Teacher wellbeing: 5 ways to avoid decision paralysis

Stuck between choices? Is time disappearing while you dither? Louise Turtle offers her tips to help teachers be decisive

Teacher wellbeing: How to avoid decision paralysis

It’s normal to be thoughtful about the decisions we make.

It’s good, in fact, because our work impacts the children we teach and the people we work with. 

However, when we have to make decisions quickly under pressure, we can start to feel the burden.


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Making calls in busy classrooms, dealing with decisions for trips, projects and planning can become overwhelming. 

Sometimes our response is to avoid or delay decisions.

Teacher wellbeing: the risk of decision paralysis

If we stop moving forward completely and even small decisions create anxiety – that’s decision paralysis.

It can take countless forms, like when deciding whether to start with marking or planning prevents you from doing either.

Or when you spend so long wondering whether to stay at school or go home and work that you end up staying late at school and then have to work at home, too.

Or if you can’t decide what grade to give a paper, so leave it, and then give it an arbitrary grade at the last minute. 

At its worst, decision paralysis can become a real strain on your mental health. 

However, if you’ve noticed that you are avoiding or delaying decisions, here are some ways of nipping it in the bud:

Take a break

We often find it hard to make a decision because of the importance we assign to it. We worry that we are going to let someone down or, worse, we know the risks of all of our options and all the outcomes seem terrible.

Take steps to regain perspective. To teach at your best, you need to be calm and clear-minded. Therefore you need to take a break.

You might not feel that you have time for one – but try and take an hour or a weekend to do something you enjoy. Shop, run, see friends – remind yourself about other things in your life that are important to you.

Ask for help

It may be that you have too many decisions to make or the decisions are too big to be made on your own. You might just need to discuss the options with someone else to get you started. 

If a choice is going to affect your lesson, get your students to vote between your two best options.

However, if you are finding your decision paralysis debilitating (if it’s escaped into your personal life, it’s serious) do ask a manager or mentor to support you and redistribute some of the tasks that require big decisions.

Prioritise

What are the important choices you need to make? Write down the most important three, and the three that are most time-sensitive. Start with those.

Identify your options for each. This may be enough to help you decide. If not, try writing a pros and cons list for each option.

Set a time limit

After you have a list of those most important choices, you’ll probably have more piling up.

For low-stakes choices, identify your options and give yourself a time limit. For a bigger decision, don’t give yourself more than a night to sleep on it, otherwise it will start hanging over you.

Pre-make decisions

To avoid decision paralysis, pre-making decisions is helpful.

It saves you space to make the pressing decisions that come your way unexpectedly. You can create routines around when you do things so that you aren’t continuously reacting.

For example, Monday is marking day, Tuesday, planning, Wednesday projects/responsibilities and so on. 

Louise Turtle was an English teacher in Birmingham, and has recently moved to the US, where she is mentoring high-school students. She tweets @LouiseTurtle 

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