The Collision of Work Life and Real Life

Being an educator is hard work. Our days are busy and filled with learning, laughter, and an enormous amount of tasks. The work is all encompassing and keeps us at school for more hours than we would like to admit. Being an educator is a labor of love, but how can educators keep a balance between our work life and our other life outside of work? Is a balanced life possible with the physical and time demands of our field?

Maybe striving for complete balance, an equal amount of work and play is not the answer. What if there existed another way to achieve wellness and give educators the opportunity for self-care in a field that contains much physical and emotional labor. Balance is often viewed in our work life like a scale. If we work eight hours we need to play eight hours. That is not the reality for anyone. The effort of trying to carve out this time only frustrates and leaves us feeling we have failed at work life balance.

True work life balance is not balance, but our view of work life, based on how we approach our practice as an educator. In the book The Visionary Director by Margie Carter and Deb Curtis they talk about what factors contribute to having a balanced work life. The book is based on program leadership, but all educators are leaders and their advice is helpful for all who work in the field.

The book shares how educators can approach their work life, with many tasks to complete in any given moment and throughout the day. Balance therefore is about being in the moment, knowing where we are going, having a vision for our work and creating it. Balance is created by focusing on one task at a time while juggling many tasks during the day. To complement this juggling act, educators need to feed the passions that inspire us outside of our practice. The time exchange is not equal rather it is a change of focus toward self-care and healing.

Another theory is that balance lies in mastery. In the book Drive by Daniel Pink he talks to Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about how children focus saying, “Children careen from one flow moment to another, animated by a sense of joy, equipped with a mindset of possibility, and working with the dedication of a West Point cadet. They use their brains and their bodies to probe and draw feedback from the environment in an endless pursuit of mastery.” They continue, “Children seek out flow with the inevitability of natural law, so should we all.”

The author’s thought is that at some point adults become embarrassed at the passion and joy for seeking flow we had as young people. As adults, we move away from seeking a flow state, a motivating state that balances us. The connection to our work life is where the real challenge lies. It is not our balance of work to play it is the connection we feel to the work we choose.  If educators had a different connection to their work would we have a feeling of balance in our lives?

Is there a way to achieve flow in our daily work and re-create a state of balance we once thrived on as a child? I have an idea. It is actually a big idea inspired by author Christine Chaillè and the book “Constructivism across the Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms.” In this book about constructivist practice, the author talks about Constructivist teaching as a continuum. I believe that enhancing our work with some of the approaches of constructivist practice will help any educator achieve more flow and a sense of balance.

The main approaches of constructivist practice include being an active participant in children’s learning, accepting that children construct knowledge, and when working together with children each child gains a different meaning from the experience. This means being open to possibilities as a co-learner with children and retaining our openness as projects we embark on work well or are a bumpy ride. Keeping an open mind and wonder for what the children are doing, thinking, and experiencing looking to make discoveries about the children each day. Becoming a reflective practitioner, an educator who documents the work of the children and then looks back to savor, learn from, and breathe in the experience. Finally, always be in a place of seeking, looking for but not achieving and end to the wonder and discovery of the work we do with the children.

Employing some of these ideas to our work will enhance our connection to the children and our practice, helping us live more in a state of flow. This does not mean educators do not need time away from work. All of us need time to be with our family, friends, and to explore hobbies away from our work life. The addition of more enjoyment and flow at work will make the time away from work more enjoyable as we look forward with excitement to re-engaging in the discoveries that we as educators and children are making together.  This is more balancing than being the ultimate leader, one who has to carry the burden of making sure all is right all of the time. Go with the flow and enjoy the experience of being present and working toward balance.