Teaching Practical Boundaries
Throughout these newsletters, and my other publications I have pointed out that all behaviour is driven by stress and stress is produced when we are seeking something to satisfy our needs or to protect our sense of self. It is in this latter purpose that boundaries function as indicators of safety and security. For the purposes of this newsletter I will focus on teacher’s boundaries. All too often teachers focus their attention onto their students’ wellbeing and habitually neglect their own health. This newsletter is about the need for teachers to develop strong boundaries and some easy techniques to implement them.
Boundaries are the space between you and the outside world. That is they define where you start in relation to all others and how that ‘relationship’ can generate stress. It must be noted stress is not all bad; we know it is required to motivate any activity but we are focusing on stress that hinders the effectiveness of the teaching. This essay is about having good professional boundaries in the classroom and in the school.
Having functional boundaries means accepting that we are separate from our students. We have our own needs, attitudes and values and that the students have their own emotions, needs, attitudes and values. The difference is that they are developing boundaries. You need to have your ‘teacher boundaries’ already in place.
We have all had lessons, well at least I had plenty when things were not going to plan and I was being stressed about it. This is the time when we must be totally honest in the appraisal of what is going on. (Refer back to the Newsletter of 10th July about the locus of control for a description of responsibility).
The following provides a template for the use of boundaries for you in the classroom. Of course these steps can be applied to all your life.
1. Recognition your Boundaries are being challenged
Be conscious of your feelings towards the class and the lesson. If you can sense your feelings are changing, becoming frustrated or worried your boundary is being challenged; this change of feelings is a ‘stress attack’.
2. Actively Stay Calm
We are well aware that if we become too stressed we lose our objectivity but be grateful for the initial onset because it alerts you that there is a problem.
It is important that you learn to quickly control that stress.There are many techniques to learn how to evoke a quick relaxation response. The use of neuro- linguistic programming is excellent for this however any short relaxation technique followed by the establishment of an associated cue (the anchor) will do.
3. Ask the Questions
- ‘What is really happening’? This is often not the obvious event.
- ‘Who is responsible’?
- If ‘me’ then I must take responsibility, take action to address the cause of the stress.
- If not ‘me’ then I ask a further two questions:
- ‘What is causing the attack’?
- 'What do I have to do to change this situation in the long run’?
4. Take Action
Assert your right without threatening the other person.You can use the statements:
- ‘When you …………’
- ‘I feel……………….’
The ‘when you’ is the time to describe to the student, or the class just what actions they are doing that is causing the problem. The ‘I feel’ allows you to let them know how their behaviour is upsetting you. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you really feel and finally the ‘because’ gives you the opportunity to tell them what are the consequences of their behaviour. This is not a time to talk about ‘punishments’ they will get if they continue to behave that way but the real cost of their behaviour, the loss of learning, etc. that is the outcome of their behaviour.
Or if the attack is much more serious or the students are not engaging in the process of solving the problem the more serious approach can be:
- ‘If you ………………’
- ‘I will…………….…..’
This is when you can spell out that if they behave in a certain way you will deliver a set of consequences. The decision on what to do is theirs but they will have no control over what happens next.
5. Let Go
Sometimes even if you have done everything possible to regain control of the class using the right techniques and with the best intentions but things are still not working.At this time you must seek to get help.
Finally there will be students whose behaviour is beyond the resources of your school. If after you have tried ever possible intervention at your disposal there may come a time that that student has to leave the school.
It is important for teachers to develop strong, healthy boundaries. It is not easy to manage the inter actions of thirty kids with all their problems and immaturities not to mention the additional demands modern education bureaucracy demands of all staff. However, strong boundaries will support your health and resilience and allow you to really enjoy even those most difficult students.