THE FIRST WEALTH IS HEALTH ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
1 ) The Switch
Not being able to switch off mentally, physically and emotionally from your work can have serious repercussions.
In my experience, a big difference between online teaching and teaching in a physical school environment is that it’s easier to switch off at the end of the day when you come home from ‘the latter type of school; kick off your shoes, and just relax.
There are complex reasons for this, of course. The main reason for me is that as an Eduprenueur I’m not just teaching. I’m also blogging, and creating content, courses, and eBooks. Sometimes I conduct creative experiments with free public online classes. I’m also marketing and networking on social media sites. Not all teachers have to do all of this all of the time, though it definitely goes with the territory. The good news is that I am fascinated with all aspects of the business. It is creative, inspiring and satisfying.
However, if I don’t maintain a healthy relationship with my work, the joy I get from teaching online will turn stale, my inspiration will fade and nothing will synchronize. I will also get physically ill from the strain. This is true in all walks of life, but online teachers have specific issues to address when keeping a health check.
2 ) Make Time for Yourself
Too much of a good thing is not always healthy. No matter how much you love your work, you need balance in life for peace and harmony, both mentally and physically.
I think that the more creative your work becomes, the more you are likely to be hijacked by obsession. This could be when you’re in your element at the peak of creative flow, or it could be when you feel overwhelmed, discouraged and cut off from inspiration.
To maximize inspiration and avoid burnout, you need to back off and take time for yourself. When you remove yourself from the compulsion to just finish the next chapter, design the next slide, or just perfect that video, you set yourself free. The sense of freedom is what you need to nurture conditions for your next creative adventure.
3 ) Welcome Distraction when Practicality is Knocking at your Door
Frustration will rob you of happiness. It will also make you less productive in the long run. When life happens, just go with the flow. It is extremely unhealthy to feed perfectionist tendencies when reality comes knocking at your door.
My personal responsibilities are also my reality check. When you have four children, you get used to switching modes of concentration and changing with the flow of the day’s events. Most importantly, you get used to switching off, letting it be, and trusting that the job will get done if and when you can do it.
4 ) Work when the Rest of your World is Sleeping
A very important health check is to take a proper look at your working hours.
A well-known nugget of wisdom in the English language is that “Early to bed, early to rise makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy and wise”.
Burning the candle at both ends and trying to work at the most hectic time of your day is like trying to meditate in the London Subway during rush hour. If you are doing this, make sure to set up a sensible routine and stick to it. It takes 30 days for a new habit to become second nature.
What I do to maximize my creative flow and avoid getting stuck is to work during my peak performance hours. For example, today, as I write this, my family is asleep. I wake up earlier than everyone else on Saturdays so that I can finish my work before their day starts. Online work is never-ending, but if my goal is to write one article, then I can feel satisfied when that is done. My mind is also clearer at this time, so this is a double advantage.
5 ) Enjoy a Fitness Routine
Physical exercise is extremely important if you are to remain healthy while teaching online.
Many online teachers complain of backache from too many hours of teaching online or sitting at the computer. Personally speaking, this doesn’t affect me. It may be because I am very relaxed so I don’t get tense in my chair. It is probably also because I have to run up and down the stairs 100 times a day doing housework or catering to my children’s needs.
One thing that I love to do is take a morning walk. When my kids are at school I take a long walk along the seashore. It is so beautiful and peaceful at that time of the morning that it’s tonic for the mind, body and spirit. You may not live near the sea, but you can and must find your own little piece of heaven. When I lived in the city I also enjoyed going to the gym.
6 ) Maintain Boundaries
It’s of vital importance that you insist on protecting the dignity of your work and set some ground rules at home. Failure to do so will result in chaos and emotional disempowerment.
Although I advised above that we should welcome distraction when we are in danger of working too hard, we also need to be clear about when we should not be disturbed. A major obstacle when working online is that your family may not appreciate the importance of what you are doing. Many work-at-home mothers complain that if they don’t leave the house and go to the office, their families will think that their online business is just a game or a hobby.I am not just speaking about women or families. Depending on your lifestyle, other things will also vie for your attention, or other people will try to judge what you do. Boundaries are for everybody.
When you are just starting out, people may not take you seriously. When I decided to teach online it was unheard of in my locality. Even today, if people ask what I do, their eyes may glaze over if I say that I teach online. It is a new and alien concept to people still living very traditional lifestyles. This is changing with the digital generation, thankfully.
7 ) Manage your Networking Wisely
This health check will balance your social/professional yin and yang.
Too much time networking is detrimental to your concentration, but avoiding social networks like the plague will wipe out your digital fingerprint.
The best opportunities that have come my way have been through networking and professional development. Therefore it is very unwise to lock up your webs of influence and throw away the key.
Train your mind to filter work-related posts and block out social sharing that will just be a waste of time. Follow social media experts on sites such as the Social Media Examiner for mindful advice on networking, or better still, read this wonderful book by Andre Klein called “the mindful guide To Online Living
Probably one of the hardest aspects of online teaching is maintaining an online presence without getting sucked into the whirlpool of social networking. To engage people online, you must maintain a mental backdrop of disengagement. This means that you do your job of running groups and pages without letting people eat up your time. Your message box must be respected. If you are a professional teacher you cannot have people, you don’t know, saying ‘Hi’ in your message box or asking you to exchange weird best friend sentiments. Healthy engagement acts as a ripple effect while the opposite is a whirlpool. How you manage networks will determine whether you surf or sink.
8 ) Find your tribe
Working online without a support network creates a very unhealthy sense of isolation. Do you have colleagues you can trust online?
To remain inspired and creative you’ve got to surround yourself with positive influences. This is something that I did naturally because of my positive attitude and appreciation of fellow Edupreneurs. My first collaborative online tribe was built on WizIQ with George Machlan and the Edupunks. The fun and influence has made a great difference to my work. The e-teaching community on WizIQ ensures that you are never alone as an online teacher. The WizIQ tribe also led to my building deeper professional ties on Facebook and other social networks. Personal Learning Networks are most definitely the apple a day you need to keep the doctor away.
On the other hand, a negative mindset, can cut you off and breed resentment. For this health check I advise you to consider your relationships with colleagues online.
- Do they inspire you or make you feel inferior?
- Are you happy for their successes or grudgingly envious?
- Do you give advice freely or hoard your knowledge?
- Do you publicly flatter from an empty heart or give sincere feedback?
- Do you seek reflected glory by hobnobbing with high profile professionals or do you want to learn from the best?
The healthy cure for all imbalances here is a natural flow of authenticity. If you take a good look at yourself and don’t lie to yourself, you will stop wearing masks and step out of your ego. This is the place of pure freedom and inspiration where colleagues feel the vibes of mutual respect. This is where trust is built.
I remember reading some advice from Kirsten Winkler which stated that you should ‘surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are.’ This is very sound advice as you will not go far by surrounding yourself only with people who know less than you do. Without challenge, online teaching is not healthy.
9 ) Know your Value
If you are too modest about your value on the educational market, you may find yourself jumping at every opportunity that comes your way.
Take time to study the market or get advice from an expert. Online teaching as a career covers diverse skill sets, and you may find yourself running in too many directions. The healthy thing to do is build up a brand that reflects who you are and then the right opportunities will come your way. It will also help you to target the right audience when networking.
10 ) Professional Development
Thinking ‘you’ve been there and done that’ will make you too cynical and jaded for this cutting-edge profession.
I feel wonderful when I’m learning new things and connecting with colleagues online. WizIQ helps us to do this easily as there are so many professional development classes (like this one) delivered to help teachers grow together. An amazing initiative happening right now is the MOODLE MOOC by Dr. Nellie Deutsch. It has attracted pioneering experts in the field, such as Martin Dougiamis and Stephen Downes to teach us more about massive learning opportunities online.
I hope that you will find these perspectives helpful. They certainly help me. A Happy and Healthy surfing, teaching & learning online!!