You could be forgiven if you hear the words “work-life balance” and can’t help but laugh. As teachers, many of us play pretty fast and loose with boundaries. Home and school just seem to seep into each other, whether that’s grading papers at the kitchen table or answering emails at 11 p.m. It’s like we’ve internalized that this is just part of the job. But it doesn’t have to be. Often, that “always on” expectation comes from parents and/or administration, which is why we were so gratified to hear about a principal who advocates for his staff to set boundaries between home and school.
When Jessica Wilson, a Spanish teacher at Brunswick High School in Glynn County School District, Georgia, told us that her principal “actually encourages us not to work during non-work hours,” we knew we had to find out more (plus give a special shout-out to Mr. Slade Turner for his awesome school leadership).
A principal offers a very specific way to set boundaries as a school employee.
At Wilson’s school, Mr. Turner publishes a newsletter every Monday to keep everyone up-to-date on what’s happening in the school. Recently, he discovered a “new-to-him” iPhone feature over spring break. Using the iPhone’s Focus feature, he figured out that he could compartmentalize apps. Turner shared, “It really pushed me to make a more conscious effort to divide the time in my day-to day-life. Without having to make a conscious decision, I could make the notifications for work items less prominent and intrusive. This just makes it less likely that I’ll be unintentionally distracted by work while at home or with family.” It was such an “aha!” moment for Turner that he wanted to share it with his staff. So he put it in his newsletter, and Wilson took a screenshot.
This is about more than turning off cell phone alerts.
Wilson snapped and posted the pic because she recognized its significance. The ability to hide those dreaded red badge numbers is more than a helpful suggestion (although it is that). It’s getting the explicit permission from your supervisor to silence notifications from work-related apps and email when you’re at home. Maybe that doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but as a teacher, you probably struggle with guilt over not being completely present for your family. So, yeah, it’s powerful to have an administrator encourage you to leave work at work.
Boundary-setting is just one part of a larger school culture of support and care.
Effective school leadership takes more than a handy tip. Turner’s newsletter note is emblematic of what he believes about work-life balance: “If we don’t have a life outside of school, then there is NO chance we will be effective inside the classroom. We all need balance.” And he’s walking the talk. Wilson said, “Mr. Turner has an open-door policy and is available for us at any time. He does not micromanage and does his best to keep our workload reasonable. Under his leadership, I have been the happiest I’ve ever been in 18 years.”
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Plus, check out We Love This Principal’s “Registry of Good Deeds.”