This week we’d like to introduce  another perspective. The following piece is written by a teacher, Sarah Spittal. Sarah is one of those amazing teachers who appear to have super woman like capabilities. You’ll know the ones I mean; relentlessly passionate about their teaching career, a fabulous asset to your school both in and out of the classroom and at the same time balancing a home life of four kids (one who is still a pre-schooler) and a dedicated husband on shift work. Somewhere in between she fits in her own well-being … somewhere. People look up to Sarah as an inspiration! Hell – I look up to her as an inspiration! But I did wonder how this was all sustainable for her.

So it was with great surprise (and relief) to hear from Sarah when I returned from my sabbatical, that she had decided to make some changes. I came back to school with a whole heap of new thinking as to how I was going to make my job more sustainable. Sarah had been doing her thinking as well, and so I asked her to write down her journey to share with you. Her journey is well worth sharing because her words are relevant to teachers and principals alike.


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“I’ve been a teacher for many years, and fully understand the demands of the non-contact side of the job – admin, paperwork, student profiles and assessments by the truckload! On the daily! Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, so thank goodness for the late hours, when the kids are all in bed. The only thing THAT impinges upon is sleep – and 6 hours is the same as 8, right? I also work in an amazing school where everyone is as hard-working as me. Everyone takes up extra responsibilities to provide opportunities for the children we teach, everyone goes the extra mile. So great!

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard from a couple of hard-working colleagues that they …..DON’T TAKE WORK HOME. But how?…..seriously, HOW?? With all that needs done?! I’m embarrassed to admit that I wondered whether they were doing everything they should, to the high standard required in a hard-working school such as ours. 

I decided to question them about this further and my only revelation was that they had some sort of separation between home-life and work-life, and the latter was not (to the best of their ability) to infiltrate the former. 

So very idealistic, but achievable? I wasn’t sure. All I knew is that for me, the latter was very definitely infiltrating, invading, affecting and intruding on the former. And I needed to change this, for my own mental health and well-being. I had officially been diagnosed with ‘anxiety’ and I did not wonder why.

I needed to give it a go. With no tools, just an ideal.  I made a few key decisions. 1) I would try, to the best of my ability, not to bring work home after school, 2) It would be OK and I’d still be a good teacher, 3) I would still do all my work to a high standard 4 ) I needed an out – I could go back to the way I was doing things if it didn’t work out. 

I started at the beginning of Term 2. I didn’t bring my usual teacher basket home on the first day. I had a lovely evening with my family and slept well…but knew it was only day one. Then I was three days in, and the basket stayed behind my desk for the night. Before I knew it, I was a week in and wondering how long I could keep it up. All the paperwork was done and the meetings attended. And I was leaving work feeling free each day, rather than wondering when I was going to squeeze in my work between the demands of my 4 kids and the domestic stuff. I even picked up a sport! Something that would tick another box in the well-being department, and something I would never have thought I could possibly have time for previously. 

So what did I change? Small things really – I work through a big chunk of my lunchbreaks, stay focused before and after school, use CRT’s more efficiently, prioritise work etc. I still work for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to help me focus and direct the week. I believe I work smarter, not harder…

But the biggest thing, the ‘secret’ to maintaining this, for me, was to shift my mindset – from believing that longer hours mean I’m hard-working, that bringing work home daily means I’m hard-working, that telling my colleagues how hard I worked the night before is hard-working.  That in fact, the only thing about hard-working by that definition, is that it’s HARD. And I seriously wondered how long I could keep it up, and whether it was worth it!

It is now part-way through Term 3, and I’m keeping it up! I’m proud of myself and would happily challenge anyone who thinks I’m not doing my job well. It’s taken the test of time to be sure. With teachers chucking in the job regularly, due to workload and stress, I am hopeful that the ‘hard-working’ culture shifts soon, that more people make that separation and get their lives and mental health back.”

Sarah Spittal


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We are now eight weeks post sabbaticals and that time has simply disappeared! Both of us have current change goals that we are working on, and for your entertainment, we’ve written a short update on how it’s all going. Does the theory work in the “real” world?

It’s Week 8. There’s two and a half weeks to go until the holidays. I’m sure that I’ll make it, but I’m beginning to get pangs of “too many mountains to move” and it really does seem a long way off. Of course I will get there, and these feelings will be gone sooner than later, even if it is two weeks.

Time then to review the plan that I had in place to help me get through the term.

I started the term, as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “…serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense”. It’s a good way to start any term, and, let’s face it, any day. But this term was special because this was the term that I’d come back with a super power – a whole term of sabbatical behind me. I was more ready than I’d ever been.

So how has it gone?

As I’ve written in our other posts, I decided to focus on three things.

Firstly, I wanted to leave each day and be done with it. I didn’t want to take the niggling, creeping insecurities of a job not finished home with me each night. Instead I wanted to look at each day from three points and base my own judgement of success on these.

These were; Engagement with children, My own well being at school (using the Mental Health Foundation Five ways of Being) and Relationships – how have I built relationships with my people at school. It seemed simple.

And for 6 weeks it basically was. I kept a record each day of how I was doing, simply highlighting (literally with a highlighter) three icons that represented my focus, which I called my constants. 

As the term moved on I began to notice that of the three constants the one that began to fade away was my own well-being at school. It makes sense, engaging with the kids and keeping up relationships with everyone else saps the life out of you. These always come first in a school, and unfortunately the “looking after myself” component of my constants was the first to slip.

Ironically though, my well-being at school is the key thing that should fuel my drive to take on an energetic engagement with our tamariki, and to foster these great relationships that I so value!

Secondly I wanted to work on my mindset. Mantras such as “I am here because I want to be here”, “I come here every day because I want to help people” and “I get excited by the daily buzz of the place” were placed strategically as reminders around my office. Little label reminders for me and for me only.

As I found my school well-being plan diminishing I also found my mantra heading south. Recently old mindsets have made themselves comfortable again. And that’s not good.

The good thing is that it’s week 8, and I’ve taken the time to review where I am. I haven’t let this run for too long. So I’m going to refocus on my school well-being. I’m going to promote this to my staff and I am going to make a key differentiation.

There is a difference between your home well-being and your school well-being. Up until now I have confused them. They are equally important, but too often we talk about well-being for a principal as being those things we do when we leave the school grounds. That is well-being that we do for our whanau and for our private selves.

But what about re-thinking how we look after ourselves when we are at school? So I’m heading back to the Five ways of Being. I’m going to look at this as the major priority for the next two and half weeks. This I believe will see me make it to the end of the term, with energy to spare. 

Thirdly, I cut out coffee. Prior to sabbatical I could easily clock up 6 coffees before interval. Don’t ask me how many more by the time I left school in the late afternoon. I now have only one at breakfast and a couple of teas throughout the day. The big difference I’ve made is the addition of a wonder fluid. You might have heard of it. It’s called water.

Plain old tap water at that. I’ve found that whereas coffee sped me up and my day ran at a million miles an hour that ended in a fitful sleep, water tends to slow me down. As a result I’m finding personally that my days aren’t nearly as manic and my sleep is much deeper. Yes toilet stops are more frequent with the increased water consumption but it does get me out of my office more regularly! 

In a future post I’ll be back to review how things got on.



My current  goals are all aimed at picking some “low hanging fruit” that have the potential to help me spend more time on what we are calling the “important” work and have more energy to do it.

Firstly – The way I handle email

I chose this one because email is like a time sucking monster that stretches my working day at both ends, diverts me from the important work, and just never stops coming. My solution, let go of the  FOMO¹ and put some boundaries around the stuff!

The first thing I did was make all my email come to one place so when I did check it, I had a single stop to make. I’ve got three addresses that I check. My solution was to use Microsoft Outlook for all three (one’s a Gmail account) and add each of them to the favourites so they were super easy to check. This move has been brilliant – wish I’d done it years ago. 10/10 so far.

The second thing I did was set three times daily when I will check mail; 9:00am, 11:30am and around 2:30pm. To avoid temptation, I had to turn off all alerts and close the email window. I chose these times because each works around other predictable daily school events – this limits the time available. Can give this a solid 8/10 currently.

Secondly – How I get to the important work (or not get to it!)

My plan here was to use the “batching” strategy that we explained in The Forty Hour Principal. In a nutshell, it involves creating a regular block of time, with no interruptions, where you work on important tasks. You need your team on board with the plan so they help you protect the time.

There have been a few ups and downs with this part of the plan. Some days are simply impossible from the very start, and some look like it’s going to work right up until the time you close your door, then bang, a mini crisis pops up or something time critical takes over. When I manage to use the time as planned it is brilliant – I feel purposeful and productive and there’s a real sense of calm that comes from it. Definitely there are some tweaks to make, but over the eight weeks, I think a 6/10 – maybe nudging a 7/10 since today’s Friday.

Thirdly – Fitting regular personal fitness into each week.

Sketchy is how I would describe progress on this one.

In my defense, I did create what looked like a pretty solid plan at the start. I looked at the ebbs and flows of a ‘normal’ week and targeted forms of exercise into the times that looked like they fitted. For example, on Mondays I’m going to be home in the evenings so scheduled either some time on the spin bike or some stretching. On Wednesdays there a bit more freedom so either a run or a bike ride. Etc.

But . . . the fluid nature of life has meant that my scheduled plan has regularly taken a hit. It takes real discipline to prioritise fitness in the face of many competing demands for time. However, I know that this is an area that can’t be ignored and my intention is to re-tweak the plan in the holidays and toughen up on where I set my personal priority bar. Can’t afford not too! 6/10 as at today.



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¹ Fear Of Missing Out