Looking after yourself will help you to avoid work fatigue, dissatisfaction and burning out. It will also help you to model positive coping behaviours to your students and colleagues. People who take time out to feel good about themselves and their work tend to be more able to cope with stress and daily challenges.
A balanced lifestyle has a range of components that enhance your health and offer a preventive measure against stress and burnout. There are four major components of a balanced lifestyle. Use the chart below to appraise your lifestyle. Is there one component (or more) that you should spend more time on?
Four components of a balanced lifestyle
Strategies to help you look after yourself and relieve stress
On the following pages are some things you can do to relieve stress. Select those that resonate with you or create your own. Regular use of these techniques at least 3–4 times per week is important to prevent burnout and feeling overwhelmed.
- Develop a self-care card. Make up a list you can refer to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or, alternatively, as a preventive strategy so you don’t get stressed. List at least four things you can do that will reduce your stress levels. Make one for home and one for school. It is important to make adaptations as techniques lose their strength or if you find other techniques that work better for you. Use these strategies regularly to prevent daily stressors becoming overwhelming.
- Think about what went well today. At the end of each day, take a moment to think of at least one thing that went well in your classroom that day. It might be something big, such as your class raising the most amount of money for the school fundraiser, or something small, such as when a student shared a funny story with you. When we are stressed, we tend to over-emphasise the negative things that happen, so thinking about what went well is important. Focusing on positives helps to put the day in perspective.
- Laugh and share humour. Use humour with your class or with colleagues. Sixty-second presentations where several students take turns to voluntarily present a short, entertaining oral presentation once a week can add a sense of fun and engagement. Similarly, sharing a short yarn, story or embarrassing moment with colleagues can lighten-up the day and create a sense of fun that helps to create bonds of goodwill between colleagues. It also works as a buffer against the inevitable collegiate disagreements and conflicts.
Work effectively with colleagues and parents
Infrastructure in schools is often bare or spartan and many teachers are in open learning areas for large parts of the day. Being highly visible means most people will freely approach you if they need to speak with you. If you want to ‘protect’ your free time, then you need to be clear about when you are and are not available.
- Set boundaries with parents and colleagues around when you are and are not available to speak. Tell parents about your preferred methods and most appropriate times for communication. Display this information in a prominent place outside your classroom and send it home to all parents in a letter early in the term. Explain to parents why you are unable to meet with them in the ten minutes before the school bell unless the meeting is pre-arranged or urgent. This time is important in establishing a quiet, calm and safe start to the day and allows students to interact with you if required before the school day begins.
- Learn to say no. Recognise your limits and learn to say no when you need to and can. You may not be able to say no to an ‘extra’ or to a direct instruction from the principal, but there will be other occasions when you will be entitled to do so. See the Psych4Schools ebooklet Negotiation and assertive techniques with parents for communication tips that might suit you.
Copyright © Murray Evely and Zoe Ganim 2011
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