularly sluggish for you. Next week, do something else during those hours instead of work. Observe what happens. 

4. Add something not work-related to your life.

As you chip away your work hours and distractions during the day, you’re going to find that you have more time and energy than before. For many, this vacuum can be the downfall to keeping your work-life balance habits. If you’re one of those people that always feel like you need to be doing something (see my hand raised?), you’re going to feel this time/energy vacuum big-time.

That’s where some thinking ahead comes in. Get ahead of yourself and find something new to commit to in your personal life. This could be as simple as playing a game with your kids at night, having weekly drinks with non-work friends, starting a new workout routine, or even joining a art class. The possibilities are endless. 

As teachers, we can feel the pressure to isolate our personal lives to our breaks -- “I’ll take that art class maybe over the summer.” Or “I’ll have time to games with my kids over the weekend.” Every time we defer these little nuggets of happiness, we drain our energy and our passion. 

Happiness is not meant to be compartmentalized, and your energy is not infinite. You’re allowed to be happy all year long, and to make that happen, it’s going to take a little boundary-making on your part. 

Teachers need balance just like everybody else. And while the system may make it feel difficult to achieve it, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting for. It’s worth beyond just improving our teaching, it’s worth it because we deserve to be happy.

For more on self-care, check out these resources:

Calm - free for educators!

Teacher Self-Care Conference

5 Steps to Managing Teacher Burnout

The Mindful Teacher Blog

How do you unplug? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Jeanne Wolz taught middle school Writing and AVID in Illinois for four years in addition to serving as the English Department Chair. She holds a bachelor’s in English and Secondary Education and a master’s in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently, she teaches ESL, develops curriculum, and coaches new teachers. You can find more of her resources at www.teacheroffduty.com and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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