How to switch off from the classroom | Education Support Partnership

How to switch off from the classroom

Finding it impossible to switch off from work was a huge issue in our 2018 Teacher Wellbeing Index with many teachers saying it was the biggest reason they had a poor work/life balance. We look here at ways to switch off.

Do you find it hard to switch off from work? Lie in bed till the small hours - or wake in them - trying to do marking or lesson plans in your head? If this sounds familiar you are far from alone. Our 2018 Teacher Wellbeing Index found that 74% of education staff consider the inability to switch off and relax a major contributor to a negative work/life balance. Further 67% of professionals described themselves as stressed - for leaders this hit a staggering 80%.

Flip a switch in your brain

How can you switch off when your mind is constantly buzzing with marking, feedback, student concerns, data collection and other paperwork? You’re at work even when you’re not physically there. We can learn a lesson from our brains which never switch off - when we sleep they switch to a different activity. That’s why we dream. We can learn from our brains to switch to rather than trying to switch off.

The brain can’t switch off completely as it needs to keep the heart beating and the blood flowing so instead it switches to a different activity when we sleep. That’s why we dream. A kind of processing of the day; bit like a computer going into “sleep” mode or turning your screensaver on. Everyone dreams. Not everyone remembers their dreams but we do dream every night. That’s the brain switching to rather than off.

So if you’re one of the many education professionals who finds it hard to switch off try switching to something else instead. It can help to imagine there’s a switch in your brain that you’re turning to cruise control or flipping functions. This kind of visualisation can be useful.

What to switch to

Now comes the fun part. What activity are you going to switch to in order to “trick” your brain into switching you off from constant work worry? Flopping in front of the TV can seem an obvious and easy choice but be honest - how often have you watched TV after a tough day at school or college and not heard a single word? How often have you tried to read a novel only to realise the words are swimming in front of you and there’s no meaning to them? To switch to instead of off you need an activity that engages your brain the way dreaming does and blocks out intrusive thoughts from the classroom.

Listen don’t watch!

TV is very easy to ignore. So often in many homes it becomes moving wallpaper. You recognise the pictures and you know the words but nothing goes in. It glides over you because you’re mind is elsewhere. This is why radio is a superior medium; it makes you do just enough work to really benefit from it but it’s also much less demanding than work. Radio fans say they love the medium because the scenery is better. So try listening to a play rather than watching a drama on the TV. It requires just enough concentration to use up all the bits of your brain that might wander off.

There are also thousands of podcasts you can download and then listen to at your leisure whenever you feel like it. Whatever your interest, there’s bound to be a podcast about it.

Talking books

It’s a real treat to be read to. If you were lucky enough to be read to as a child, it’ll bring that warm feeling back which is partly why audio books are so popular. It also saves your eyes. You can listen in the car, on public transport with headphones or at home, even in bed. If you like them, thrillers are great as it means you’re not just listening but trying to solve a puzzle and that’s a great way to switch to rather than off. Puzzles of any kind are brilliant for forcing your brain into a different function. 

See a show

If you can afford it and live near enough to get there, the theatre is a better way than TV to switch to rather than off. Cinema may be a more intense, focused experience than the TV at home but it’s still possible to let it all drift over your head. In the theatre, there’s the simple politeness of listening to and paying attention to live actors. So you’re forced to listen and concentrate - and there’s the cost too of course! You want value for the ticket you’ve bought.

Find an absorbing interest

An outside interest that absorbs you is a brilliant way to switch modes in your head when you can’t switch off from school worries. Think about something that’s always interested you and see if you can incorporate that into something regular. Or think of this as a kind of Continued Professional Development that isn’t directly related to work but expands your mind. You work in education helping others to gain knowledge and experience; doing this for yourself for your own pleasure and development can be immensely rewarding and satisfying. And purely as an added bonus, it’ll probably help you in the classroom as you’ll feel more fulfilled and probably happier too. When time comes to change jobs or apply for promotion, someone who pursues their own interests and takes care of their wellbeing this way is likely to be viewed favourably. Interviewing boards like well-rounded professionals.

Learn how to play

Learning to play a musical instrument is not only enjoyable and useful it’s a great way to switch to rather than trying to switch off. If you can afford one-to-one tuition it can feel like a real treat - something that’s just for you and can be better than therapy. It requires concentration if you’re to master it and you can spend best part of an hour doing something entirely different from work and find you’ve used you brain and not thought about work at all.

You could also try learning a new language or picking up an entirely new skill. It may seem counter intuitive to take on more at a time when you’re so busy but actively relaxing by switching brain functions can work a lot better than simply trying to force yourself into a state of relaxation. So think of something you always enjoyed but have left behind and see if you can go back to it. It’ll still be there.

Top tips to switch to rather than off

  • puzzles are a great way to absorb your brain and drive out work worries
  • learn a new skill or revisit an old one
  • take memory tests - there are memory apps you can use to engage your brain to flip functions
  • plan your dream holiday
  • develop a programme for your continued personal development 

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, workload pressures, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.