“What is it like now that you are in contact with your pupils 24/7?”
Yesterday, a friend asked me this. Today, Hannah Wilson released the theme for this month’s #MonthlyWritingChallenge and here we are.
First things first, to answer the question posed by my friend, I am not in contact with my pupils 24/7. I understand what he meant by the question, there has definitely been a shift in the way our learners interact with us as we have moved to teaching online. However, my class was used to using Google Classroom for their homework when we were still attending our physical classrooms. From the beginning of this academic session, I have been very strict with myself not to reply to any comments or give feedback on online work outwith the hours of 8am and 5pm during the working week. If the children wanted to comment or reply to each other then that was absolutely fine (and often very helpful if they were answering each others’ questions) but they knew not to expect a reply from me. I have continued with this approach during online teaching. Whilst this does restrict when I can give the learners feedback on their work (gone are the days where I could take a set of jotters home for marking over the weekend!), it has forced me to identify how I can fit giving feedback into the working day – Mote has been a real help with this. As a result, I feel I’m developing positive habits to have a better work-life balance and I’m working towards not doing official school work on the weekends – I’ve only managed this a few times but I’m taking this as progress!
Parents and Guardians
Similarly, the parents of the children in my class are used to me not responding on weekends or after 6pm during the working week. I really value strong communication with my learners’ families and (I hope I) made this clear at the start of the session. Creating a class website has really helped with this. I shared an introduction video at the start of the year and have kept the website updated weekly with a brief overview of what we have focused on during the week. This can become time consuming but I do think the benefits are worth putting in the time. The feedback from parents has been positive as it has allowed them to talk to their children about what they’ve been learning, instead of getting the usual “nothing” to the age old question “what did you do at school today?”. With learners either completing their work digitally or uploading a photograph of their work, it has actually been easier to maintain this website during remote learning.
Last lockdown, I turned off Gmail notifications on my phone as I found the constant stream of Google Classroom notifications (usually about comments) distracting and overwhelming. This means that when parents email me at a time that suits them, often after their children have gone to bed, my personal time is not interrupted by a work-related email. However, I will often mindlessly click on the Gmail app at any and all hours of the evening and weekend and happen upon an email from a parent. Regardless of what the email is about, it will play on my mind until I can deal with it. I’ve found using the “schedule send” feature really helpful as I can address it and technically not break my own rules around replying times. I realise I could delete these apps from my phone but, again, I feel the benefits outweigh the negatives and I just need to be more mindful of how I spend my time on my phone!
I am lucky to work in a school where a healthy work-life balance is promoted and encouraged. Not through gimmicky wellbeing activities but by a commitment to reducing unnecessary workload and an open culture of being honest when something isn’t working. No workplace is perfect and there are definitely areas we are working on, but there is never an expectation that we work through our weekends. Achieving that is down to individual teachers but I think that is a conversation for a whole other blog post!
Last year, my stage partner and I noticed we had different approaches to work-life balance. She preferred to work longer into the evening so she had less to do at the weekend whereas I didn’t feel I did my best work in the evenings and left more to the weekend. Even at the weekend, she preferred to get all her work out of the way in the mornings and I wanted to relax for a bit first. We did a lot of informal planning through Whatsapp and I was always conscious not to interrupt her “non-working” time and vice versa! We started using a shared Google Doc for all planning related notes, linking resources and other relevant information. Each of us checked the Google Doc when we logged on and it really helped us both feel we were working together but not forcing the other person to work when they didn’t want to! I have continued to use this approach with a different stage partner, this year, and it has proved just as useful.
Boundaries between work and life have definitely become blurred as we have moved to working from home. Often people talk about how important it is to have a separate space for working but for many of us, that just isn’t feasible. Before we moved house, I didn’t have a separate space for my computer. It could either be in the bedroom or the living room, as a constant reminder that there was work to be done. Now that we have moved house, I do feel I have more separation but I’m still aware of the need to step away from the screen. Moving into a different room (or even a different space in the same room!) to take breaks made all the difference. I set an alarm on my phone and focus entirely on whatever book I’m reading.
Mindful of the fact that P4-P7 are due to return to Scottish school buildings on 15th March, I have been reflecting on the positive habits I have developed and how I can continue to build these into my days and weeks when our routines change again. These are some of the things that have been working for me lately:
- Reading – So much reading! I’ve written before that I never used to understand how people could read several books at once but I totally get it now. I’ve found having different books to read has allowed me to choose a book based on my mood. I’m almost finished Teaching in the Online Classroom by Doug Lemov which I find myself rushing to finish before we return to the physical classroom. I was hesitant to buy it as we hopefully won’t be online again any time soon, but I’ve taken a lot from it for running online book clubs and I do feel my learners are currently benefiting from my reading it. I had previously found that I was struggling to get into fiction but I’ve recently started listening to audiobooks of the children’s books that have been on my TBR list for a long time. This has allowed me to enjoy fabulous stories whilst I’m doing other things around the house. Your local library probably has a similar arrangement if you think this might work for you too. (I’d highly recommend Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy!)
- Podcasts – Some highlights include Becoming Educated, Changing Conversations, Dare to Lead, Happier, and Practical Positivity.
- Walks – I’m fortunate to live near a beautiful park and not too far from the beach. Whilst better weather helps with this, I’ve been trying to get out regardless of the weather! Coupling podcasts and audiobooks has helped with this – my latest only-allowed-to-listen-to-when-on-a-walk book is The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.
- Baths – With candles and books.
- Tea – Always tea!
- Art – I was recently inspired to get painting again by Fiona Leadbeater, having reflected on “what puts the i in wellbeing” after listening to Lena Carter and Christine Couser on Teacher Hug Radio. I often feel the urge to create something but never do, put off by my frustration that I’m not good enough at it… I realise this isn’t showing the Growth Mindset that I encourage in my learners. I’ve had this desire to create for a long time, as evidenced by the fact I shared this quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert on social media years ago.
I really enjoyed going through all of my art supplies and organising them, discovering I have more materials than I thought I did. Hopefully this enthusiasm (and ease of access) will encourage me to continue to create when we return to in-person teaching.
This is my first time writing for the #MonthlyWritingChallenge so I’d love to hear your thoughts and what works for you. Follow me on Twitter @ClareAnnePirie and keep the conversation going.