Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. This seems to be the big topic of conversation these days. We all know we need boundaries – but how do you even set them?

Let’s talk about how teachers can set healthy boundaries – not just for their classroom, but also for themselves.

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are limits that we set to ensure we are emotionally and mentally safe. Boundaries can be rigid, loose, or… well, nonexistent at times.

Teachers tend to first think about boundaries in the boundaries we set with students, like sticking to the rules, expectations, daily schedule, and student-teacher relationships. These boundaries are so important in building classroom culture and managing behavior.

However, it is also important to think about your own emotional and mental boundaries.  

As educators and care givers, we take our work to heart and deeply care about our colleagues, students, and families we work with. Sometimes that caring and constant cycle of being needed can be wearing. It can be difficult for recognize that the absence of boundaries, when that happens, can be taxing to our mental health and wellbeing. 

Here are six ideas to think about that can be helpful as you set, refine, or create boundaries.

1. Maintain a predictable work schedule.

Set boundaries around your workday by establishing (and communicating) your office hours. What time are you available to respond to calls or emails, and when are you not? Designate work-free times, or a specific curfew after which time your work computer is shut off, even if there is work left to do.

2. Ask yourself, “Is this something that can wait until later?” 

We can often get swept up in completing to-do lists or capitalizing on any minute of free time that we keep going even when there’s an opportunity to stop. If you find yourself using every free second in the day to finish tasks, you’re likely not taking a moment to breathe, refill your water bottle, or just have a moment of quiet. If something can wait, let it wait.

3. Lean on your team and ask for help when you need it. 

We aren’t meant to solve everything ourselves! Think how you would respond if a friend or colleague asked for your help. You’d probably be happy to support them! We often think that asking others for help is a burden. You may be surprised to find that people are happy to help when given the opportunity.

4. Take a technology break. 

There’s a reason we give kids breaks from technology! We all know how it feels to come up for air after staring at a screen for too long. Technology breaks are an important boundary that can help us perform better throughout the day. Even better than occasional technology breaks? Scheduled screen-free time.

5. Take care of yourself. 

 You can't give what you don't have. Do yourself a favor by making a schedule for self-care, and then honoring it. Healthy boundary setting looks like: “Sorry I am not available at that time. It is my scheduled exercise hour.”

6. Don't say yes when you really mean no. 

If you ever have that icky feeling in your gut that you really, really can’t do something you promised to do, or you really, really don’t want to go through with something… listen to it. But even better, try to avoid it. You can do this by listening to yourself (and your body) when given opportunities. Deep down, you know when you really want to say no. So don’t say yes.

Ultimately it is up to us to keep these boundaries so that we can continue to show up as resilient and compassionate educators. 

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