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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Burnout Or Balance. What Will You Choose?

By Jessica Cabeen, Jessica Johnson & Sarah Johnson — July 01, 2018 5 min read
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Today’s guest post is written by Jessica Cabeen, Jessica Johnson, and Sarah Johnson, co-authors of Balance Like a Pirate: Going Beyond Work-Life Balance to Ignite Passion and Thrive as an Educator (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2018)

Balance is a myth.

For anyone who states differently, this person is either enjoying a state of blissful ignorance or you will also find a mystical unicorn that many desire to tame eating grass off her perfect lawn and maybe a money tree of the largest redwood growing on his property.

However, we firmly believe that we all need to seek that elusive balance in order to live our best lives. For educators, we know there is a very real crisis in the calling because our profession is under fire. We cannot go long without seeing a headline tied to educators leaving the profession, teacher shortages, policy-makers dictating working conditions, or the intense coverage of school shootings. For those of you who need stats to speak to educators needing more balance, here are some numbers for you (Boogren, 2015):


  • Retention research shows that 40-50% of new teachers leave education during their first seven years.
  • Teacher attrition in the United States has grown by 50% since 1992.
  • On average, the length of a principal’s tenure at a given school is three to four years.

We could speculate about the reasons for this turnover all day long and read bodies of research that speak to the concerns as well. However, do we really need to do that? How far do we need to look to see the effects of burnout? Let’s be honest...the mirror.

Now, we know readers of this blog are highly dedicated learners who thrive on growing their intellect and sharpening their skills as educators. It means likely you are highly dedicated to your positions and you grow at incredible rates as professionals, always seeking more. What we fear is that it might also mean, you are at risk for a lack of balance in all spaces that require your intentionality. Dare we say, you may be out of balance and not even know it?

Let’s look at balance a little differently than you might be used to seeing it. Instead of framing it simply as work-life balance, we believe we need to go beyond that. Work and life imply a lack of complexity that is truly present in our lives and always ends up loading more into one side of the equation than we can possibly fit. “Work” means our positions. The concept of “work” might even fold in the ways we grow professionally. Pretty simple, yet the two word equation puts an awful lot of emphasis on that work space.

What makes up “life” in that simple equation? Is it travel? Fun? Family? What about spouses? Parents? Siblings? Friends? Grandparents? And wait. What about health? Diet. Exercise. Joy? Where do we find it? Is there space in this “Life” word to find time for what lights our personal or professional passions? Spirituality? All of a sudden, we can see that this paradigm is oversimplified. And it seems like we are forced to fit a lot of what is important into one side of an equation to try to make it 50/50, when in reality, that is quite impossible. Work-Life doesn’t seem to cut it.

What if we looked at balance in a more dynamic way in order to tackle it through a simple and digestible lens?

In come our Balance Quadrants! We believe if we are to seek true balance to be our best versions, we will need to look at it in four aspects of our complex lives.

When we talk about personal balance, we are referencing everything that really makes you who you are--what are the “titles” outside of your job, and how do you cultivate them? Are you a runner, a mother, a spouse, an avid reader? How about someone who practices yoga, or takes care of a parent in the middle place of life? Whatever defines you is what we consider your personal quadrant.

Defining positionalbalance is all about our day job. Are you an educator, an administrator? Are you an aspiring educator or looking for a change of role/position? Whatever you do that earns income or provides you financial stability fits in the position category.

In education we know that we never, ever stop learning. Professionalbalance is just that--how are you continuing to learn, grow, and enhance your knowledge and understanding of your role? Learning is not just about going to class; this learning can come from books, blogs, podcasts, conferences--any way that you relate to and can increase your knowledge that impacts the school and students you serve--that is professional learning.

Finally, we want you to thrive with your passions. What are your sparks, what ignites your flame, what are you excited about...nervous for...or afraid to try because you know if you do you will love it? Creating a blog, playing in a band, painting, whatever it is that fills you completely up! Our passions are the compass we need to keep our quadrants in balance, and to continue to find joy in this journey called life

In Balance Like a Pirate: Going Beyond Work-Life Balance to Ignite Passion and Thrive as an Educator (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2018), we delve into these Balance Quadrants and offer opportunities to reflect, calibrate, set goals, and encourage transformation. It is more than we can do in one blog post, but we believe deeply in this message for our fellow educators. We hope you will consider how looking at balance differently might allow you to free yourself from the idea that balance is only a myth and that your version of it is impossible.

Instead, maybe you’ll consider how you can seek it regularly, in increments, and in meaningful ways to rebuild passion, focus on purpose, and define priorities more clearly.

In the End:
However you define balance, the truth that we all need to get real with ourselves and find ways to seek healthier balance is clear. Whether you are starting out in education, engaging in a new position, growing your professional learning network, adding to your family, or traveling through the trials of loss---there will always be something to come in and tip our scales for us. Sometimes, all it takes is a light wind to blow us over when we have too much packed in. If we are intentional about our focus, we can bounce back from those moments a lot better.

We hope you will continue learning with us and join our #BalanceLAP community by following @BalanceLAP on twitter or joining our Voxer group. Our deepest hope is that we can develop a community of support so we can all thrive in this noble and incredible profession to be the best versions of ourselves for our families, staff, students, and communities.

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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