Christmas holidays: Time for teachers to unplug from work

Teachers, listen up: this holiday season, don’t grade papers, don’t answer email from parents and students, and don’t think about work. You’ll do a better job next year if you do, according to a new study described in The Guardian:

A study of 90 teachers from across the UK by academics at City University, London, has found it’s critical for teachers stop working in the holidays to avoid burnout and exhaustion. Time off allows teachers to “restore their emotional energy,” the report states.

The research asked teachers to complete a survey at the end of eight weeks – capturing their feelings before, during and after the Christmas break in 2013. It found that teachers who continued to worry about work during their holidays were less likely to recover from the demands of the term, while those who satisfied their basic psychological needs (competence, autonomy and feeling connected to others) improved their mental health.

From the City University London’s press release:

They asked a group of 90 school teachers from schools across the UK to complete brief surveys at the end of eight consecutive weeks, capturing the period before, during, and after the two week Christmas break in 2013. The study was also replicated with a group of teachers in Quebec, Canada.

The study showed that teachers who continued worrying and ruminating about work during the Christmas break were less likely to recover fully from the demands of the teaching term.

The research team also found that teachers who were able to satisfy three ‘basic psychological needs’ – namely a sense of competence, autonomy and feeling close and connected to other people – during the Christmas break had much higher levels of psychological health. The effects of basic psychological need fulfilment were seen not only during the Christmas break itself, but also in the first few weeks of the new term in January.

The Guardian site also has some advice from teachers and why to unplug and what to do.

This study falls in the “not particularly surprising, but worth repeating” school of social science research. There’s a big literature on what sociologists and leisure theorists call “detachment,” which is essentially a twenty five-cent word for “getting away from work.” It used to be that jobs that you brought home were few and far between: agricultural workers, manual laborers, people who work in workshops or shops, factory workers, and others all had (and to some degree still have) pretty clear divisions between their work lives and home lives. You can’t bring an assembly line home with you.

But for service workers, detachment is not something you can take for granted: it’s something you have to consciously practice. And in a work culture that assumes that it’s good to be always-on, detachment is harder to practice.

However, all the research I’ve looked at— and these are studies now going back decades, involving some pretty imaginative data-sets, and across many countries— conclude that people who are able to put the office out of their mind for a period are better able to focus on the job, are happier and more balanced, and better able to deal with emergencies and the unexpected. A study of Israeli Army reservists found that even a month driving tanks or going on patrol was restorative.

The point is, getting away from work makes workers better at their jobs; and when you’re away, it’s far better to do things that are really engaging, and take your mind off the job. So put down the chalk, and go have a life. Your students will thanks you in the long run.

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