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The Calming Corner: Work/Life Balance as a school psychologist

Friday, August 18, 2017

Work/Life Balance as a school psychologist

Before I was a school psychologist, I worked in social work with an intense population, so working in a stressful position was not new to me.  I remember the day that I first broke down during my first year as a school psych.  Luckily, I had an amazing special education support team there, and I remember one of the special ed teachers telling it was alright-I was doing a great job, and this showed it.  I've learned through the years that being a school psychologist isn't an easy job-but honestly, very few people I know are not stressed by their job at one or another.  There are ebbs and flows, but in the end, this is a great career.  So, let's talk about work/life balance as school psychologists today.

Obviously, I am not an expert in this area, I'm still learning, and with another baby on the way, I'm about to drop all my balls and try to juggle them again.  I wanted to share today though, how I've become more positive about my work life balance, and especially, hear from other people-you guys!  What works for you?

1.  Make some definitive limits for yourself between home and school. (Turn off your email on your phone & Set time limits for yourself)

In the first district I worked in, it was common to have your work email on your phone and iPad.  It was especially helpful for me because I wasn't often in my office, but I could carry my calendar and email with me around the school.  I would answer frantic parent emails at 10 pm.  I remember one of my coworkers telling me she never checked her email at home, or responded to a parent after 5 and thinking I could never do that.  Then one year, I had a really tough case.  The parents weren't happy, the child was having a lot of issues at school, and there were lots of people from the district involved.  Email was the parents main form of complaint, and I would get emails during dinner and right before bedtime.  I was already stressed coming home from the day, and then this just continued it into my personal life.  That's when I took stopped my email from pushing to my iPhone.

A year later, I had a baby to come home to.  I was busting my behind at work all day long to get everything done, and often only looked at my phone once a day to check in on my daughter.  When I got home, I didn't want to spend time on work, and that's when I stopped checking work emails at home.  It's been rough, but it's been the best.

I also find that it's helpful (and necessary) to set hours for myself at work. Even before I had kids, I had a long commute home, and the later I stayed at school, the longer it would take me to get home.  So, I picked one or two days where I could stay late, and that was it.

2.  Give yourself grace when the above doesn't work out.

Sure, it's easy to say pack up at 4:15 and head home everyday, and I can do this 80% of the time.  But, sometimes, I have a parent coming in to review a report the next day, and I've only written the background section when the day before is ending.  On those days, I say "oops, quick dinner tonight!", I go home, feed my family, and break out my laptop, and I remind myself that these days are fleeting, and this will not be my life everyday.

3.  Prioritize.

One of our administrators once had the psychs in my district write down all of our responsibilities-every little thing we were responsible for-and then we picked out those were the most important.  You guys, there was a lot on that paper.  We often want to do it all, but you need to prioritize in order to do your best.  In this season of my career, I prioritize my testing and IEP counseling students.  If I'm testing a student, I turn off my walkie talkie, and put up a testing sign on my door.  If a student needs someone to talk to during that time, the secretary knows I'm not available.  What you need to dedicate your time to will vary over the year, but make sure you know what that is.

4.  Work hard when you are at work.

This sounds silly, but here me out.  If you want to balance work and life, you have to go full-force when you are at work.  When I first started out and had the time, I would get to work an hour before school started, and often sit and chat with one of my coworkers over our morning coffee.  It was distressful for me and a nice way to start the day.  Now, things are a little different.  I arrive to school 30 minutes before I'm required to, immediately open up my email, and go go go. If I know I need to leave right after the kids do one day, I work through lunch.  I know this isn't ideal, but it's just to say, think about how you are spending your work days, and how you can better manage your time.

5.  De-stress and treat yo' self!

We preach calming tools all day long, but how often do we use them ourselves?  This past year, I made an effort to use the mindfulness techniques I was teaching my students more often in my life-both personal and professional, and I find myself 5-finger breathing on a regular basis now!  Do yoga, go out to dinner, sing loudly in the car on the ride home, grab an irrationally expensive latte when you know you are doing to have a long day.  Don't forget to spoil yourself!

So, what are some of your secrets for balancing it all?  I'd love to know!

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