Start strong, finish strong [new]

Hey SMILE Teachers Community! My name is Aaron from Mr J’s Learning Space and I’m an Assistant Principal from the Central Coast, NSW. I’m married to a teacher and we have a four year old daughter named Serenity. I have been teaching for 10 years, in a number of schools and various roles including Classroom Teacher, Learning and Support Teacher, Reading Recover Teacher and Student Wellbeing Officer. I am incredibly passionate about all things teaching, learning and wellbeing, so it gives me great pleasure to share this blog with you all.

My beautiful family!

One of the biggest perils that I see many teachers effected by on their teaching journey is fatigue, tiredness and feeling overwhelmed by their job. I'm sure you're familiar with these and perhaps at some time or another you've experienced these personally. Let’s be honest, teachers work hard and it’s not an easy job. We don’t simply clock-off at 3pm, even though most assume that we do. We all take work home, spend our nights, weekend and holidays thinking, planning, reflecting, and evaluating to make sure our students get the very best opportunities and experiences.

For many experienced and beginning teachers it is common to start a new term off full of passion and excitement to make a difference in the lives of your students. However, as the term and year progresses it's common to see this flame of passion slowly dim and for some even extinguished altogether.

I believe to be a truly effective teacher the key lies not necessarily in how you start, but more in how you finish. It's important when looking at our day, week, term and even year that we pace ourselves accordingly so that we start strong and finish strong (or even stronger)!

One thing that many of my colleagues comment on is my consistent passion and enthusiasm for my profession, despite the time of the day, week, term or year. Believe me, it's not always easy to remain passionate during times of pressure throughout the year, but I believe that there are some very simple things that every teacher can do to avoid 'fatigue' creeping in and stalling their finish.

So here is some of my advice to help you look after yourself, manage stress and last the distance!

Set a daily goal: When it comes to getting things done it's easy to become overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. One strategy I've found helpful is to set a task to be done for each day. This will be an additional task to your daily teaching and learning in the classroom and I'm sure you can think of plenty right now. Keep your tasks that need to be done small and achievable and remember Rome wasn't conquered in a day (there's always tomorrow).

Prioritise what needs to be done: On a daily basis it can seem like there's a million and one things that need to be done. However, they don't necessarily all need to be done at once. The greatest key to being an efficient teacher is the ability to order, organise and prioritise tasks according to their level of need. Start with the jobs that need to be done immediately and work down your 'to do list' from there, which leads into my next tip…

Focus on achievements: I don’t know if it’s just me, but I am a huge fan of ‘to-do’ lists. I have them for absolutely everything and I run my classroom, my day and even my weeks from these lists. However a little while ago I found myself becoming very discouraged as I just never felt like I was getting enough done. I found the items that weren’t check off completely soul-destroying and I was starting to feel like a failure as a teacher and leader. However, I failed to recognise all the things that I had achieved. When writing lists let’s flip our thinking to focus on ‘achievements’ rather than the things not done. It’s about taking control of you mindset and focusing on the successes rather than the things you didn’t get to. Focus on your achievements and be proud of all you’ve accomplished each day, week, term and year. You’ll be surprise at all you’ve been able to achieve when you flip your focus.

Avoid Taking Tasks Home: One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to keep work separate from home as much as possible and now this is something I swear by (although sometimes it can't be avoided, for example ‘report time’). It's important for you as a teacher to be able to come home and 'switch-off'. Try to keep your home as a place to escape the pressures of classroom and school life, because if you bring your work home you'll never be able to relax. I know it sounds difficult, but one of the biggest triggers for fatigue is a lack of sleep and rest. Wherever possible commit your time for tasks to be completed to before or after school hours so that when I go home my focus can be on my family and being refreshed and rejuvenated by the ones I love. This may mean setting your alarm a little earlier to get to school before you normally would, or staying back a little bit longer to get things done, but believe me the pay-off is worth it when you can go home and switch off.

Set yourself adequate sleeping hours: As the weeks and terms progress it's common for the time you go to bed to become later and later. In my years of teaching so far, I've learnt that avoiding fatigue is hard when your body is tired. Although mentally you may be up to the task you will have trouble achieving it when your body is lacking energy. Work out the best way to give yourself a regular 8-9 hours sleep each night and commit to sticking to both your sleeping and waking times. You'll be surprised how different you will feel when your body isn’t tired.

Know how to refill your tank: Too many teachers get into the habit of just giving. By nature most teachers are givers, but not takers and it is this trait that causes many teachers to wear themselves out. It's very important to take some time out to be refreshed. Do something you love whether it's as simple as taking 30 minutes to watch your favourite show, take a short walk or read a good book. Perhaps it’s simply getting a coffee with a friend or spending time with your family. You could even take up a new hobby or interest that’s going to bring you joy and energise you. It’s important to make sure you know what refreshes you and make time to for yourself to do it.

You are what you eat: I started my teaching days with a lunchbox full of packaged foods, but after getting married my wife put an end to that. Now my lunchbox is usually filled with fruit and vegetables for recess and home-made sandwiches or nutritious meals for lunch and I can honestly say I've never felt better. What you eat will affect your performance. Eat fresh if you want to stay fresh as a teacher.

Debrief about anything and everything: no one understands teaching like another teacher so find a friend, mentor or colleague that you can debrief with. I recommend a debrief at least once a week. Talk about your challenges, your victories, ask questions, discuss solutions, talk about anything and everything as often as you can and if you can't find another teacher find anyone with a pair of working ears. Sometimes all you need is to share your thoughts to lower you stress level.

Spoil Yourself: It's important for you to reward yourself on a regular basis, regardless of whether you think you deserve it or not. Sometimes we judge ourselves too harshly and punish ourselves because in our own minds we could've done more or done better, but teaching is one of those jobs where you'll always find something more to do or something you can do better, so quit making excuses and just spoil yourself. I make sure that I reward myself at least once, maybe twice a term (at least) with big things and little things. I've been known treat myself (and my wife) to an expensive lunch or dinner at one of our favourite cafes or restaurants, a massage, some new clothes, a new music album or DVD and a night at the movies, just to name a few. I can't emphasise enough how important I believe this tip is. Spoiling yourself and rewarding yourself for a job well done is critical to maintaining your mental and emotional health, which you'll need if you plan to make a career out of teaching.

Say “No” when you can: This is by far the hardest one of all for me and probably many other teachers out there. We always have so many things to do and often there are a lot of extra things happening around us. To be honest this isn’t going to change so what we need to do is make sure we are mindful and aware of our current workload, our current capacity and availability. If we want to last the distance sometimes saying “no” to things is our best choice, or perhaps instead of know we could say “not right now.” Everybody has a limit and it is important that you know yours. Saying no actually empowers you to be more effective and successful in the things you say “yes” so that you can finish as well as you started.

Work/life balance vs. work/life satisfaction: This is a huge one and there seems to be a lot of talk at the moment about the importance of work/life balance. Believe me I am so passionate about this and committed to the cause of self-care and personal wellbeing. However, I recently attended a Staff Development session where we had a key note speaker named Steve Francis sharing. He shared some interesting ideas and thoughts on this topic. His take on it was about shifting our mindset to focus on work/life satisfaction rather than work/life balance. Steve highlighted that in our role as teachers there are always going to be times where there are demands placed on us that require us to put in hours outside of school time or on the weekends. But rather than letting these things steal our joy and enthusiasm we need to focus on finding satisfaction in the work we are doing at that moment, knowing that there will be a pay-off for our time and effort whether it is personally or for our students.

Similarly we need to make sure that we find satisfaction in the time we spend outside of work with our family, friends and in our general lives as human beings. Making sure we are fully present in the moments we have in life and committing to making that time happen. I have a ‘no work on Saturdays’ rule in my house which helps make this happen. I don’t do any school work and as much as possible try not to think or talk about school or school life, however this is a hard one when your wife is also a teacher. For me personally as a school leader this idea spoke volumes to me as I am often doing extra or working on things that others aren’t but I am learning to find satisfaction in the extra hours and jobs that I need to do knowing there’s a reward that I will get to see which makes it worthwhile.

You can find some great resources from Steve Francis on his website;

As a teacher you need to protect your energy, passion and enthusiasm on a daily basis. If you can keep your energy levels high, your passion and enthusiasm will only continue to soar ensuring that you not only start strong, but finish even stronger than you started.

I'll end with two simple statements from a mentor of mine;

1. A good you is a happy you and your happiness is a result of your state of health (physical, mental and emotional)

2. The best thing you can give your students is a healthy you.

Be happy and teach well!


If you’d like to keep in touch and follow my teaching journey make sure you check out my instagram page

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