Start as you mean to go on. Emily Kenneally encourages teachers to set work/life balance goals this year, offering some examples as well as seven tips to help you keep work in check
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Work/life balance is often discussed in the education sector but can be difficult to achieve.

In our 2021 Teacher Wellbeing Index, 70% of teachers and education staff said workload was the main reason for thinking about leaving their jobs, while 66% of staff who experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms say poor work/life balance was an issue.

Excessive workload and the lack of a work/life balance remain key issues at work which drive poor mental health or wellbeing for education staff. This can have a dramatic impact on a teacher’s life. The side-effects can include:

  • Exhaustion, loss of voice, a lack of sleep.
  • Anxiety/panic attacks, loss of confidence.
  • Sickness/absence from work.
  • Short tempers.
  • Poor relationships or social life.
  • Detachment from others.
  • Lack of time with children, family and friends.
  • An inability to feel empathy.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for a prolonged period, you should contact your GP or a healthcare professional.


Setting your own goals

One of the difficulties in finding a balance is that life constantly changes, as does the amount of pressure at work. The key is to have strategies and techniques ready to use when needed.

Start by setting smaller goals for changing your work pattern. Don’t try to change everything at once. Keep a diary for a week or two about how you work. Identify any patterns and ask yourself what you might be able to change.

Try focusing on the positive impact of the change. Some example goals might include:

  • Set a time to finish each day during the term. This could give you time to have dinner with family, exercise or meet friends.
  • Set free time to rest properly on weekends and week nights.
  • Sign up to a regular activity, such as a class or club. Connecting with yourself and your passions can help avoid burn-out.
  • Set aside 15 minutes to meditate daily.
  • Set time to move your body. This could be vigorous exercise or something gentle like a walk, yoga or stretching.
  • Take your entire lunch break!
  • Separate home and work. Keep marking at school or avoid paperwork in the bedroom.

Once you have set your goals, write them down. You are far more likely to achieve your goals if you put them somewhere you can see. You can refer to them later if you feel tired or overwhelmed.


Seven tips for work/life balance

Try ways to transition: Take fresh air, exercise or enjoy a nice, hot bath. Try to leave behind the day at school. Can you physically separate your home life from your work life? If you can, leave your books, marking and assessments behind. If you do take them home, leave them in a room where you can close the door when you have finished, and make sure this is away from where you sleep. Have different email and social media accounts for personal life and work.

Give yourself permission: Do not fill holidays with work you have not been able to do during term time. Allow yourself time to rest properly and do not over schedule yourself so you feel overwhelmed. Everyone’s comfort level is different – be honest with yourself about yours. Do not try to accommodate everyone else’s needs. Prioritise what you want to do and give yourself permission to serve your needs first.

Take time to reflect: Create some time and space for reflection – not only to think about your approach at work, but also your personal life and relationships. Get up 30 minutes early or take 30 minutes when you get back from work to sit and be calm. Reflect on your week, notice where there were barriers to achieving your goals, and consider how you might remove them.

At work: There will always be more to do than there is time to do it. Prioritise and talk to your line manager if you cannot physically do all that is being asked of you – they should be able to provide some support. Take your entire lunch break and limit checking emails – set a time for the final check of the day! Minimise unnecessary meetings – will a phone call or email suffice? Keep meetings on track with an agenda and only meet for 30 minutes if needed. Do not over-commit yourself – ask yourself if things support your priorities and say no when you need to.

Prioritise planning: You do not need to plan every lesson from scratch. It is important to build-up a bank of accessible resources and do not fall into the trap of over-planning lessons. Reports can also mean a heavy workload over a short period of time, particularly if you have multiple classes. Try to plan ahead, ask for help if needed, and develop a “statement bank” that you can use as a starting point.

Enjoy the autonomy: Teachers often feel as if they are just churning through the work and feel over-directed. But you have more autonomy than you realise, particularly in class. Make your lessons enjoyable for you and your students. Tell the stories you want to tell and include activities if you feel like it.

Set clear boundaries: Practise taking ownership of your boundaries, taking time for rest, and how to keep the professional and personal separate. Ignore the stay-late culture and don’t be afraid to set boundaries in line with your own personal and professional priorities. For more support, see the Education Support webinar Boundaries, rest and letting go (see further information). SecEd

  • Emily Kenneally is the content and media manager at Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. For previous articles from Education Support, go to 


Further information & resources

  • Education Support: For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or The charity also offers free peer support groups for headteachers and deputy headteachers via
  • Education Support: Teacher Wellbeing Index, 2021:
  • Education Support: Webinar: Boundaries, Rest and Letting Go: How to give yourself permission: