Work/Life Balance

I recently went on holiday abroad, taking my phone complete with school email with me.   This is one of the reasons I havent posted anything new over the last few weeks. While away I checked my email occasionally plus replied to several emails.   This got me thinking, was what I was doing wrong from a health and wellbeing point of view?

I have previously read various people writing about the need to establish a work/life balance with email often making an appearance among the discussion.    The discussion often including tales of notifications being received late into the night, or emails requiring urgent action before Monday morning being received on weekends.    Some have suggested schools should block or prevent the sending of emails in the evenings or at weekends or have suggested that teachers shouldn’t add their school email account to personal phones, adding it only on work issued phones.   

I did have a school phone for a period of time, carrying two phones, one for personal use and one for school use.   A number of years ago I handed back my school phone as having two phones added complexity and inconvenience. E.g., Having to decide which phone to use or which phone to answer? Deciding which apps were on which phone, etc. I also didn’t see the point of the school paying for a service and device while I was carrying a personal device which could happily meet all of my work requirements.    This was a personal decision and I note that I considered the data protection implications in making the decision.  For me it is also acknowledgement that I am not two people, a personal and a professional me, but am instead a single person with two linked aspects to my life, my personal and my professional life.  

The distinction between personal and professional lives is often made, for example on social media in having separate personal and professional accounts.    I have difficulty with this.   If I post something inappropriate or at least contentious on my personal account, it is all too easy to link that with my professional account and therefore my school, so what is the point in having the added difficulty of managing two separate accounts?    In the real world my professionalism can be held to account for my actions during my down, or personal time, and I cant then say “but that was my personal account” so why should social media be different?    Now there are some data protection implications here however that’s a whole other post.   Let’s for now leave that issue with the fact, if I had a separate professional account, it would identify as being me in my role as opposed to belonging to the role, an organisational unit within the school or the school itself.   As such the account would still be, to an extent, personal to me, which only adds to view that maintaining separate personal and professional accounts adds no value.

But why did I answer my emails and basically do some work when I was on holiday?    I think part of the answer lies with the fact I am quite poor at resting.   I feel at my best with a to-do list and ticking things off.    I also feel invested, enjoyment and empowerment in my role.   It is a key and important part of my life so to dip into emails for a few minutes and pick off a few tasks felt more appropriate than leaving them for a week until I returned to work.    It was a personal decision.    And in making the decision I was happy to spend a few minutes on email however I was equally happy to leave a number of emails alone, to await my return to work.    If work/life balance is what I need to achieve, answering those couple of emails didn’t feel out of balance.

That said, I do always try to balance things out so I have set up appropriate Do Not Disturb timings on my phone plus adjusted the notifications settings to ensure I am not constantly drawn to check my phone outside of my normal working hours.   I will acknowledge I suspect I look at my phone more often than I should mainly due to my social media usage and the habits I have built up, however I am currently looking at ways to help me address this including stopping using my phone as an alarm clock meaning it no longer has to be in the bedroom in the evening and morning.

And I think this is where the answer to this situation lies.    It partly lies with the school to avoid and manage emails, and other tasks, such that it doesn’t encourage the sending of excessive volumes of email, or the sending of emails at inappropriate times.   This relates to the espoused expectations of the school in relation to email and communications, plus to the wider culture and climate within the school.   But responsibility also lies with the individual to ensure they do not contribute to the issue in their sending of emails to others, plus they consider the practices that work best for them, including if this involves answers a couple of emails while sat by the pool or looking out towards the sea on holiday.

And as a final conclusion, I did enjoy my holiday which is what matters!



During half term I was involved in #teacher5adaysketch for the 2nd time.   As part of the event I endeavored to draw something each day of half term.   Each day a separate challenge identified the subject of the drawing.

Given below are my sketches from the event:

My Hobby

Am more about watching sport than playing it sadly!


My Footwear (and ideal footwear)

Ok boring black shoes didn’t quite seem enough for a sketch


A Piece of Art

Have always wanted a big stone head for use as a classroom talking point.


Favourite film

Can you tell which film?


Drawn using computer or tablet

And finally my favourite drink!


This is an excellent event to get involved in as it highlights that, as teachers, we don’t need to be 100% engaged in teaching 100% of the time.   It is important to have some other hobbies or other focus points away from education.   It is important to try and reach a balance in life.

I have also found the event beneficial from a collaborative and social perspective as fellow educators from across the world contribute their artwork.    They also share encouragement and motivation.   I find this particularly useful in terms of my personal fitness as I am not the fittest individual plus lack motivation when it comes to physical activities.   Through #teacher5aday colleagues I am finding some of encouragement and focus which I need in order to build on my physical fitness albeit, I must admit, slowly.

I enjoyed 5 days of sketching and look forward to the next session.   I also hope to engage in some sketching outside of the #teacher5adaysketch event on a regular basis.

Keep sharing!


Fitness Fail!

Day 7 and almost a quarter of the way through 29daysofwriting.  Am actually quite impressed with myself that at this point I am still going.  Its also Sunday which means a little bit of a relaxing day, including the wifes birthday then all finished off with #mltchat and #sltchat at the end of the day.

My posting today will focus loosely on assessment as a result of the below message which appeared on my phone this morning:


So although I may be doing ok at #29daysofwriting my phone is unimpressed at my fitness levels.   I have never been a particularly fit person and recently I have noted how much I struggle in terms of the health and fitness aspect of my life.     As such this was something I was trying to build upon and up until this morning I felt I was making some progress, then my phone provided me with this assessment of my performance.

I liken this message to the large and often standardized tests which we provide students.   I would suggest that students may end up feeling as I did today;  dejected, de-motivated, disappointed and disengaged to name but a few words beginning with “de” or “dis”.

Prior to receiving this message I thought I have been making progress as daily I was seeing an upward trend in the amount of exercise I was doing.     My measurement of exercise being steps taken as recorded by my phone.    I had also built up a bit of understanding as to how my exercise developed over the week, noting that my worst performance was at the beginning and end of the week, peeking with my best performance in the middle of the week.


This brought the realization that maybe I would have to focus on the start and end of the week with focused activities to improve my performance, whereas in the middle of the week when things were going ok, it might equally be ok to continue as currently.

Again looking at students this daily or regular feedback might be akin to assessment for learning with assessment data provided frequently and students required to use the data to drive improvement.   At least in me, this regular data did not dishearten or de-motivate, I as attempted to improve.

This makes me things that it is important to consider the frequency of testing and assessment, plus how we frame feedback.   I will admit that this isn’t anything new.

The issue here though is how I can get back to exercising following the de-motivational impact of my phones message.   The good thing is I consider myself to be quite resilient although I will leave that discussion for a later posting.




Not another email!!


During the day things can be hectic and busy which leads to a focus on getting the things done in school that need doing and leaving some other things until later.    One of these things can be communication and in particular email communication.    In addition to this we quite often identify things we have forgotten to deal with or come up with great ideas when we are relaxed and no longer in work mode, as normally happens at the end of the day or on weekends.    This again quite often involves email and sending out last minute reminders or requests, and on sending out proposals or posing questions all via email.    Through this we can see large volumes of email being sent at hours outside what would normally be considered normal working hours.

If you are anything like me, when your phone or tablet bleeps to inform you a new message has arrived we invariably look at it.   This is independent of whether this happens during the school day or outside the school day.   The reaction could be described as learned behavior.       Having read the message you will then react to it with some reactions being positive and others not so positive.   This can then colour and impact on your time, which technically should be non-work time.   Recently I found myself not sleeping very well having read a particularly troubling email sent to me late into the evening.   I am convinced the reason for my inability to sleep being that my mind was running both consciously and subconsciously through the issue in hand and all the possible actions which could be taken to resolve things.   All this meant was that I did not enjoy the time I had available to me outside work and I arrived at work more tired than normal the following day albeit with a more detailed picture of my possible options in relation to the issue at hand.

We can try to address this through self control and choosing not to look at messages however after your phone has bleeped five times in an evening I would challenge most people to have ignored the phone.

I am conscious of the ever creeping of work into my home life so have been trying to do something about it.   I cannot control what and when others send me email however I can control my actions and hope that by doing so it will encourage others.

My current approach is to write my emails in the evening and on the weekend when I need to but to save them to draft rather than sending them.   I then send them in the morning of the next working day.   I do note, however, that were issues are emergencies, and by description this should be few and far between, I do engage in emailing out outside of working hours.

How do you manage email?

Reflections on 2014

As the New Year approaches I feel it is a good time to reflect on 2014 and all that I have done during the year. It is also time to start planning and to make my resolutions for 2015 and the year ahead.


So first of all the new year ends my sixth year in the middle east. This year I have attended 3 conferences in the GESS/GEF, Digital Education and Education Investment MENA conferences, presenting at 2 of them. My biggest reflection on these conferences is the lack of change in what is being presented, in what is being sold and on the reality on the ground. The conferences this year have felt very similar to previous conferences I have attended here in the Middle East in the five years previous. The messages presented in the key note speeches call for change including a need for personalisation of learning and for greater efforts to value creativity and to encourage student voice and leadership however this call is but an echo of the same call made in 2013, 2012, etc. The reality on the ground, in my opinion, is that little has changed. This being said I read similar calls for similar change on twitter from other parts of the world which suggests this is not an issue localised to the middle east. I believe this is an example of the fact that education is slow to change possibly as, as some people might say in defending traditional approaches, “we have done it this way for years”. My hope is that the calls for change must continue to be made and that they need to be echoed in greater numbers as each year passes but more than this we need ever increasing numbers of schools, school leaders, teachers and support staff to respond to the call for change and to do something about it, providing other schools a model to aspire to, or to inspire others towards action.


2014 saw me getting increasingly involved in using twitter, blogging, etc as I set out to build a bigger PLN and to share my ideas and thoughts but possibly more importantly on a personal note, for me to get ideas and views from others to help build and refine my understanding. Thinking back I think my plans for 2014 were grander with regards my PLN than that which I have achieved however this has very much been to do with studying for a Masters, ever demanding work issues and some personal trials and tribulations. I hope in 2015 to build on what I have done in 2014, including regular twitter use and involvement in various chats, regular blogging and possibly some videoblogs, however I do not necessarily expect to do more than this year, just to keep it regular and that brings me to my next point.


Work life balance! I have felt depressed over the last few days, as I have had some spare time on my hands. Having given some thought as to why this is the case, the conclusion I came to is that I am addicted to the fast paced work I do in providing consultancy services to schools and to my PLN, to twitter and my blogs and websites. All of this leaves little time for relaxing and for family. I have became that used to this pressure on my available time that when I have time I don’t know what to do with it and feel depressed as a result. My challenge for 2015 is to achieve a better balance, both for myself, for my family but also for my work as surely a more balanced and happy me will produce better outcomes.


2014 saw me develop a new data website for a project I work on requiring me to build on my understanding and skills with PHP, HTML, CSS and SQL.   I very much enjoyed doing this so my hope in 2015 is to identify a programming project I can get my teeth into although in relation to the work life balance issue above, this is low priority and therefore is likely the first thing I will put on hold.


I think this year I also realized that I possibly haven’t reflected much on the fact that I have now been working in education within the Middle East for six years. During that time I have seen large scale changes introduced with some meeting with success where others met with lesser success. As such I plan to do some reflection over the coming year over what it means to be an expat educator and also to share some of my many experiences, some good and some not so good.


Sitting by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai writing this I realise that the above may focus on what I haven’t done in 2014 and what I will do in 2015 but I need to also recognize what I have done and have achieved in 2014. In 2014 I have supported 2 new schools in creating their IT strategies, infrastructure, hardware, software and services from pre-construction forward. One of these two schools has been built and now opened with equipment as specified while the other is due to be complete early in 2015 for opening in Feb/Mar. I have also developed a number of bespoke database systems under very short timeframes with constantly changing system requirements.    I have supported a number of school leaders across a number of schools in leading school improvement including but not limited to technology projects. I have completed my masters programime while juggling many other tasks and requirements, both work and personally related. I have served as a conflict resolution specialist on two or three occasion where I have been required to act as an intermediary between schools and other professionals engaged in disagreement. I have delivered repeated very successful ICT Champions programmes to teachers from schools all over the UAE trying to encourage more uae teachers to engage in developing professional learning networks plus to question what they believe to be fact and/or the way things should be done.    The ICT Champions programme within the UAE is definitely something I hope to build on during 2015.


In 2014 I feel I have achieved a lot however not as much as I would have liked, but then again I have, and will continue to have, high expectations. Although I have high expectations I need to temper this will a realistic viewpoint as to what is achievable given other constraints, as it is important to achieve balance in what has been done versus what I wanted to achieve but was unable to. As to 2015, I hope to build on this year, to do more of what matters, less of what doesn’t, to share and collaborate with others and above all to be true to myself in all I do.


Happy new year, all the best and may you meet with health and every happiness during 2015.

Image courtesy of hadkhanong at
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