Does anyone else hear the word boundaries and think, "Ehhhh...I'd rather not." I'll be the first to admit those are my usual thoughts. I obviously recognize the importance of having boundaries, however, I think because of my personality it isn't a strength. I often have to force myself to stop bending over backward to help others, which in turn leads to major burnout and a variety of other not so lovely side effects.
Now that I just confessed I'm not an expert, let me share with you some practical ways you can set boundaries for yourself, especially if this doesn't come naturally for you. I'm going to focus primarily on how I create boundaries within the teaching world, but that doesn't mean these tips couldn't be helpful in other professions/areas of life.
I know we all often wear many different hats. We tell ourselves that we are a parent, mentor, counselor, coach, nurse, and of course teacher. But ultimately what we signed up to do was teach. Now don’t get me wrong, I recognize that we have to wear many different hats. But I think sometimes we are so burnt out because we aren’t doing the original job we signed up for.
I could write an entire blog post just about the roles we have in education that aren’t a part of our job description, but I won’t go there. So here are a few practical boundaries I have set up with my students, coworkers, and parents.
Boundaries with students.
1. I lock my door in the morning. In the morning we have planning time and many students arrive early to hang out and chat with teachers. However, I need that space to plan and get ready. I have students knocking on my door, but I don’t let them in the room with me. It’s ok to lock them out and use that time for what it was intended for, which was planning and planning only.
2. I let them share personal things, but I direct them to resources.
Thankfully, we have clinical counselors in our school who I can send students to. I love to hear my students' hearts and learn about them, but I can easily get burnt out from their stories and trauma. It is ok to direct them to a resource that can help them.
3. I keep my lunchtime for me.
This is another sacred time for me throughout the day. I use it to catch up on work or just visit with my coworkers. I know of many teachers who rarely have a lunch because they're busy running around or helping students, during this time. I keep this time so that I can have a break. It's not healthy to have weird eating patterns or create mid-day stress during lunch.
Boundaries with administrators and coworkers.
1. I tell a coworker when I can/can’t talk.
If I have a visitor during planning, after school, or anytime when I am trying to get work done, I will let them know if I can talk or not. I might say, "I can only talk for five minutes." I say this from the moment they come in my room. It is ok to not let other people monopolize your time. I love to catch up, chat, and just tell funny stories but it can keep me from getting my work done.
2. I don’t let emails dictate my time/priorities.
I don't have my email setup on my phone and I check it in the morning and halfway through the day. Unless someone tells me to check it, I don't have it pulled up. At previous jobs, I felt like I needed to have it up all the time and respond immediately. If you feel this way, don't let it control your time. It can be extremely distracting and super unproductive to have it up at all times. Set times that you check it and forget the rest.
It is also ok to take your time responding, especially if it is an email that is upsetting/difficult. I have a 24-hour rule for any email that makes me angry. I let it sit for a full 24 hours before I respond. It gives you time to process/think and makes so you don't respond emotionally and later regret your words.
Boundaries with time.
1. Leave the building at a certain time every night.
You don't have to say there all night long. I know this isn't a new concept, but we need to be reminded of it. Set a timer on your phone if you have to. Get out of your room and head home. The work isn't going anywhere and it doesn't make you a better teacher if you stay extra.
2. Let your weekends be for you.
This one can be particularly difficult to maintain. I struggled this a lot when I was new to education. You need that time to spend with loved ones, to rest, to relax, and to unwind. Claim that time for yourself.
3. Utilize the breaks in the school year.
Whatever your schedule looks like, try your best to let that time refuel you. It can be difficult to do around exam/midterm time when you assigned something large before a break, but you can let the work sit there. Again, the work isn't going anywhere and you're not a better teacher for grading during your break. Spend that time doing things that bring you joy with those you love most.
Boundaries with your money.
1. You don't have to buy all the things for your classroom.
I am guilty of this. I love to decorate because it brings me joy and I know my students (even though they're older) do love the way it looks/feels in the room. But you don't have to hurt yourself financially in the process.
As I approach my third year at this school, I feel like I have finally hit my max of items to purchase. I have all that they really need and more. I don't have to keep buying things. If decorating isn't your thing, you don't have to do it. :)
2. You don't have to buy the students all the things.
You are not responsible to provide them food, supplies, or rewards. You can purchase those items if you desire but that's not a part of your job description. They will be fine without those items and again, it doesn't make you a better teacher. I have really reigned it in with this area too.
As we approach this unusual school year, I hope you can take some time to create healthy boundaries that will work for you. You know yourself the best and you know what will be the most beneficial. Write these down somewhere so you can see them, reevaluate your boundaries as time progresses, and consider having a friend keep you accountable to these.
I believe we all need boundaries and thrive when we have them in place. Make this year your best one yet!