10 Boundaries You Need To Set

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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How good are you at setting boundaries?

Many of us are ‘on edge’ or ‘on the edge’ but with a firm commitment to setting boundaries we can get the upper-hand.

Having the edge in teaching is what we all aspire to but unless we define our limits then our wellbeing is constantly threatened.

Establishing Boundaries

Knowing your limits is important and it’s a point Chris Eyre makes in his new book The Elephant In The Staffroom: How To Reduce Stress And Improve Teacher Wellbeing. Long hours are bad for us so imposing limits are crucial.

Chris cites research by John Pencavel at Standford University which states that once we hit the 50 hour mark then our productivity dips and we are less efficient.

Whilst this isn’t at all surprising, it does illustrate that humans have a limit and even if we think that ploughing on and going the extra mile is doing good, it isn’t.

Chris suggests we all need to establish clear boundaries and whilst this is often easier said than done, he recommends five strategies and I have added five more:

1. Fix Time Boundaries

Rather than focus on tasks we need to think more strategically and fix time boundaries. Rather than say, “I will work until I have finished my marking”, we need to set a time limit. Are you going to work according to a 7:30am – 6pm? Would it be better to chunk the time and work 8am – 4pm and then 6:30pm – 8:30pm? A task oriented mindset means time evaporates but limit the time and what gets done, gets done. Have a boundary of the day.

2. Fix Your Boundaries

Keep an eye on how much time you are working and aim to work less than 50 hours because anything over this is likely to be uncreative. Surviving the week means organising your hours and keeping the bigger picture in focus.

3. Plan Your Time Off

If you can shave the hours off your week then this should leave you with something unusual – spare time! The time you have available can be soon wasted though if you don’t plan what to do with it. You could ‘do nothing’ but planning something exciting, treating yourself and spending time with your family and friends needs to become a new habit.

4. Clock Off

Having a clocking off ritual enables us to separate ourselves from work and helps us unplug and go offline, e.g. 5 minute desk tidy and exit. Don’t hang about chatting with folks – leaving the building can be hard for some people. Have a finishing point and leave!

5. Email Boundaries

The French are on the case. They have passed a law preventing work emails after a certain time. Whilst we wait 50 years for this to happen in the UK, pass your own law and don’t check emails after a certain cut-off point. Senior leaders – if you value your staff’s wellbeing, leave your staff alone to enjoy their proper non-contact time. Only check your school email at school or during pre-determined times at home. Be strict with yourself!

To these practical tips we can also add a few more:

6. Parental Boundaries

It’s obvious that we need to be responsive to parental concerns and queries but there are limits. It is up to your school to have a policy for this and to make it clear the times you are available, best ways to contact you, what times are off-limits and advance notice to schedule a meeting with you. You aren’t 24/7 so if you get an email at 9pm on a Friday night, reply on Monday during school hours.

7. Pupil Boundaries

Pupils also need to know that you aren’t ‘on-call’ and contact with you is limited after school hours unless you are on site and it is an emergency. Limit email contact unless you want to be pestered and make clear that what needs to be said can be said in school hours.

8. Staff Boundaries

We all need to collaborate and work cooperatively together but we also need professional boundaries between each other. Some colleagues mix work and play, others prefer to keep the two well apart. When at school, respect each other’s space and non-contact time.

9. Family and Friends Boundaries

Family and friends are all-important to our sanity but we also need ‘me time’. Set boundaries around the time you are preparing and marking at home because constant interruptions will only eat into the time and things won’t get done. It’s essential to have at least some time to yourself so find even 15-30 mins to do something for No.1.

10. Emotional Boundaries

Teachers are caring people but we can’t solve the world’s problems. We have to protect our emotional intelligence by realising that we have a cut-off point and spending all night worrying about some pupils isn’t going to help them. We just can’t take every school challenge and issue to heart and turn our lives upside down and inside out in the process. Take a step back and try to safeguard your own feelings and emotions by deliberately being hardy.

And finally…

Work fatigue and work stress are closely linked to working long hours and a failure to set boundaries. If you have low levels of energy, experience poor sleep, or have a near permanent feeling of ‘being stressed’, some strict boundary setting will almost certainly help regain control and give you the edge.

If you have no boundaries, then anything goes and the first thing to go is often your mental health.

Don’t be a ‘Yes’ teacher, be a ‘No’ teacher and feel better for it.

3 thoughts on “10 Boundaries You Need To Set

  1. Thanks, this was the article I needed to find to assist empower our teachers and help them start the year on a positive but strong note.

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