#BalanceforBetter by Christine

by Dr Christine Challen   @ChallenDr

I start 2019 with a clean sheet, a new chapter and me to write and develop. The last two years having been very tough personally and professionally but I will not bore you with the details. Suffice to say, that I have in the words of J.K Rowling “emerged wiser and stronger and secure in my ability to survive.”

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However that is not all that it has taught me it has made me much more aware of the true importance of balance for better even if I have learnt it the hard way!

It has also proved the devastating consequences that happen when the balance is tipped and believe me this is not an experience I would wish on anyone even my worse enemy!

I cannot stress the importance of a balanced workplace, as teachers/educators we probably spend much longer than we should at work so its environment is pivotal to not only our professional but personal well-being. More importantly it can indirectly impact on how we cope (or not as in my case) with our family and social lives outside of work.

So how do we balance for better?

Initially the teaching workload needs to be tackled we need to really analyse and focus on what is essential for the “real true” pupil or student achievement. The endless streams of pointless paperwork planning for a week when anything can change in that time, constant marking when perhaps peer assessment could help all detracts from true creative progressive teaching time.

The accountability within the profession and need to ensure high figures and data for GCSE/A level results and internal/Ofsted observations also affects staff and can result in bickering bullying and stressful relations in teams not exactly conducive to a balanced workplace.

Teachers and educators need to be able to have autonomy and agency within their workplace to allow them to be professionally in control and deviate from the constant feeling of being watched scrutinised and destructively criticised. This includes trainee and new teachers to the profession where confidence can be shattered in an instant and worse still they leave the profession for good!

Further there needs to be a much more coaching and mentoring approach not just for new or trainee teachers but experienced ones as well see (@DrRLofthouse)

For such approaches to work, they need to be supported and more importantly actioned by management or heads of schools. I cannot put it better than George Gilchrist who says that “heads should be gatekeepers for their staff” and fend off pointless tasks that deviate from the school vision or mission for its pupils and staff.

If the workplace is balanced then this can result in a better balance in our lives. Manageable work loads, supporting heads and senior management in schools and the understanding that teachers and educators do have lives outside school!

Delegating workloads fairly and making allowances for staff who may have serious personal issues ensuring that they and their teaching load can be supported by other staff can make a huge difference to their ability to cope with other problems.

Teacher/staff well-being supported at school and taken seriously means that we can go home and not feel guilty about taking additional work home or spending an evening till the early hours marking. Additionally having time away from work at weekends with family is an excellent way to ensure we are fresh to tackle a new working week with a renewed vigour, creativity and energy. This is also essential for the students we teach as well, if they see us content and enthusiastic that then is contagious for them as well.

I have learnt from bitter experience that being 10% braver is not only about being true to yourself and your family but also to your professional values.

This means not just staying somewhere when it is not right for you, but in some cases telling people what they do not want to hear; easy in theory difficult in practise. The stability of the known, even if it is damaging being in some weird sense easier to deal with than change.

However new beginnings can be exciting they can allow you autonomy and agency key qualities that are so lacking in many educational institutions. Additionally this can enhance creative skills and new found attributes you never knew you had.

Most importantly for me it made me realise exactly how important life work balance is. When you have that right all the other pieces fit nicely in place and this leads to not just 10% braver but more and an improved inner mind.

So let’s resolve in this New Year to make changes that truly will allow better balance  and well being for both teachers/educators and students so that we can have an education system that works towards achieving inclusive social justice for all!

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