Angela Watson, one of my favorite past guests and experts on creating sustainable teaching practices, returns on this episode to share wisdom for those teachers staying inside of the classroom on how to achieve more work-life balance in a career that is constantly adding more to your plate.
Developing Balanced Teaching Practices
Hey, Angela. Thanks so much for being here today.
Hey Daphne, thanks for having me.
Angela, you and I have so many sidebar conversations on Voxer about what we’re seeing in the world of education. And you’re someone that I’ve always really liked partnering with when it comes to helping teachers find someone who specializes in making teachers. Sorry, why? Why am I so bad? I almost need to see myself on camera to know what I’m doing. You’re going to have to see me. I’ve gotten too used to this.
Angela, you and I have had so many sidebar conversations just focused on what’s going on in the world of education, where I really focus on teachers leaving the classroom. Your specialty has been supporting those who stay and one thing that I love about you is that it’s not just toxic positivity, we all have this. It’s really truly getting into the meat of, there are things outside of teacher’s control that are not fair in teaching and then there are things that they can actually control. And that’s really what I wanted to bring you into talk about today. I have so many teachers who are in my audience right now that they tell me that they’re planning on staying at least for this year if not for the rest or career for a variety of reasons, whether or not they just love their school, their principal and their colleagues.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Leaving Teaching
There are many people in my audience who actually have really supportive school systems and they don’t want to leave that for the unknown, whether it’s because they love education and kids and they’re waiting to find something that still brings in that much passion when they think about their next career or whether it’s just purely focused on like financial reasons or job security or not being able to find something else, or they’re really close to retirement. They’re kind of spread out for many different reasons. And I have plenty of resources to help teachers evaluate, weighing the pros and cons of leaving teaching but I want to take here on your end, what your advice is, because I know your teachers are really burned out, that’s why they find you. And I know you help them weigh the pros and cons of leaving teaching as well. What advice do you give teachers there?
Well, one thing I do is I send them to teachercareercoach.com for this all awesome person called Daphne Williams Gomez, who does a wonderful job helping them weigh all that stuff out. And I say that I’m obviously it’s a little tongue in cheek, but I do because before we met, I was really looking for someone who was doing this work well. As you mentioned, your passion is supporting teachers and transitioning out of the classroom, but my passion is helping teachers stay and really love what they do. And I just wasn’t very excited about creating a lot of resources around how to leave, but I was getting approached by teachers like all the time about that. Particularly say 10 years ago, there were just far fewer resources out there. And they were just always asking for very personalized advice. And what I would say to them then is the same thing that I would say to them now, which is that no one can make that decision besides you.
It’s a very, very personal decision. No one knows what it’s like to be in your shoes, in your job, what your different stress levels are, what’s on your plate, all of these other things. So it really is something that I think sometimes we’re looking for like an outsider to give us this like expert opinion that’s going to convince us 100 percent. But I feel like the answer is always deep inside. It’s deep inside your inner knowing, your intuition. And sometimes we need to get quiet and still, and listen to that voice inside of us, instead of just constantly filling our brains with all of these outside influences and advice and researching things, Googling things. Sometimes we need to just get really still, because I think deep inside the answer is really clear. And I think you and I are also very well aligned and that we both always tell people to consider looking for a different teaching position before leaving the field.
It’s heartbreaking to see amazing teachers leave. So that’s part of the reason why people who love their jobs, I want them to be able to stay and find another place where they can thrive. But the other reason is because there is a huge variance between schools. Oh my gosh, you and I hear stories from teachers all over the country and to some extent all over the world and the working conditions are just, it’s night and day. Even within the same district sometimes, I mean, your school leader has such a big impact on morale, the superintendent, the district, even the school building if you’re teaching in a newer building versus an older building, one that’s better resourced or lesser resources, finding the demographics that is a really good fit for you and that you’re really passionate about and you feel like you can be your true, authentic self in the classroom, working with those families and those students. There’s so many different things to consider before you leave teaching.
Will teaching in a new school or district help achieve a better balance?
And I personally have taught in all different kinds of schools. I think I transferred eight times. I was in the classroom across three counties in two different states. So I have found this as a burnout buster for me personally. When I find that I start to get bored or restless, or just really frustrated with something in that particular school, looking for a different teaching job just is a breath of fresh air. So I think that that’s always a great place to start. And that’s one of the things that I toss out to people who are trying to make this decision about whether to stay or not is like maybe the question isn’t should you stay in teaching, it’s should you stay in your current role? Maybe there’s something else you can do within your school or your district that might make you happier and be more fulfilling.
Oh, I love that advice even when it comes to looking for like district level positions if there’s openings, but also thinking about what you said where people are looking for almost permission to have that big question should I stay in teaching, but they start to look for other people to make that decision for them, strangers, people on the internet and they’re not really trusting their gut when it comes to it. We get so many questions in our email box where someone’s asking a question about here’s where I’m at on the salary schedule or here’s where I’m at when it comes to pension. And we say, okay, we’ve created this great resource to help you walk through where you are on the pension schedule.
And then they start to ask follow up questions. Like, well, I am going to take a cut, do you think I should take it? And it’s such a personal question of nobody can make that decision for you. But I think also so many people have such low self-esteem from the last few years of teaching that they don’t feel confident even making these types of decisions on their own anymore.
Right. Yeah. Their judgment has been questioned every step of the way. How could you trust yourself when you’re constantly told you’re not doing it good enough?
Yeah, absolutely. And then with even the question of us telling them maybe you should change grade levels or think about different schools, one key factor that I’ve all always been able to identify is the teacher who’s like, absolutely not, that’s not the solution for me. Well, that feels like you are giving me a clear indicator that you don’t want to stay in the classroom.
Making the Decision to Continue Teaching or Leave the Profession
You’re completely done where there are other teachers who tell me, I’m struggling so much because I love children, I really want to be around children, whatever my next career is, I want it to be educating children, those are going to be people who are better candidates for me to say, it sounds like you really want to stay in teaching or make it work as opposed to the people who say, screw kids, I am done with it, I don’t feel guilty, I’m okay leaving, that neither of these are people. They all went into this career with a great heart, but you can just tell with the level of burnout and how they actually discuss the career whether or not they’re leaning one way or the other.
Yes. And I feel like that can sort of tie in to this part about trusting yourself and trusting your intuition because you can notice your own react when you ask for advice. If you ask someone and say this job seems like it would be less stressful, but it’s a pay cut, should I take it? Imagine that someone that you respect says back to you, “Yes, you should take it.” How do you feel? Do you feel relief? Like, oh, okay, I have permission. Like someone else doesn’t think that I’m crazy for taking less salary for this job or do you still feel sort of apprehensive like, I don’t know, I need a certain amount of income, I just don’t think this is going to fit. Think about the different advice that someone might get you and how does that make you feel.
Do you feel relief? Does it feel lighter? Do you feel a sense of ease or do you still feel this tightness, this constriction, this heaviness around the whole issue. I tend to find that like I will lean one way or the other and I will find myself maybe arguing with the person that I asked for advice like what do you think? And then they tell me, and I’m like, but don’t you think this and this and this. And I can hear me trying talk them into the thing that I actually wanted. Then I’d step back and think, Angela, why didn’t you just trust yourself? Clearly you already had your mind up about this, you just needed to talk it through to someone else.
So maybe that could be something that might be helpful for someone who feels like I don’t know how to get still and quiet inside myself. That’s not a skillset that I have really ever been taught. I haven’t developed it. And I tend to work through things with people. Maybe that’s something to think about. Imagine Daphne giving you advice and what would you say if she told you should quit? What would you say if she told you not to quit? And how does that feel inside your body?
Focusing on Changing in Mindset to Achieve More Balanced Teaching
That’s for me, I always try and think about if I’m fighting with people in my head like, okay, if you go one answer, then I’ll leave it but if you go the other answer, then I have like one or two blah, blahâ€¦ But moving on though a little bit more for the teachers who are staying in the classroom, for whatever reason, I know that I feel like you and I are very aligned when it comes to we are very advocates for, gosh, why am I likeâ€¦ Jonathan, edit that part out. I wanted to move on a little bit with talking out teachers who are staying in the classroom. And some of the mindset challenges that I see many teachers really have and when you’re coming from a place of stress, it’s really easy for you to have distorted thought patterns. This is something that I talk to my therapist about all the time myself personally is I go into black and white thinking patterns and that’s thinking in like absolutes, if one thing is one thing, then everything else is 100% something else.
And it has to be black or white. One thing that I notice is I’m not going to sugarcoat how challenging teaching has been, but I see so many teachers see so many things that are outside of their control, especially these last two years that are stressors that they often give up on doing anything that takes things off of their plate that is within their control. What are some of the areas that you teach teachers about that they can actually pull back and create more sustainable working environments and what is within a teacher’s control that they can actually change?
I think you’re so right about noticing those distorted thought patterns. I’m a big fan of cognitive behavior therapy and identifying when you are catastrophizing, when you’re in this black and white thinking. I actually have an entire book about this, it’s called Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching. And I’m currently working on the second edition of that right now because these kinds of mindset issues are so, so important. And I think they’re even more relevant now than ever because you’re right that when you feel like everything’s out of your control, you enter this state of helplessness. You give up, you become apathetic and without getting too far down the rabbit trail right now, I see that in general on society right now. It’s like we’ve given up on kindness, on social norms, on our government leaders, on our schools in some cases. It’s like we have given up on our institutions, our systems. In some ways it’s like we’ve given up on each other.
And that to me is very, very dangerous territory. And it’s sort of the reaction to moving away from the toxic positivity that you mentioned, like when we sweep things under the rug and we act like nothing’s wrong, that doesn’t work because resentment simmers up. But when we’re all we’re doing is focusing on all the things that are wrong, we just start to feel helpless like, what’s even the point? Why should I bother voting? Why should I do the right thing? No one else is doing the right thing. Why should I follow this protocol? It’s not going to help. And so we have to be really careful not to lose our sense of personal optimism and hope. Without hope, without vision, there’s what is it all for? That you can really enter some very, very dark places.
I’ve been there personally in struggling with both depression and anxiety where I just start to feel like, what is the point of any of this? So noticing when you’re getting too far into that realm of all of these things that are outside of my control, get off of social media, because that’s probably making it worse. Maybe not, it may not being the case for everyone, but for me, oftentimes it is because I’m just exposed to all of these horrible things that other people are experiencing that I can’t do anything about and just makes me feel worse about the things in my own life that I can’t do anything about.
So be really careful about your influences. Notice when you are in a fragile state and easily influenced by things like that, really sort of pay attention to that because cultivating a sense of hope and optimism is so important, especially as we get older and continuing to thrive. It is, there’s just so much data around the importance of that, of continuing to believe that there are good things ahead of you.
Working Toward Work-Life Balance When Teaching
So when it comes to teaching, obviously there’s a lot of things that you can’t control. As an example of something that maybe you can’t control is there’s more work that needs to be done than what you could fit into your contractual hours necessitating that you then work for free on your evenings or your weekends. So you can control that, but you could control when and how you do those tasks, right? Like you have contractual hours that might be from say eight to three or something like that, right? So you may have more work that has to be done outside of those hours but because you’re contracted from eight to three, you can decide when you want to get that work done. And one of the core exercises in 40 Hour is setting up a target number of hours to work at the beginning of each week.
So you look at what’s on your plate personally and professionally, and you decide how much time am I willing to dedicate to work? I’m not going to just work until it’s all done, because it’s never all done. That’s how I end up at 80 hour weeks. I’m just going to decide, okay, I’m contractually obligated to work 40 hours this week. I know I can’t get everything done when I look at this to do list, I am willing to work an extra eight hours. I will try to aim for 48 hours this week and then allocating those hours throughout the week. I’ll come in an hour early on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and I’ll stay two hours late on Tuesday, Thursday, et cetera. So decide in advance how much of your time and energy you’re going to give to the job.
That has been so empowering for teachers even when they still work long hours, because for some people, some people are able to work just their contractual hours in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, some are working around 50 hours or so. Sometimes people say I have to do a 65 hour week. It’s report card week, it’s whatever else is going on. But that intentionality makes them feel so much better about it because they know like they can tell their families I will actually be home at 5:00 p.m. instead of saying, I don’t know when I’m going to be home. No, I’ve already decided I’m walking out the door at 4:30 so I can be home by five because that’s how much time I can allot to this job.
When you have that target number like that and you know when you’re staying late and you’re not staying late endlessly, you’re much more intentional about what you’re doing and more focused, right? If you know you only have an hour, there’s no time to check Instagram, there’s no time to like wander over to a colleagues room and chat. I have one hour and then I’ve got to leave. So I’m going to sit here and focus, get it done and get out of here. And just being aware of how much you’re working, deciding in advance what you’re willing to do has helped so many teachers take back that feeling of control instead of feeling like all I ever do is work and school gets the best of me, my friends and family and everything else gets the leftovers. This is a way of saying no I’m going to fit school into my life instead of fitting my life around school.
Balanced Teaching: Finding Solutions
Yeah. I think some of the black and white thinking patterns that I see with this a lot is they’re constantly throwing new things at us. They’re constantly putting more on our plate and no matter what, I am going to work a really long work week. And with that, you are kind of pushing back and saying, yes, how do we scale back five hours this week? How do we scale back 10 hours next week? Like there still are solutions to make a yucky situation better. And another thing that I heard you say is staying away from like voices or things that might bring you down mentally. And I think a lot of times this can even be colleagues, coworkers, people that are aligned and think the same way as you, but it can become kind of feeding each other negativity, but without looking for clear solutions or ways to actually make things a little bit better.
So if you find yourself on your lunch break talking to a colleague that you both have the same gripes, try and make that conversation focused on maybe we need to get these emotions out. It’s sometimes feel really good to get the emotions out, but how can I change this situation to make it a little bit better?
Yes. That’s great advice.
Moving even into scaling things back as far as what you’re doing like workload wide, I think a large concern that so many teachers have, especially those that are still really wanting this to be the right career for them is that they struggle with doing less. Nobody wants to be the teacher who says that they do the absolute bare minimum because that feels so bad that you’re taking something away from students. Sometimes the lessons that you’re planning are just purely going to help bring engagement into the classroom or the grading that you’re doing is really having an impact on students reading comprehension skills. And you can actually see a correlation between all of the work you’re putting into this and how it’s impacting your students scores and you’re just really scared to scale back anything. So when everything feels so big and important, how can the teacher actually figure out what they can do less of without feeling guilty about it?
Achieving Balanced Teaching: Hours Worked does not Equate to Effectiveness
Yes, that guilt is such a huge factor and it’s pervasive in the culture of education. I mean, I hear teachers tell me all the time that their principals feel like or some other educational leaders telling them overtly, if you don’t want to work long hours, you’re in the wrong field. And I reject that entire notion because it’s part of the reason why the profession is in the state that it’s in. We have run out of martyrs who are willing to do everything, be everything from the social worker, to the school nurse, to the psychologist, to everything for these kids. And we’ve hit a breaking point. Like there’s only so much that an individual person can do. So I think we really have to push back against that culture in education that tells you have to be the last car out of the parking lot in the evenings or else you’re not dedicated towards kids.
Something that I really try to instill in the teachers that I work with is that your hours worked do not equate to effectiveness. So if you’re working more hours, that does not automatically make you a better teacher. If you are working fewer hours, that does not automatically make you a worse teacher. It’s all about what you’re doing with that time. That piece of intentionality, as I talk about in my book, fewer things better, figuring out what’s the most important thing, what’s really moving the needle for kids. And when you have it figured that out, then you’re just trying to do everything, right? And a lot of times you’re just putting out fires during the day. There’s all these urgent things that are being tossed on you. You can’t even get to the planned work because there’s all these spontaneous things that have just cropped up. You got to answer this email and now suddenly you have to turn this form in and it just feels like it’s never ending. And it’s impossible to let things go and feel good about it when you don’t know what’s really important.
So I think getting that clarity is absolutely essential and being realistic with yourself that even though no one who is in charge of your salary is going to tell you this, you actually can’t give 100% to everything that they’re telling you to do. It’s just not possible. So you can’t wait for someone to say, you don’t have to do this or it’s okay to do a halfway job on this. I wouldn’t expect someone to hear that from an administrator. You have to design for yourself where to focus. You have to look to see what is most impactful for students and focus your energy there. And as well, the things that your administrators, your district is really a stickler for, give that 100 percent too even if that doesn’t feel that important to you because your reputation’s on the line. You don’t want to draw negative attention to yourself by submitting incomplete forms and not turning in your data on time because you decided it wasn’t as important.
Letting Go for more Balanced Teaching
If it’s important to your leadership, then it has to be important to you. But there’s a lot of other stuff that I think we have to do because the last superintendent or the last principal wanted it. And the current one doesn’t care, it’s not on the radar or we do it because the teacher next door does it. So we think we should probably be doing it too because otherwise, the kids and the parents are going to be asking questions or we’ve just always done it this way and we’re not sure what we would do if we were to try something else. So I think getting clarity on what’s important, what essential, what’s absolutely required is key. And once you know what those things are, then it’s so much easier to let go of the other stuff.
Yeah. I found myself and I’ve shared a lot with my very last school year teaching I was breaking down mentally, but I found myself still falling in this really weird trap that I did not realize until I had left the position altogether that I was on weekends sometimes spending three hours drawing a really nice looking poster board for some reason or something that took so much time. But I had told myself like, oh, I have to do this, this is part of the lesson, but it really truly wasn’t something that needed to happen.
And I feel like so many teachers may need to just write everything down on a piece of paper. What are you planning on doing this week and what can you actually not do on this list? What of this is busy work that you’re giving yourself? And then if you find yourself going down a decorating rabbit hole or going on teachers pay teachers to find really cute lessons, even though you know you have the whole week’s worth of lessons planned, look back to that list and say, was this something that I knew I needed to do this week and is it taking away from my personal life outside of the classroom? Well, then I’m going to walk away from it.
Yes. We talk a lot in 40 Hour about work work and hobby work. So some people it real work or I don’t know, my first instinct would just call it work work. And what I mean by that is the stuff that’s absolutely required, has to be done. You have to assess student learning, you have to plan your lessons, but the hobby work is the stuff like decorating the poster boards, making this line show really cool, adding this really neat touch to the inner interactive game. These are things that we do not because they’re required, but because we want to. It’s a creative outlet for us. It’s fun. We know it’s going to make the lesson more engaging. The kids are going to love it, or the families are going to love it, whatever it is.
But distinguishing between what is the required work and what is the hobby work has been really helpful for a lot of teachers because if you’re doing something as a hobby, then you can give yourself permission to spend a lot of time on it, spend the whole Sunday afternoon on the poster board, if you want to, but be real with yourself. You’re not stuck inside. You don’t have to work. You’re choosing this. This is something that you want to do. And if you feel like you’re missing out and it’s a beautiful a Sunday afternoon, and you wish you were outside or enjoying the beautiful weather, then go outside because it’s hobby work.
And I think getting really clear even just on that can help a lot with intentionality. What is the required stuff and what is something that I’m just doing because it’s fun for me. And then either reduce the stuff that’s just fun for me or else embrace it wholeheartedly and stop telling yourself I have to work all the time, because it really is your choice. That’s sort of an aspect of what we were talking about earlier too about having control over what you’re doing.
Scaling Back to Achieve more Balanced Teaching
Yeah. I feel like I still find myself doing the hobby work with my own projects outside of teaching. So it’s something that you just constantly are going to have to work on. And that is also something that I wanted to ask you a question about because setting clear goals, having intentions for your days, scaling back your own personal workloads, setting very firm clear boundaries on what you are doing and how you are spending your time is not something that’s going to happen overnight. Especially for teachers who have been in the classroom for 10, 15, 20 years and have always done things a certain way, this is going to be a challenge. Do you have a favorite daily reminder or some sort of morning ritual that helps teach actually remember to spend that day with intention to doing less work that day?
Well, one mantra that has been helping me personally a lot lately, I don’t know that I’ve shared this yet with teachers, because it’s just been something that I’ve been thinking about more my in own personal development is that everything counts. Because I’ll tell myself that when it comes to habit making or like starting my morning off the right way or making healthy choices for myself, I’ll tell myself, well, if I don’t do it just this one time, it doesn’t really matter. Right? Like I can skip the walk today. I don’t really needâ€¦ I can deal without the fresh air today, right? But then the positive habit is sort of broken because I keep telling myself that every single day. And then conversely, I’ll tell myself if I’m making a good decision just once in this very small way, it doesn’t count.
It’s not enough to balance out everything else. So reminding myself like everything counts. Don’t dismiss those little things that you don’t want to do that can pull you off balance as well as the positive things that you’re doing. They all matter. They all count. Give yourself credit for those things. Because I think the quality of our life is really made up from the quality of our daily habits. If you have strong daily routines and regular habits that you’re committed to that you enjoy and that are fulfilling and that help you live a really happy and healthy life, that’s it. That’s what life is. It’s not these big things that we do on occasion. It really is the little stuff day by day. And in 40 Hour, the way that I phrase it is small changes add up to big results.
Streamlining and Simplifying
So the process of streamlining and simplifying and being intentional is almost always about small little tweaks. It’s not a whole overhaul to your entire teaching methodology. It’s just maybe this like little two degree turn in your trajectory and ultimately that leads you to an entirely different place. It gives you a completely different outcome that’s much better just by those little small changes. So that’s something that I try to tell teachers and I’ve also been thinking about a lot in my own personal life, because I think often we’re looking for the big miraculous revolutionary thing that changes it all. And more and more, I have found that it’s the little stuff that really makes a difference.
I think that that’s such a smart way to think about it because I also struggle with, if I have something that I want to change overnight, let’s even say I worked with a health coach and when I started working with her, we had that initial discussion of, okay, this is what I’m seeing happening with me, this is where I’m at right now and four years ago I was in a completely different space, I want to be where I was four years ago and she just stopped me abruptly. And she said, “That’s a great realization. You now have of where you see yourself as a goal, but you need to realize it took you four long years to get there. So don’t beat yourself up over that and think it’s going to happen in one week time. It’s going to be really small increments of making those small changes, making those changes to your habit.”
Taking Charge of Teaching & Your Life to Create More Balance
But you always want that big, huge life changing result overnight and I think just constantly really reminding yourself of today’s a new day, it’s a fresh start to start doing something different than what I’m already doing. I have to have a post-it note on my own desk that just says basically I’m in control of my own life, I get to choose how I spent my day today, period. And I feel like teachers can take from that as well as there are going to be things that happen that are outside of our control, but you are ultimately in charge of your own life. You are in charge of how you’re going to handle this and what you’re going to do.
Yes, that’s powerful.
One thing that I know a lot teachers are really struggling with right now is their interactions with parents are getting more and more strained. The relationship is a little bit more challenging and parents are asking more and more of teachers and some admins are giving into these types of demands as well, how do you help teachers set boundaries with parents? What type of advice would you give them there on what’s within their control on how to set those clear boundaries?
I feel like we could do like a five part podcast series just on this one question.
Especially right now.
Especially right now.
What’s been happening the last few years. 100%.
Finding Solutions for More Balanced Teaching
I am going to refrain from commenting on that whole situation and just say, yes, I see that too and let’s focus here on the solutions. I think one thing that is important is setting office hours. So you don’t have to call them that, but that’s a term that’s often used in the corporate world. Meaning like this is when I am available to respond to voicemails, phone calls, emails, text messages, and so on. So for a teacher, your office hours are likely to be very short because you’re with students most of the day. So you might have an auto responder on your email that says thank you for your message. This is an auto response to let you know that it was received. I’m giving 100% of my time and energy to your child and to my other students right now.
And when students have left for the day at 3 p.m., I will be responding to family messages. So you can expect a response from me between three and 4 p.m. You might have office hours several times a day. So before school, maybe during a planning time or sometime midday because sometimes it’s hard to like no not check messages at all for seven hours or six hours or however long your instructional day is. And then another time at the end, your auto responder could also say, if this is an emergency, if there’s something you need me to know urgently, then call the school secretary and have them get on the Intercom or here you can text a message through remind or whatever it is. So let them know if something is you have to know it before the kids go home that day there is a way to reach you, but that they’re not expecting you to be responding to them during the school day.
One reason that I think that’s very important is because maybe some other people have thicker skin, but for me, all that takes is one email from somebody complaining about something to put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. I remember getting those kinds of emails when I was in the classroom and I would be so short tempered with the kids for the whole rest of the afternoon, because in my mind, I’m not present with the kids anymore, I’m just rehearsing in my head what I’m going to say to this parent. And I just get like lost in it and I’m fuming and I can’t wait to go tell my colleague, can you believe this parent sent me this, this and this.
Taming the Overwhelm of Email & Communication
So not checking those emails over all the school day is absolutely essential. So that’s part of it. I think another thing is if you know that you’re going to have a difficult conversation with a family, like maybe you need to tell them about a troubling behavior that you saw during the school day or something, get on the phone if you can, try to have an actual live conversation with the person rather than spending an entire hour figuring out how to politely word it in writing. And then of course then you have this documented thing in writing that could come back to haunt you later. So try to just get on the phone, it can be easier to resolve it or even make a video of yourself, like a three minute quick video where they can hear your tone, they can see your smile, they can hear your sense of care and concern and not to mention the perceived effort level of making a personal video for someone that that’s perceived as being a much higher value than just dashing off an impersonal email.
And ironically, the email’s going to take you longer because you have to phrase everything exactly right, make sure your punctuation’s right, check the spelling, check the grammar. If you can just turn on your camera on your computer or on your phone and just record and say, “Hey, Ms. Jones, I am so sorry to have to let you know about this, but there was this issue today with this. And I just wanted you to hear it directly from me about what happened. Please know if you have any questions or concerns, I’m going to be available to answer email tomorrow from seven to 7:30 a.m. and from three to four, or you can just give me a call and I just wanted you to hear this directly from me about what’s happening and let you know I’m on your side and I want to work together to try to make this right,” or whatever.
Do you see what I’m saying? Like, rather than trying to put everything perfectly in writing and spelling it out, that quick video could be so much faster and easier. So think about ways that you can use auto responders, you can use select time of days when you’re corresponding with parents instead of dealing with it all day long and how you can handle these kinds of situations where things are tense or angry or frustrated so that you’re not spending so much time trying to document your side of the story. And a final thing that I’ll say there is make sure that you’re not responding to parents when you’re angry or frustrated, because either your tone will come out in the message or else you will spend your entire evening working on that video or on that email trying to make sure the tone doesn’t come out.
So get yourself in a good head space first, take a deep breath and get some perspective and then go in and try to find the most efficient way to respond that still is personal because it’s a lot easier to get mad at a teacher when they’re just like this faceless person in the classroom. When they can see you are a real live human being like with your own life outside of school, like maybe your own children or your roommate, or somebody’s in the background of your video, they can see this is an actual person here. It’s a human being with feelings and a person who is invested in this work with my child. And I think that really goes a long way because throughout remote learning and COVID restrictions, we’ve just had such a deep personalization of interactions between educators and families to the point where some teachers have reported they have never gotten to ever be in a room with these parents.
Not because the parents didn’t show up, because it wasn’t allowed because of COVID. If you don’t actually get to meet each other, then you don’t get to know each other’s vibe and personality and the parenting style, the teaching style. Spending five minutes with someone, even in a video conference, you learn a lot about them. So I really encourage teachers to look for these ways of using video and in-person interactions to sort of like soften the edges a little bit and develop those relationships so you’re not spending so much time explaining yourself to parents and trying to set up boundaries with them.
That is such great advice. I love your recommendation to calm down before you email. I always do that just because I know I can come across salty if I feel salty as I’m typing something, but I never realized there have been days that I spent hours looking, retyping something, looking retyping something.
And so having that clarity of, even if I have to write it down on a post-it note of, if you are emotional, walk away from this task, because it’s going to take too much time and your time deserves better, you can go do something else during that time while you’re thinking about it is just such great advice. One thing that I know you and I have talked about earlier that I wanted to touch on a little bit more is that we always recommend that teachers who are thinking of staying in the classroom, but they’re just not necessarily happy at their school, maybe it’s the grade of the students isn’t really meshing with them and they might have better luck with classroom management when it comes to a different grade level or they don’t like their grade level team and then don’t really collaborate well together and they know they’d feel better.
Maybe it’s going to a new school or a new district, they had a change in grade. But for any teacher who is listening to this who is changing grades, I know that their biggest concern is that is like starting a brand new job all over again. What advice would you give to a teacher who is starting a brand new grade level next year, is already burnt out from the last few years on how to do this impactfully, but without adding too much to their plate?
Yeah, it definitely can feel like starting a brand new job even just transferring schools, if you’re still in the same grade level. Any sort of change like that is going to create extra work as you learn all of the ins and outs. So I would say don’t expect yourself to have the same level of effectiveness in your new grade level or subject area right away. Comparing what you were able to do with the previous grade level to what you can do now is really a recipe for unhappiness. There is going to be a little bit of an adjustment period, and it does take time to learn a new curriculum. But the trade off is that you also have a fresh set of topics and themes and skills to explore more creative ways of teaching.
I know one of the reasons for burnout that I feel like we’re not talking about too much right now just because there’s so many other bigger things like were saying student behavior and parents and caregivers but I think at the heart of burnout for teachers over the last 25 years or so has really been the standardization of education, the lack of autonomy and the lack of creativity. So a lot of times what teachers are missing is that chance to express themselves, to do something like really fun and put their whole heart into something and create this amazing lesson that the kids are so excited about. And when you change grade levels, that newness kind of comes back. You’re like, oh gosh, I’ve never taught about ancient Greece before, I don’t have anything for this. Wow.
Okay. So now I get to go into full creative mode. In my old grade level, we were teaching about ancient Egypt and I already had everything on that. I’ve been teaching the same ancient Egypt lessons for years. And sure, I was adding a few new things in there, but basically the curriculum and standards are what they are, and this is what I’ve found to be the best way to teach them. And that’s kind of the end of it. When you then move to a new curriculum, grade level, subject area, all of a sudden you have all these things that you haven’t taught before. And that can really be that spark for a lot of teachers. And you can just lean into it. That can be your hobby work, right? Like searching online for different ideas and maybe spending more time than maybe you should on something just because it’s fun.
It’s giving you that level of creativity again. So I would encourage teachers who are changing grade levels to lean into that extra work and to see it as maybe something that would inspire you in a way that your old grade level or subject area couldn’t. This is a new personal creative challenge. And that’s exciting. That will get you fired up in the morning.
Learn About More Balanced Teaching: The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek
Angela, I’d love to hear some stories of how the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek has actually helped teachers throughout the most challenging times these last few years. I know that the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek has been around for a very long time. The last time I checked, I think you had 40 or 50,000 teachers who may have gone through the program, correct me if I’m incorrect there.
Yeah. 48,000. Yep.
Oh wow. Okay. I was pretty close and well, I was in the range. That’s awesome.
But I know that the last few years, like we said at the beginning, it’s felt like there were so many things outside of a teacher’s control that many teachers may have felt like just kind of giving up on creating sustainable work practices, not for people who have joined the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek. They have been working with you, receiving your resources, learning strategies on a monthly basis about how to scale back. And I know that this is something that’s been changing and evolving even the last few years. What have you actually seen going on in the last few years with that community that you’ve built with 40 Hour Teacher Workweek?
Yeah. So this was something that I started in 2015 and we’ve just expanded it over the years to include kindergarten and first grade and then moving into also middle and high school teachers are included. And then 2020 head and everything in education changed. And I had already planned to do a major update at that point, because the materials were five years old. Little did I know I would be incorporating remote and hybrid learning bonus resources. So we’ve done that as well. So basically whatever comes a K-12 teacher’s way, we have resources there to support it. I think some of the things that have helped them the most is thinking about flexible, resilient pedagogy. So trying to plan one lesson that works for many different contexts. So for face to face learning but then also if you have several students who are absent, there’s a version of it that they can do at home too, where there’s a video based lesson.
Batching Tasks for More Balanced Teaching
Something like that I think has really helped. I’ve heard a lot of teachers talk about batching, doing like tasks together. So for example, instead of answering email all day long as they come in, you do it in that one sitting in your office hours. Instead of just constantly grading papers and feeling like it never ends, sit down and do a stack of three of them or something. So really just trying to find ways where even if you’re doing report cards, maybe enter in all of the data first, then do all of the comments and then do all of the signatures. That kind of thing is just much more efficient. Another thing that I’ve heard from a lot of folks is about the minimum viable product. So this is where you’re figuring out the MVP.
It is particularly pertaining to lesson planning, figuring out what is the minimum viable lesson plan that you can bring to your students and iterating with their input and feedback instead of trying to have the perfect lesson upfront. So that has saved a lot of teachers a lot of time. And then I would say also probably not grading everything you turn in, being much more intentional about what you assess and how you assess instead of just assuming everything has to be given a formal grade in order to get kids to it. So those are just a couple concept of things that I think have helped teachers a lot over the last couple of years. And as you can tell, these are small changes. These are not completely brand new methodologies. These are not things that you have to be in a certain type of school to implement.
The average member is able to trim 11 hours off their work week, but it’s not because of one big thing. It’s because they’re hearing these little things like that week after week, month after month, just really encouraging them and solidifying this new lens through which they can view their teaching. It’s this way of seeing life and work that takes some time to internalize. But once you get it, you never see teaching the same. Where it may have been hard to tell people no before, suddenly it starts to feel more and more effortless because you understand the value of your time, you understand how every yes means an automatic no to something else. So you become through the process, I feel like, acutely aware of all of these trade offs. So the opportunity cost and boundary making starts to come naturally really recognizing your own needs, advocating for yourself, standing up for yourself.
These are all things that can be really difficult for a lot of teachers, including me. It’s something that I’ve struggled to learn, but it’s one of the most impactful changes that I see in 40 Hour members. They’ve realize that if they’re going to stay in the classroom and keep doing this job that they love or that they used to love and they want to love again, they want to keep doing this for the long term. Everything cannot be 100% about the kids all the time. It can’t. That’s what leads to burnout. They have to prioritize themselves if they’re going to keep doing this job. So 40 Hour really gives them the community and the support and the encouragement, other like-minded teachers who really want to do a great job for kids, but just don’t want to keep working endlessly on nights and weekends, they have that support around them along with their really practical application so they know exact what they can experiment with tweaking and their teaching. And I think over time, it really just lends to this whole new way of seeing your life and your work.
Achieving More Balanced Teaching at Any Time in your Career
One of the things that I know you had talked to me about a little bit offline was the fact that there were so many teachers who were more experienced teachers later on in their career that for the first time were more open to actually joining your program because education has changed so much in the last two years.
Yes. I think a lot of folks think at first, well, this must be for new teachers. Like how much more could I really learn? Surely I would’ve figured all of this stuff out by now. But teaching has changed so much over the last five years, over the last two years in particular because of the pandemic and really over the last 20 years with the standardization of education. So we’ve gone through like these waves of all these different changes. And the job as it stands today is not what most teachers with 10 or more years of experience signed up for in the beginning. It is unrecognizable in many ways to teachers who have been in this game for several decades and are nearing retirement. And so a lot of them hit this place where it’s like, I can either muddle through and just try to survive the next 2, 5, 10 years until I qualify for my pension, my retirement, or I can quit and walk away from all of this.
And neither one of those options sound good particularly when you think about the physical toll that the stress takes on your body and also the emotional toll of stress and how emotionally draining the profession of teaching is. To just try to of muddle through, even for one school year, it’s more than what some people can bear. They want support and help. Like there has to be a better way to do this teaching thing. So we have quite a few experienced teachers in the program, which I absolutely love because they’ve already seen all the pendulum swings. And when teachers are in the group asking for advice on things, they’ve already seen it all, they’ve tried things 80 gazillion ways and they have so much insight to offer each other, it’s so fantastic for the newer teachers.
And then the newer teachers who are still sort of like grappling with how this works are able to then learn from those experienced teachers and kind of like play off their different strengths. So yeah, I think that’s important to realize that like, even if you have been doing this for a long time, doesn’t mean that you should have it all figured out by now because the profession has changed. It’s not you, it’s not that you weren’t able to keep up or that you never got good at it. What’s being asked of teachers right now is not possible. It’s more than what any human could actually accomplish well. And so to need support around that is only natural and normal. And my hope is that more schools are paying for 40 Hour for teachers.
We do accept purchase orders and we have school licensing. We also have a program for administrators, 40 Hour Leadership, to streamline expectations and systems schoolwide, because this is the kind of thing that schools really should be providing for teachers in order for them to do their job well. I think we’re past the days now of just saying teachers will figure it out. It’s too much for them to figure out on their own, you need support, you need community. So my hope is that 40 Hour can be part of that solution for the teachers who want it.
Yeah, there are so many professional development programs that I’ve taken and not all of them are created equally. There are some that seem to put more things on teachers’ plates and I think what so many teachers are looking for is the real solution of how to do less work, how to still love teaching and how to make this a sustainable profession. So I always highly recommend any admin who slide into our DMs and are looking for types of advice or resources, I always push to 40 Hour Teacher Workweek as well. And any teachers who are listening to this, we’ve actually created email copy that you can copy and paste and send to your principal just explaining to them what the program is if they’re still evaluating the PD programs for the very next school year, so that you actually have a say in what types of programs they actually may bring next school year for the teachers.
I love that.
Developing Balanced Teaching Practices: In Closing
Angela, thank you so much. I, in my head, invited you onto this podcast and I thought we’re going to get through all of these topics in 30 minutes. And I knew that it was not going to happen between us because even if we just talk to each other randomly, I feel like it’s an hour minimum.
It’s always in depth. Yes, we’re both so passionate and we have so many things that we’re observing. It’s so many big problems we’re trying to solve.
But for any of the teachers who are listening to this right now, who want to learn more from Angela, I have a couple of links that I will put in today’s show notes. Highly recommend everybody listening, go to www.teachercareercoach.com/40. And Angela’s actually created a page where you can sign up and get free resources from her and learn about when the next 40 Hour Teacher Workweek opens. So that would be the first place. And then also she has an amazing podcast. It’s The Truth for Teachers Podcast. And we will link that in the show notes too. It’s one of my favorite places to listen for actionable advice on staying in the classroom as well. So Angela, thank you so much for being here today. Always a pleasure to talk to you.
Yes. Thank you so much, Daphne. Same here.
Mentioned in this podcast:
- Angela’s Program: 40 Hour Teacher Workweek
- Angela’s book: Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching
Find out more about our podcast sponsor:
Related Podcast: EP 30 – Angela Watson: Making Teaching Sustainable
Find out about The Teacher Career Coach Course.
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