Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No.”

Taking on new responsibilities is critical to career success, but don’t risk your time and sanity.

Have you ever been asked to take something on that you don’t have time for? Sometimes we end up still agreeing because as educators, we always want to take on more.

While taking risks and responsibilities is important for career development, managing yourself and your time is just as crucial. All educators—from new to experienced—are susceptible to burnout.

In the beginning of my 17-year career as a teacher, I found myself saying “yes” to everything, and my classroom suffered because of it. I realized how burnt out I was when a parent of one of my kindergarten students told me her child had been storing her socks inside of her desk. Was I really so distracted that I didn’t notice a sock hoarding habit had entered my classroom? From that moment on, I became determined to focus more on my classroom and manage the extra tasks I was taking on from others.

To cut down on the additional responsibilities I had been taking on, I used the steps below to decide what I finally needed to say “no” to.

  1. Fully understand what people are asking of you.

Always ask questions when some asks, “Can you do this?” Make sure to fully understand the request, so you don’t commit to something that is out of your wheelhouse. Some sample questions include:

  • What would this involve?
  • What kind of meetings would be needed?
  • How much time do you expect this commitment to take?

By fully understanding the process and time commitment, you’ll be able to make an informed decision as to whether or not you can handle the obligation.

  1. Prioritize the basics. 

If you’re a new educator and still learning your curriculum, that will occupy most of your time.  You’re learning how to grade, you’re learning the system, you’re learning to navigate the network and administration at your school. There’s a lot that you’re focusing on without you even thinking or knowing you’re focusing on it.

If you feel that an additional request would interfere with you getting to know the core of your job, then decline. Remind the person asking that you’re still learning the ropes, and that an additional responsibility may not be the best fit at this time.

  1. Decide in advance what you want to say “yes” to.

Before your coworkers and administrators can ask you to take on new things, decide your own criteria for saying “yes.” If you have a passion for sports and know you want to coach a team, put that on your “yes” list. By creating a (short) list of things you know will serve your students and career, you avoid agreeing to things that don’t interest you.

How to Actually Say “No”

So once you decide that you need to say “no” to something, how do you do it?

No matter what, always be respectful. When I choose to decline something, I always express gratitude to the person asking for thinking of me. Show them you appreciate being considered, but that you already have enough on your plate at the moment. Give them respect, but clearly say no.

If you’re genuinely interested in the request but know you don’t have the capacity, ask them to think of you the next time around. For example, if an administrator wants you to lead a professional development seminar that you’re interested in but don’t have time for, mention that you’d like to be involved next year.

Even though we want to do it all, saying “yes” to everything can hurt your career. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your class is saying “no” to things that won’t serve them. Since I cut back on extra commitments, I’ve felt like a better teacher to my students and better colleague to my peers.