Welcome back to a new school year. Chag Sameach! As much as we love all of the Jewish holidays and celebrations, we are also eager to be in school 5 days a week to start establishing and reinforcing a more consistent routine. This is the perfect segway into today’s blog post topic – Setting Boundaries. This will be part one of a two-part blog post. This first blog will focus on what we mean by setting boundaries and the second blog post will focus on the OJCS behaviour expectations policy using the Collaborative Problem Solving approach. Our reintegration theme this year during pre-planning week with teachers, during the Middle School retreat and in individual classrooms this year is (re)building community. In order to build community classrooms and a community school, we must have clear and consistent boundaries. Luckily we have shared language at the OJCS through our North Stars and Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of Happy Kids from The Leader in Me, but it also goes beyond that.
As I have popped in and out of classrooms observing students over the past few weeks, what I’ve been thinking a lot about is structure. What is apparent is that when students know, understand, collaborate on, buy into, and respect the expectations, the classroom environment is calm, engaging, and ready to foster healthy and life-long learning. Setting boundaries is critical in helping students know what they can and can’t, should, and shouldn’t do. Can we blame a student for standing on a desk, pushing a friend out of the way, refusing to do work, walking out of a class, interrupting a teacher or peer, colouring on a desk, or speaking disrespectfully to someone in the room if we have never set a boundary to indicate what the community classroom expectations are? One could argue that yes, students should know innately that these behaviours are not acceptable in a classroom but why leave it to chance. And more so, without the conversation about setting boundaries, it is ambiguous and unclear what should and what will happen if these limits are not being followed.
Educators (and parents) for that matter, are often fearful of setting boundaries. There is an unsubstantiated worry that setting boundaries means our students/children will not “like” us. In fact, it’s the opposite. They may grumble, give us attitude or genuinely not love a rule or expectation, but trust me when I say, they like it a lot less when there are none. Rules, expectations, guidelines, limits, and boundaries give us a sense of predictability, control, and can even relieve anxiety, even if we may not be conscious of it. Recently, I was collaborating with a parent as we were dealing with a safety concern. She positions her job as a parent to her children in a way that really resonated with me. She said that she has always taught her children that she has four main jobs as their mother. To love them fiercely and unconditionally, to keep them healthy, to keep them safe and to prepare them for the world. I love this language so much and it’s such a beautiful framework in setting boundaries. It means that any rule, expectation, guideline that this mother implements can be justified in one of these main buckets. Setting a bedtime, limiting screen time and insisting eating dinner before dessert are boundaries designed to keep the child healthy. Saying no to an unsupervised party where you don’t feel comfortable having your child attend can be viewed as keeping the child safe. Signing a child up for tutoring or piano lessons despite pushback, asking them to empty the dishwasher or make their bed is about preparing them for the real world. The same holds true for teachers and setting the boundaries in the classroom. The teachers’ role is to listen intently, keep all students healthy, and safe and to prepare them for the next grade. All boundaries set can fit into these categories. The more explicit, fair, consistent and predictable we can be, the happier and more secure our students/children feel.
Here are a few simple guidelines to remember when setting boundaries.
- Make sure the expectations are discussed collaboratively and always explain WHY this boundary is important.
- Listen to feedback, be open minded and adjust accordingly (flexibility is key).
- Be clear with the rules and expectations and make sure there is a visual pairing (post the expectations).
- Review the expectations often.
- Setting boundaries should be presented in a positive manner (expectations are not designed to be punitive).
- Be consistent and always follow through (this is in bold because it is probably the most important).
- Celebrate successes when students are following the expectations (positive reinforcement goes a long way).
- Change and adapt the expectations as needed.
In the next post, we will discuss what happens when a student or child is having difficulty being successful within the boundaries. We will look at how to identify lagging skills and then use a collaborative problem solving approach to help teach and accommodate the presenting lagging skill.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What’s your strategy on setting boundaries? Do you agree or disagree that boundaries are important?