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Talk to me about boundaries and coping please!

(15 Posts)
catsbeensickagain Tue 06-Aug-19 16:37:14

I am assistant head in a secondary school, due to another member of staff being seriously ill I am expecting next year to be even busier than normal. I have also taken on 4 additional periods of teaching for budgetary reasons, and am "looking after" a department where we have not managed to recruit a HoD. Apart from the additional teaching all these other things are temporary and we are working really hard to fix them quickly. However even without them I ended last year ill and am really only just recovering now. All through term time I am so stressed I just want to climb into a safe place and wait it out!
However I do work in a good supportive school and I do enjoy my job often. Much of the stress is driven by my own worries. I really feel that I need to set and stick to some boundaries to be successful and happy - has anyone managed to make real changes like this?

I have sort of divided them down:
1. Time
Of course I bring work home, but often I will be in school 07:30-17:30, then start again 20:00-23:00. If this was urgent work I could cope but I know I am being slow, unproductive and wasting time. Does anyone else apply time boundaries and stick to them?

2. Email
I hate it. Every single time and email drops into my inbox I think "what fresh hell is this" and get the sick feeling in my stomach. I want to switch if off much of the time, but then fear missing something urgent. My head never sends late emails, it is always other staff members contacting me, but they do expect me to reply at all hours.

3. Exam Fear
You know the one about losing your job! Every year I have thought this will improve and it doesn't. Obviously I don't want to not care, but has anyone successfully rationalised it?

4. Personal boundaries
One of my HoDs has had some personal issues. We work closely together on a range of things. She now texts me lots in the evening. I want to remove this, but at the same time SLT is a bit lonely I don't want to make someone feel negatively about me - any thoughts? She honestly needs support.

OP’s posts: |
SabineSchmetterling Tue 06-Aug-19 18:40:58

That sounds really tough. I’m starting an AHT role in September and am already starting to wonder how l’ll manage to cope with the workload.
My main worry is the fact that my particular role (Head of Sixth Form) is one where you don’t get much of a breather from the kids. There’s always a proportion of them not in lessons queuing outside your office for some reason or another. My TLR post this year was also Sixth Form based so I’ve seen first hand how relentless it is.

I think it’s worth raising the possibility of an email curfew at SLT. We introduced one (no emails 6pm-6am) and it’s really helped. I’m not saying nobody ever breaks it (I often realise too late that I’ve sent an email at 6.20 or 6:30 by accident) but it’s definitely made us all more aware of what we are sending and has put a stop to late night emails except in exceptional circumstances .

I don’t think the exam fear ever goes, I had it as a teacher, as a Head of Department and now as an Assistant Head. I’m already worrying myself sick about results next week. I’m also now worried about enrolment the week after. I have these horrible dreams that nobody will want to enrol now that my predecessor has retired and they’ll have to close down the Sixth Form before I even get started. 😂

I don’t have any great experience to share but I hope others will be along who can help us out!

catsbeensickagain Tue 06-Aug-19 18:50:24

@SabineSchmetterling thank you, nice to know it's not just me. I have been Head of Sixth Form - you are right the hoards at your door can feel taxing and enrolment fear is very real. However I am sure you will be fine and lots will sign up. Good luck!

OP’s posts: |
CraftyGin Tue 06-Aug-19 18:54:05

Why are you doing it? If you can’t cope, you can’t cope. Let go.

You need to push back on your headteacher and get them to take some responsibilities away from you, onto the next generation of assistant heads.

CraftyGin Tue 06-Aug-19 18:59:20

You need to not respond to emails in your personal times, and make it clear that texts from colleagues are inappropriate (they should email to your school account instead).

Do you have a school policy for responding to emails? We have one of a holding email within 24 hours, and a follow up depending on how long it takes to investigate the issue.

Unless you are a DSL, you don’t need to respond by return.

catsbeensickagain Tue 06-Aug-19 19:00:36

@CraftyGin The Head already does a huge amount, I think he is busier and more pressured than me. If we had a next generation of Assistant Heads I would certainly be delegating but right now (financially, practically etc) it's me. Actually if I honestly thought it was unmanageable I would look at what needed to not happen and agree this, but I think I could be much more productive and calm with better personal boundaries.

OP’s posts: |
catsbeensickagain Tue 06-Aug-19 19:02:11

@CraftyGin - yes I agree I need to ignore my emails! We don't have a school policy on a cut off time (we do have one on 24 hours as you do) but I might well propose a 6pm to 6am stoppage.
Sadly my inappropriate colleague is quite vulnerable but yes I probably need to tell her to do this.

OP’s posts: |
BelindasGleeTeam Tue 06-Aug-19 19:06:50

Are you on twitter? EduTwitter has been fabulous for me.

I suggest you have a look at @strickomaster and his leadership blog. He's very open to as many visitors to his school as possible. Employs email curfews amongst other things. I think you might find him helpful and a good ally..

HoD role, can you push out to other staff to pick up small elements until appointment is made? Maybe temporary TLRs to help encourage this? Don't know if it's a core subject that there might be wiggle room to fund this.

WRT staff member, they sound very insecure and in need of reassurance. Maybe try and organise a meeting on inset day to iron out issues and suggest communication comes through official channels as you may not respond due to having to do X, Y and Z this year.

TeenTimesTwo Tue 06-Aug-19 19:11:24

Not a teacher.

Your inappropriate colleague needs to be encouraged to find someone else to lean on and/or you schedule in a slot every week to have a counselling/support session with her and say you can't respond outside that time unless direct work queries.

AppleKatie Tue 06-Aug-19 19:23:16

All of this is easier said than done... but my 2pence

Yes I set tight boundaries I work like a Trojan for set periods and then I STOP. Set yourself a generous allowance to start with then slash it by 10-20mins a time until you feel like you are working at capacity. Race yourself and find rewards for yourself if you have finished all urgent work within time. Owe yourself time back if you mess up. Take this.

2. Email
I am terrible for this and reply too often. You have to try and be ruthless though simply don’t reply if it can wait. Don’t build the expectation in others that you will reply at midnight.

3. Exam Fear
You are SLT? You know you are a good and experienced teacher. Do your best then put it in a box to forget about. Cliche here but it’s true- you did not sit the exam.

4. Personal boundaries
I might be a coward here but I would talk to inappropriate colleague about how you are a bit overwhelmed and you have a new year resolution to switch your phone off in the evenings and really relax with your partner. Then mute notifications from the colleague and reply as normal, during working hours. Perhaps soften the blow by making time to have a couple of break time coffees with her.

CraftyGin Tue 06-Aug-19 19:29:21

I think your vulnerable colleague is a different issue and something that is not just for you to fix.

You need a school policy about emails and texts. As you have mentioned, you can propose this.

My normal way of working is that I am happy to spend an hour on school work when I get home. This might be responding to school or parent emails, or doing housepoints or responding to round robins. Most of the time, this will be 30 minutes max. I leave school on the dot at 4pm, so don’t do anything after school at school.

My HT is brilliant in that she does not email out of hours unless it’s safeguarding (I am DSL). She has trained the parents well smile.

You need to get your HT and pastoral head on board about your vulnerable colleague. As a school, you absolutely have to support her, but you also need to look after yourself and work on it as a team.

Louise190 Tue 06-Aug-19 19:34:55

I'm not a teacher but I have had some workload and stress struggles recently. My doctor wanted to sign me off but I didn't want to leave my colleague in the shit so we compromised that I would work condensed hours. Since working these hours I have become so much more productive, up to date with work, smashing deadlines etc. Perhaps refuse to take work home with you for a week and see what that does?

Regarding your colleague, can you refer them to Mind, the charity? I don't know what area you're in but in my area you can refer yourself online to NHS talking therapies. Perhaps point her in those directions with a gentle "I am happy you feel you can confide in me, it's important to have trusted people in your life. These people are professionally trained to give you more constructive and long term help, I think it would be a great idea for you to reach out to them".

Most importantly though, remember that you just first look after number one. You obviously love your job and are well respected but if you reach burnout then you won't be any good to anyone!

user1471449040 Tue 06-Aug-19 19:55:16

Not a teacher, I'm in training.

Thinking about your friend. I recommend that you call the Samaritans or similar to get help for yourself with this. You struck me as in a vulnerable position yourself: stress/work until you got ill, you're not over it yet and have an even heavier workload coming up. Please be kind to yourself. Your friend sounds like she may need conselling and that is not your job.

annie987 Tue 06-Aug-19 22:33:32

I’m an assistant head and did struggle with some similar issues.

Emails - I only check while I’m physically in school and then on Sunday evening. I set my account so that they don’t ping through but I can still send emails if I need to. It was making me much less productive in the evenings st home as I’d be mid job then end up dealing with an email.

Colleagues and texts - I was a bit of a wuss here and made up a ‘new year’s resolution’ that my husband and I were trying to stay off phones in the evenings to set a good example to the kids. If work colleagues text, I don’t read them or reply until I’m physically in school.

These 2 things were so simple and have made so much difference to my working life!

CalamityJune Wed 07-Aug-19 09:26:54

This year I am determined to follow the Inbox Zero method to manage my emails in the hope that this will improve my productivity and email anxiety. The idea is that you schedule in email time 2-3 times per day, and do not check them at any other time.

Use 1-Click Quick Steps (if using outlook) to then deal with every email ruthlessly in one of the following ways:

ARCHIVE: emails that require no action from you. This will move the email to a folder, so that you could still search for it if you needed to later.

THIS WEEK: moves emails to another folder. These need to be acted on within the next few days, but can wait.

TODAY: these have actions required today.

You then deal with the items in your Today folder, starting with those that will take the least time, and setting aside time later to deal with any more time consuming things.

The email curfew thing works quite well. We have a rule that you can send emails after hours if it's convenient to do so, however you cannot expect a reply. People are encouraged to use the Delay Send feature. I do know however that this rule is not followed between members of out SLT who do expect eachother to be 'on' all the time. Hopefully your team culture is a bit more healthy!

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