- High School
I recently read a terrific book, Boundaries: Where you and I begin, by Anne Katherine. The book has nothing to do with teaching, yet I increasingly think that it has everything to do with teaching. Teachers have boundary violations waiting to happen all around them. Our physical boundary can be violated when a kid pokes us, trying to get our attention. We can violate the emotional boundary of a child when we tell them that what they are feeling isn’t appropriate or reasonable. We all know about, and I hope have not seen, what it means to have a sexual boundary being violated. It is worthwhile and powerful to take a boundary assessment of ourselves. Where are your boundaries strong and clear? Where are they tissue paper thin or porous? Lets think through some common boundary concerns in the educational context.
Our students are the people we spend most of our time with. I hear people all over my building calling their students “friends”. I think this is a well-intentioned practice, but we need to remember that students are not actually our friends. For instance, when we unburden ourselves to them as we would a friend, we risk violating an emotional boundary. They are not there to comfort us. When we ask them to act like a friend to us, we risk relational confusion as well as the professional relationship we need to maintain and nurture.
Students need to know that we care about them, but that we are not their parent or peer. The love of caring and concern is present in our schools. We show our love through classroom celebrations, demonstrating interest in them, keeping our word, modeling respect, and the thousand kindnesses we show our students every day.
Boundaries can get pushed as we negotiate into which circle of friendship we allow colleagues. Kindergarteners are taught about their “bubble” and that they need to maintain their bubble of personal space. Nobody gets to get into your bubble, and you don’t get to invade someone else’s; this is a statement about boundaries and extends into adulthood and our professional relationships. If collegial relations extend beyond our willingness and interest, that is a boundary violation.
We are responsible for our safety and comfort and ought to have someone to go to when something is amiss. It rarely solves the problem to complain about the behavior of a colleague with another colleague; take it to your supervisor. A person with healthy boundaries will ask before interrupting someone’s process or consider emailing them before demanding their immediate attention. I am rigorous about tracking my agenda, but my agenda is my agenda and doesn’t have to be another’s. This is my exercise in boundary strengthening.
The care with which I write this paragraph points to the potentially delicate nature of the Teacher/Administrator boundary. Why delicate? Because my principal and assistant principal/evaluator read this blog. Hi Amanda and Cherie. :-) There is the kind of Admin who is all about the work: no emotion, all business, by the book. They are there for you in a pinch, help you when you need it, then leave you to do your job. This, I think, is what a strong Teacher/Administrator boundary looks like, be it a principal or a superintendent. My whole career, back to and including my college days, I have always been the music director of my friends in theatre work. I walked the boundary of director/friend for decades, and it was never awkward... unless it got awkward. When you are touring with a group of actors, you are not an actor- you are their music director. You want to fit in and be part of the family, but you are not completely part of that family. The phrase “It’s lonely at the top” exists for a reason. A school feels like a family, in that there is love, concern and relationship. And in a healthy family there are strong boundaries.
There is an image in our profession of that dedicated teacher who spends extra hour after hour doing work. They come in on weekends to decorate their rooms just so, they generate after-school activities, they are an automatic yes for every principal request. While they are clearly working hard and accomplishing their job, I would argue that they have a weak boundary between the rest of their life and their job.
I am working on the “no” word... it’s not one of my strengths. I’m a hard worker, but am starting to recognize that I am working too hard. What behavior are we modeling for our students when we never say no? I argue that one of the most important skills in college and career preparation is finding that balance between work and not-work. How are we teaching our students to recognize that? This is why I read Boundaries (see above) in the first place - because of this paragraph right here. I work so hard at my job and am so hooked on the adrenaline induced by my go, go, go, attitude, that when summer hits I am left depressed and directionless. There is a breakthrough for me here, and I suspect for many of you too.
So where do your boundaries need strengthening? How are you modeling for your students the need to find balance? Where does your job end and the rest of your life begin? If you have trouble with that last sentence, please share with someone about that.
- Social Emotional Learning