Setting Boundaries To Become An Optimal Educator

Boundaries create solid lines for everyone to respect, and allow for professional conversations to take place about tough issues. They give everyone a break at times, so no one has to feel drained or over-drawn. Boundaries allow people to take a step back and assess situations without being reactionary.

So, why are there teachers who find themselves answering demanding emails at all hours of the night? Teachers who feel so drained they can barely function throughout the day?

Fear.

Teachers fear that by setting boundaries for the parents demanding special accommodations for their child, that the parent will write in to the school and get them in trouble.

Teachers fear that setting boundaries on the demands of admin outside of their work day will have severe repercussions for them later down the line.

Teachers fear that setting boundaries for overly needy co-workers may damage their otherwise great relationships.

Teachers fear that setting boundaries means that a student will slip through the cracks, if only they had exerted that extra effort.

Teachers fear that setting boundaries for their family means that the distance between them will grow ever greater, the exact opposite of what they want right now.

Teachers fear that setting boundaries for themselves means that they won’t be a good enough teacher/spouse/parent/friend/employee.

I’m here to tell you, as a teacher who feared all of the above and still set forth firm boundaries, that none of the negative outcomes happened. In fact, I was one of the few teachers who did not get the overwhelming burn-out that so many of my co-workers had after this past spring semester. So, if you’re feeling like the demands of the world may crush you, please read through a few of my tips for setting boundaries.

Email Overwhelm

Issue: Receiving an overwhelming number of emails everyday.

Solution: Turn off notifications for your email to your cell phone and others devices. I found that doing this reduced my stress levels by nearly half – I simply wasn’t worrying about emails because I just didn’t see them on my phone the second they came into my inbox.

Schedule in two (or three, if needed) set times per week day that you check your email. I choose to check my email once mid-morning, and once late afternoon. Some emails receive an immediate response if it is a simple issue, and other emails I take a 24 hour break to reflect on before answering. A thoughtful response is far superior to a reactionary response.

Issue: Constant emails demanding immediate response.

Solution: Be upfront with parents, administration, students and co-workers that you have set Office Hours (example: 10 AM to 11 AM). When working virtually, I gave one hour per day for checking email. Everyone was to give me 24-48 hours to respond to emails, as per the email I sent to all after a full month of losing my mind trying to answer everyone Mid-March. Most emails would receive a quick response, but I built in that time boundary in case I was busy – or overwhelmed.

Issue: Losing track of parent correspondence in email

Solution: Create a folder in your inbox labeled “Parent Correspondence”. Every time a parent emails you, click and drag that email into the folder. That way, it’s not clogging up your inbox, but yu have it in a nice folder to return to in case you have need of it.

Issue: Administration wants me to contact home about students missing work

Solution: While this isn’t email related if you need to call home, it can be solved using an app called Remind. I did not want my personal cell phone number to be out in the sphere, so our district downloaded an app called Remind. This sends messages to students and parents like a text message, but it does not reveal your cell phone number. This ensured that I reached parents and students directly instead of relying on them checking their email.

If a phone call was a must, then I would dial *67 before their phone number to block my contact number from coming up.

Student Work

Issue: Students emailing right before a deadline to say they have technical difficulties

Solution: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part” became my mantra to students messaging me fifteen minutes before an assignment was due to tell me they were having technical difficulties. When I set deadlines and due dates, I made sure to build in buffer time for my students without reliable internet. However, the students not turning in work were also my chronic “no-work” students before the pandemic. So, I set a solid expectation that the responsibility was on THEM to complete work well in advance, especially if they had poor internet, and to reach out to me IN ADVANCE to set up alternate submissions. Tough love, but it cut way back on students waiting until the last minute.

Issue: Students are submitting work with nothing attached to the assignment

Solution: Set the expectation that students need to double-check any work submitted. I had a rush of students hitting the submit button with no work attached. At first, I thought it was my issue, but I found out that students were being dishonest and just hitting submit, hoping the teachers were just giving 100% without truly reviewing the work. When I found out, I sent out a mass communication to students and parents explaining that all work is due on the due date – and they were responsible for making sure everything was included. Students no longer tried to turn in incomplete work, and it saved me a LOT of trouble tracking down kids to ask them to please “resubmit”.

Technology

Issue: Co-workers are reliant on you to answer their techy questions. Many educators still weren’t sure how to use a Google Doc in my district when the pandemic hit. They were lost and completely overwhelmed with the idea of tackling technology. Many of them reached out to their more peers who had dabbled with the tech world, and became very dependent on them – further overwhelming their techy peers.

Solution: Redirect co-workers to YouTube tutorials on the basics for your platform. There are tons of them out there, especially now. If you are feeling awesome, make your own tutorials for the more frequently asked questions. Get the contact info of your district’s technology person, and send that to whoever needs tech help. Have them seek out your district’s librarian, who often is a wizard at tech. Slowly release the responsibility of their learning into their own hands.

Issue: You’re spending too much time on your computer

Solution: Do not work outside of your contract hours (only allow very special exceptions).

Set notification reminders on your phone or smart watch – every 50 minutes, the research says your brain needs a 5-10 minute break. Stretch, take a lap around the house, drink a glass of water, anything to get yourself out of work mode for a moment.

Wear blue-light blocking glasses when you are at your screen and checking your phone.

Batch grading: Wait until you receive all (or most) of one assignment before you sit down to grade them. This saves SO much time when compared to grading assignments as they come in. This will also cut back on the time you’re clicking between tabs.

Create a folder on your bookmark bar that has every major site you need to open each day. When you right click the folder, and hit “Open All”, everything you need to start the day is available for you. Again, shaving seconds that turn into minutes (and eventually hours) with this virtual learning.

As said before, only check email during designated time slots. Less time spent worrying over other people’s demands, more time focused on what’s important for you and your students.

Issue: A parent wants to be notified every day of their child’s assignments.

Solution: Parents probably aren’t aware of how many students are on your roster. This seems like an innocent request, but is truly daunting for you, as it adds one more thing onto your list of demands. Create a weekly “agenda” that you send out to all students/parents via Google Classroom (or whatever platform your school uses). Inform students/parents of where this is located, and let them know they are responsible for checking it. Unless you have tons of extra time, I would not agree to individually email each student’s parent with the assignments.

Set the Boundaries – Make Them Non-Negotiable

Setting boundaries isn’t a communication block. It’s a foundation for respectful discourse, and a healthier you. You deserve to have your time respected, now that work has to invade your personal hours off-contract. Be your own loudest advocate to get some of your time back from your career. I could go on and on about this topic, but for now, I think I’ll let you absorb this much.

Teaching is a wonderful, fulfilling, amazing calling – but we must remember that we are more than educators. Setting non-negotiable boundaries will let us enjoy teaching for the long haul.

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