Respecting Others' Boundaries
As mentioned in previous Newsletters your boundary is that place where you intersect with the outside world and in most discussions, we focus on how you can protect yourself from assaults. Although boundaries include physical threats, in this context we are really talking about social attacks. However, in this work we will include a discussion on our responsibility to not violate another’s boundaries.
This work is specifically for teachers and school executives dealing with children but the principles apply to anyone who supervises others.
One of the determining factors regarding relationships and how negotiations take place is the relative position of power. Where students are concerned the teacher enjoys a definite power advantage. They are the official representative of the school, the education department and government when it comes to dealing with kids. If they make a request the students can assume that request is backed by all those who support the teacher.
Schools are a place of learning and teachers rightly challenge kids to acquire an understanding of that academic material. At that time, the teacher has studied that material at a tertiary level while for the child it is their first exposure. It is easy to dismiss their attempts if you are more interested in inflating your ego then supporting that child’s emerging understanding of the work you present.
From the perspective of the students that position of authority allows you to be part of the ruling faction in the school. The fact that you are part of the ruling elite gives you a type of status that infers more power and authority.
All children are dependent. The journey from early childhood on to graduation from the schooling system is marked by a steady decline in that dependence. Therefore, the younger the student the hungrier they are for validation and affection. Affection reinforces their needs to belong in the group and validation confirms their value to that group. These are necessary building blocks for a strong and robust sense of self for the adult you.
The core of our work has always had as its main focus helping and dealing with difficult students. Like all children, students who have been subjected to abuse and neglect hunger for affection and validation. For these children, the age they are is not as important as the position they find themselves on the development of a strong sense of an authentic self. I have seen children in their mid-teens who crave for affection and validation, a time when for normal development this need would be diminishing.
This desire for approval make these children easy to disappoint and the failure to provide appropriate affection and confirmation of their worth is a covert form of abuse.
How do you check that you are not violating the student’s boundaries? The following questions of self-examination will help you decide:
1. What needs are being met by your action?
When you are concerned about what you are doing, the best thing to do is examine the drives you are satisfying by that behaviour. Just as you experience levels of stress when others are coming up against your boundary you will, or should get the same feeling sensation if all is not going well at the frontier of yourself. That’s the time to examine just what is going on.
2. What are your responsibilities?
In your role as teacher it is incumbent on you to deliver consequences for behaviours. This is at the heart of your professional role and so your interventions regarding the behaviour of others should only be within the domain of your responsibilities.
3. What are others’ responsibilities?
Just as you have a defined area of responsibility so do others, including the students. It would be wrong if a child misbehaved and you did not deliver the appropriate consequences, perhaps you thought someone higher up the school hierarchy should do that work or you didn’t think it was your job to correct the child. The fact that the child did not get a consequence does a great deal of harm to the development of strong boundaries in that child.
4. How would you like others to judge your behaviour?
The final question is really, would you behave that way if it was in full view of others. The disapproval of our peers is a most powerful motivator. Rejection, in a world sense is life threatening and so when under the public spotlight the drive to act in acceptable ways is extremely powerful. When you are in a position of power and away from the public view it is easy to forget your responsibilities, and take short-cuts to get kids to confirm. The real question is ‘am I doing the right thing?’
A good way to protect yourself is to refer to the following ‘check list’:
- Act as if everything you do is under complete scrutiny
- Act with complete fairness – have no favourites
- Keep everything available for review – keep records of your behavioural interventions
- Do not use personal emails with students, beware of social media – this is an extremely dangerous area for a teacher. Remember when you push that ‘send’ button, your message is potentially all over the world, for all time and you can’t get it back
- Get consent for one on one meetings and hold them in school and in business hours – never take the chance of interviewing students in areas or times that others can misconstrued or the student can make allegations you can’t defend.
Treating others’ boundaries with respect is a difficult thing to get right all the time and despite these suggestions above there is no real, set in concrete rules. For example, should you ever touch a student? Of course, there are times when it is really appropriate and professionally proper to support them when they are hurting but that touch must be appropriate. Eventually it comes down to your professional judgement and if you have the best intentions you will learn to be that real ‘significant other’ students rely on as they make a safe transition into becoming their adult, authentic self!