AnaZao works with West Holmes staffers on finding balance

AnaZao works with West Holmes staffers on finding balance

Trying to help teachers separate their work life from their social life is a big part of what AnaZao Community Partners is trying to do in connecting with several area school districts including West Holmes Schools.


Recently, AnaZao Community Partners has been conducting a series of five to seven meetings with area schools, with West Holmes Schools being in that number. In connecting with teachers, administration and other school staff, AnaZao has established some key methods in dealing with not just everyday stress in life, but also in dealing with them in the midst of the pandemic.

For this particular session, Mark Woods, executive director at AnaZao, focused on helping the staff discover the art of “Finding Some Balance” in their everyday lives.

“I couldn’t be happier with where we are so far,” Woods said of the sessions at West Holmes. “We had some folks be vulnerable and were willing to share their feelings, and our goal is to go into break-out groups where they can feel even more comfortable with cross-district sharing.”

Woods said they are in the midst of sessions with several different school districts, and it has been highly successful thus far, but he noted West Holmes has exhibited the biggest participation rate among all of the schools.

“That tells me that the district leadership is empowering them and encouraging them to get involved,” Woods said.

Woods said teaching can create many obstacles, and the job can be overwhelming at times when everything comes at a teacher at once.

Woods began by asking the staff what defines success at work. The answers varied, as Woods felt they would, and he went on to talk about finding a balance between work and life and finding a disconnect between school and after-work activities.

“Finding that balance between on and off school can be a struggle,” Woods said.

Woods said since the mid-1980s the term work-life balance came into existence. He noted the existence of a 40-hour work week is now nearly nonexistent, and the majority of teachers say they are putting in upward of 50 hours a week. He said studies have shown any weekly work total of more than 49 hours results in less effective work.

One teacher responded, “It’s hard to put an hour to it. I feel like I stop working, but my brain never turns off.”

Woods said it is common for school employees to fill their day with more and more work, something that is fairly common in today’s working world for many people, and with technology today, it is easier than ever to tune in to work at any hour, day or night.

Woods said it also is not easy for teachers to turn off their work and focus on family life because they connect with school families on a regular basis out in the everyday world.

Woods said of many people in general, not just teachers, “There are many people out there living quiet lives screaming of desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate that enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. In principle, work has become our identity.”

Woods went on to say that ideally, people will exist in jobs they enjoy, where they find fulfillment and can separate their work life with their family and social lives.

Woods went on to the topic of self-care, urging staff members involved in the session to focus on themselves and lavish upon themselves some time devoted just to doing what they love and enjoy. He said most organizations aren’t set up to create fulfillment for employees. That task falls directly on the individuals creating time for themselves and focusing on priorities on their own accord.

“We have to be responsible for setting the boundaries and expectations we have for our lives,” Woods said.

Woods said there are three types of successful workers. The “this can’t succeed without me” people, the “wholly engrossed” people and the “those who don’t select their own lives” people where expectations are heaped on them by others.

Woods said working long hours, inability to turn off work after the day, tying personal worth solely to work, strained relationships, always feeling behind, work negatively impacting one’s health and a lack of joy in life are all byproducts of an unhealthy balance between work and life.

Woods went on to say one of the main purposes of the series is to make connections across the district so staff members can recognize they aren’t alone and others are feeling the same pressures. He said being able to share those issues helps relieve stress and builds accountability while working together toward a common goal.

According to Woods, there is a need to elongate the balance time line, focusing on more than just the daily grind or week-to-week existence at work. He said stretching out the time line for a month or one year will reveal where one can find that down-time of social life existence that is needed to create balance.

“We fall into the trap of thinking that we will have that time when I retire or when my kids are out of the house,” Woods said. “We can’t have the goal of thinking we will enjoy life when we are old and tired. That’s not a good goal.”

Woods used the analogy of basketball to make his point. He said in basketball there are certain musts, and in those musts are various hoops that have to be filled in order to win. With fewer baskets to fill, it is relatively easy to fill them. But when more hoops are created, it becomes difficult to master the tasks at hand, as time, energy and support lack.

“For many, we keep adding hoops without adding balls, and the balance gets out of whack,” Woods said.

Woods then compared that to an NBA 3-point shooting contest where the contestant needs to fill one hoop many times and has a great support team helping by rebounding and feeding the player. Thus, it is imperative to have that type of support for people to properly fill their buckets.

“What it comes down to is are our musts really musts?” Woods said. “We need to assess that.”

Woods said giving up on perfection, organizing and prioritizing, digitally detoxing, and not taking every mistake as a personal failure can help alleviate some of the numerous buckets.

“If we don’t physically schedule time for ourselves, it probably won’t happen,” Woods said. “The right small changes can make a significant impact in our lives. We need to stay true to ourselves and also grounded so we can feel compassion toward others, but it doesn’t bring you down.”

Woods said his challenge for his listeners was for them to create some boundaries in their lives, with family, with friends, with church or social activities, along with some boundaries at work that will allow them to do their job well without taxing themselves.

Woods ended by noting teachers, bus drivers, cooks, custodians and administrative people can play a key role in encouraging children and was grateful to have a district like West Holmes exhibit the caring and nourishing staff that can guide kids to a better life.

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