Setting time boundaries at home and at work

Teachers are used to working odd hours. We know that mock exam season can lead to unprecedented levels of weekend and evening working, and we get on and do it knowing that we will be able to claw back those hours when a particularly work-heavy period is over. We are not strangers to evening events or early morning meetings which obliterate the notion of standard working hours. We are also very familiar with needing to work at home - whether that is evenings, weekends, days off or holidays. 

However, we are newly discovering the dangers of ‘working from home’ (whether partially or fully) without clear boundaries in place. As schools continue to move towards reopening, in whatever form that may take for you and on whatever timescale, it is crucial that boundaries are a) put in place and b) communicated clearly. You may be a school leader and in a position to make policy decisions, or you may only have control over your own working schedule. Either way, the next term, summer and new academic year must be shaped with those boundaries in mind. 

Firstly, clearly establish when you will and won’t be working. Your school may have set certain hours for work/online meetings/availability. Around those hours, decide for yourself when you will and won’t be available to work. If you were in the classroom, you would not be on your email all day - neither should you be at home. As we’ve suggested before in our time management blog, as far as possible, designate the evenings you will work and the ones that are completely work free. Set your schedule, write it down and put it up somewhere you can see it. 

Secondly, communicate these working hours clearly with the relevant people. This may seem hard if you are not at management level - why not alter your email signature to reflect which days you work (if part time) or which hours you will be available to read and respond to emails? This way you are communicating your hours each time you respond to an email without needing to directly send round a statement of intent. This clear communication also applies to anyone who may be at home with you - make sure everyone in your home knows when you are working and when you are not, and avoid many potentially explosive misunderstandings!

Finally, we are all responsible for sticking to our own boundaries as much as possible. Consistency is one of the most important facets of teaching and managing behaviour well with children, and the same applies for adults too! Aside from emergencies, beware immediate responses to emails from colleagues, parents or pupils which give the impression that you are available 24/7. This is not a myth you wish to perpetuate. Equally, with the advent of ‘send later’ functions on emails, there is no reason (emergencies aside) for emails to be sent to colleagues, parents or pupils outside of reasonable working hours. If you’re someone who likes to work on a Sunday evening, that’s great - but click ‘send later’ so that your colleague who takes Sunday evening off isn’t drawn to the noise of their email notification and halfway through the message before they realise they could have read it on Monday. 

Above all, this is a time for setting new patterns and new routines. What better opportunity to take control of your working hours? Whatever you learn will be easily transferable to day to day school life, whenever that may return. 

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