We know that extracurricular activities can benefit students in a variety of ways but, as teachers, we are often the ones to take on those additional responsibilities. You leave your classroom and become a coach, club leader, or theater director. This added role may be fulfilling, but it’s often hard to achieve work-life balance. So here are eight helpful tips, direct from fellow educators and experts in the field.
Identify the time of day you feel most productive. Make this your grading, prepping, and planning time. Block off this time and protect it from potential distractions. Be sure to put this off-duty time in your calendar as well, making yourself unavailable to others, including those involved in the extracurricular activity you lead.
During this scheduled work block, prioritize your duties and tasks so that if a task is not completed, you know that it will have to wait until tomorrow. Similarly, schedule specific times in which you only work on tasks associated with the club, sport, or after-school program you manage. Don’t let lesson plans, emails from colleagues, or that stack of ungraded papers interfere with that block of time you’ve dedicated to your extracurricular duties. This may seem a bit crazy to you right now, but try applying this focused approach for even one week and see how much you’re able to get done, and how much more manageable it all seems.
Leading an extracurricular activity means you have even less time outside of work. This means it’s crucial that you learn to not only protect your off-duty time but your on-duty time as well. Avoid social distractions during your planning and prepping time. While making teacher friends can be a saving grace, there is a time and place for chatting. Think about all the precious planning and prepping time that you’ve spent shooting the breeze with co-workers. Engaging in all of that extra chatter is the best way to get behind on your to-do list. While we all need adult time to break up blocks spent with only kids or teenagers, too much chatter leads to longer work days and few free evenings. So try to avoid the staff room when you can and keep your door shut during your precious work blocks to stay focused and productive.
This may seem obvious, but the extra paperwork, binders, and materials that come with leading extracurricular activities can result in a lot of excess clutter. And where does it all end up? In your classroom, of course.
Creating an organized space can help both you and your students feel more relaxed. Take a moment to step back and look at your workspace. Can you designate one bin, shelf, or area of your classroom to that extracurricular activity that you lead? Maybe you’ve found t-shirt orders mixed in with essay rubrics or you struggle to find team rosters because they’re often blocked by ungraded math quizzes. The more you separate your teacher work from your extracurricular work, the less jumbled you’ll be when transitioning between roles.
Your students will also benefit from a more organized learning space. Both you and your students will have the space to focus on the learning at hand. Also, you can promote tidiness by assigning rotating roles to student leaders who help clean up the class before the bell rings. This encourages healthy organizational habits, increases respect for their workspace, and promotes accountability.
In addition to creating a more organized space, be sure to utilize the planner that works best for you. I’m sure most teachers start the year with a fancy new lesson planner, but how many of us are guilty of reaching for that planner less and less as the year marches on? Maybe that planner is no longer the best fit for everything you do. Look into digital planners. By using a more suitable planner, you’re more likely to reach for it to keep track of everything from lesson plans to after-school events.
In my first year of teaching, I was fresh out of college and not even double the age of my students. To say I was nervous was an understatement. Then, I found my ultimate classroom management guide: The Cornerstone by Angela Watson. Watson recently started the 40-hour teacher workweek club, where she provides strategies for teachers looking to streamline their workload. She tells teachers to invest time in creating better systems for themselves and suggests asking these three questions at every turn.
If you’re grading everything on your own, think about what assignments and activities can instead be reviewed by peers. You can walk them through guided peer grading or have them give each other feedback in pairs. Maybe there are times when students can be assessed in another way that doesn’t create additional grading but still gives you the information you need to inform your teaching practice. You can also look into options such as self-grading with different colors, using strategies such as My Favorite No, or digital grading tools like ZipGrade. Taking the time to find ways to streamline your teacher workload will leave you with more time and energy to dedicate to that special program you run and to the special people in your life.
Look for potential student leaders who participate in that after-school program that you manage. Strategically delegate specific tasks that you know will help reduce your workload and empower them as group facilitators or peer role models. Choose different student leaders each week and ask them to take attendance and run warm-ups or lead a club check-in activity. This will free you up to focus on the bigger picture, functioning as a manager who knows when to step in and when to step back. Strategic delegation can also increase a sense of student ownership and encourage overall group productivity. As educators, we often hold tight to the reins, but it’s amazing what can happen when we learn how to let go a little.
While some of us are passionate about coaching sports or running clubs, you may be leading an extracurricular activity because you were pushed or guilted into it. Sometimes we just have to learn how to say no. Even if you love that additional role, at some point, you’ll probably be asked to take on even more. Why? You’ve shown that you’ll go above and beyond and your school leaders might see that as your normal setting. And, many schools don’t have enough teachers who are willing or able to do extra because it’s already such a demanding (though rewarding) job.
Every great teacher cares and wants the best for their students, but you can’t be everything to everyone. Without boundaries and limits, teacher burnout is sure to occur. Leading extracurriculars often means you’re more visible than other colleagues so, while it’s understandable that an administrator might ask you to take on even more, that doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Recommend someone else who might be able to do it. Or, politely decline and tell them what your top priorities are right now (personally and professionally). In the long run, you’ll be glad you held onto what’s most important to you in order to do your best without experiencing added stress.
In order to avoid teacher burnout, it’s crucial that you take care of yourself. It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating since we often put ourselves last.
Start with your health. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and incorporating exercise into your weekly schedule. It may feel impossible at times with your added responsibilities outside of the classroom, but you can fit it all in if you get creative. If your coaching schedule cancels out your gym time, try participating in warm-ups and drills with your student-athletes. Start your day with a walk around the campus perimeter or fit in a 20-minute yoga lunch break with colleagues. Every little effort you make reminds yourself that your mental and physical health matter. Carving out that time to de-stress will help you be more focused and present as an educator and an extracurricular leader.
My first principal and mentor explained to me that teaching wasn’t just a career but a way of life. She was right. You may leave campus at the end of the day, but your to-do list and your students don’t really leave your mind. However, it’s imperative to remember that you have a life outside of school and you have to learn to put yourself first. You can’t teach your students to the best of your ability if you are constantly exhausted, stressed, or burnt out. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your students.
Nicole Cordova Lyttle is just one example of a very busy educator who wears multiple hats. Lyttle is also learning what works for her when it comes to work-life balance. She is a middle school teacher, a high school varsity head coach, a club volleyball director, a mother, a wife, and an online student. “I have learned I cannot do it all on my own. I need help from my husband, family, and friends. I have an amazing family who is all very close to each other…Organization, balance, and communication with your colleagues, players, teachers, and family are important to be successful in this balancing act called life.”
Nicole Mace earned a MEd in Educational Technology from Lesley University and a professional graduate certification in instructional design from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She’s spent nearly a decade in education, teaching multiple grade levels in the U.S. and South Korea and working as a lead instructional designer at the college level. Currently, Nicole serves as an adjunct online instructor and a freelance instructional designer. Her website offers key resources for instructors looking to crack the code on quality online instruction.