Much more often than I would like to admit, a little voice can be heard chastising me from the back seat of our minivan while sitting at a traffic light: “Better left unread than dead, Mom.”
In those moments I reflect and recognize I must do better—I am not modeling or practicing what I preach. I need more digital balance, and whatever text or email I am replying to can wait until I get to my destination. The phone goes into the glove box until I get home, with a firm digital boundary set.
What is Balance Anyway?
By Merriam-Webster’s definition, balance is a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance. To me, that means the amounts shift depending on what I need to keep me steady. We all want to be healthy, happy, and balanced, so how do we as educators do that when the digital realm often helps give us hope at work/life balance?
Go Ahead and Use Social Media
Part of our attraction to our digital world is social media. This is as important to us as it is to our students. Feeling connected is healthy, and when you are insanely busy, face-to-face interactions are at a premium with social media often filling that void. Interestingly enough, there is research that supports that this is more than OK for us and for our students. Studies in 2018 from the University of Missouri-Columbia and Common Sense Media demonstrate that participating in social media does not have significant negative impact on social interactions, and, in fact, teens are much more likely to say social media has a positive, rather than a negative, effect on how they feel. So, if your only way to connect with staff, students, family, or whomever is by using social media, by all means, connect—you are not going to be any worse for it! Send a Snapchat to your children before you leave your PTA meeting and perhaps catch them before they go to sleep.
Be Mindful of Your Messaging
Remember, we are striving for balance. Don’t put a higher value on our digital interactions over physical interactions. Our students are watching. What we do is as important as what we say. Are we only tweeting, sending email, and connecting over Facebook? Are any of your interactions with students phone calls, home visits, or one-on-one meetings? At our school we have instituted a “Let’s Disconnect Lunch Half Hour” for all students and staff. It’s non-negotiable. Even if students don’t want to eat, they must leave all classrooms and are not permitted to keep working. This truly was one of the most difficult culture-changing behaviors—and now we have students playing cards and sitting with staff eating lunch, and staff playing badminton, going for walks, and more.
Use and Model Digital Boundaries
Here are a few ideas I have used and shared to help tame my digital romance:
- Schedule your digital time: Since I schedule everything in my world, I now schedule my free digital time and my digital work time. This has helped me set limits, especially with Twitter (I can stay on there for days). Establishing these boundaries has helped me be more intentional and feel better about my balance.
- Send work emails only from your desktop/desk and not from your personal phone: This will do three things; it will minimize the amount of emails you send, increase the intentionality of your emails, and minimize your phone time from constantly checking your email (and prevent you from going down a digital rabbit hole).
- Charge your phone out of sight out of mind: In my office my phone is on and in my drawer. This way I am not prone to pick it up 40 times. Charge your phone outside of your bedroom at night, too, which will improve your sleep.
- Enable Do Not Disturb and turn off notifications: When applicable, use the Do Not Disturb feature on your phone and turn off nonessential notifications from on your phone and computer (you will be surprised how many things actually have notifications).
- Be mindful of the time you are on your device: Most devices have an app that allows you to monitor your screen time. Review it, reflect on how you can do better, set intentional goals, and openly model your goals.
- Shift your digital screen to grayscale: Since social media use can trigger a pleasure response in the brain, some suggest shifting your screen to grayscale to remove those positive reinforcements.
Love Yourself Enough to Give Yourself Grace
Balance is never the same formula, as the variables change. Balance for me may not be balance for you. This week you may have been a digital balance wreck—and that may also mean you ordered those flowers for your spouse, made connections with your students who needed a mental health follow-up via email, connected through social media with your brother, and sent a how-to video in Google Apps for Education (GAFE) for a struggling staff member. Today you are reflecting, giving yourself grace, and intentionally planning tomorrow’s digital boundaries. You got this!
How do you maintain digital balance as a school leader? How are you openly modeling the importance of digital balance and reflecting on your progress for your school community?
Kristina MacBury is principal at Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington, DE. She is an author, speaker, leadership coach, and advocate for school happiness agency. She is a 2018 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and in 2017 was named a Top 30 Technologist, Transformer, and Trailblazer by the Center of Digital Education. Follow her on Twitter @MacBuryKristina and visit her blog, educate4hope blog.