“The strength of our student relationships makes the difference in translating our passion for teaching into their passion for learning.” ~ Beth Morrow
Teaching is one of the most challenging professions because it involves working with young people whose brains are still developing and who may struggle with their behavior and in interactions with fellow students and teachers.
At Alludo Learning, we provide dynamic professional learning environments for teachers. While many of the missions in our Content Catalog are focused on pedagogical knowledge, we also believe in teacher self-care, which can help to improve teacher retention rates.
One topic that we have made it a point to include involves learning how to set healthy classroom boundaries. Here is our explanation of why classroom boundaries are essential, plus nine examples of boundaries that teachers should implement in the classroom.
The topic of boundaries is one that often comes up in therapy but doesn’t get mentioned often enough in the workplace. That should change because when teachers set healthy boundaries in the classroom, they’re modeling boundary-setting for their students.
Boundary setting is one element of social emotional learning (SEL) and something that once learned, will help students throughout their lives.
When we conducted our survey to create our Teacher Happiness Report, we found that having good relationships with students was an essential component of teacher happiness. Teachers specifically said that having opportunities to innovate and have an impact were particularly important to them, and those are both things that can happen more easily when teachers set healthy boundaries.
Boundaries Ensure Student Safety and Build Positive Environments
Another reason that teachers should set boundaries in the classroom is that good boundaries help to keep students safe and keep classrooms a pleasant place to learn. When disruptive behavior isn’t managed properly, it can negatively impact everybody in the classroom.
Setting firm and reasonable boundaries lets students know what’s expected of them and puts everybody in the class on the same level in terms of expectations. Everybody knows what and what not to do and that makes it possible for the teacher to manage other aspects of the environment more easily.
How Can Teachers Set Boundaries with Students?
There are some boundaries between students and teachers that exist thanks to school and district rules. When that’s the case, it’s still the responsibility of teachers to maintain those boundaries. It’s also teachers’ responsibility to create and articulate other boundaries.
Define What’s Appropriate and Aligns with Personal Values
Before any teacher can set a boundary with students, they need to consider both what’s appropriate and what aligns with their personal values. For example, some teachers might feel comfortable giving out their personal phone number to students; others may not. Those who do will need to spell out when it is appropriate to use that number.
It’s essential at this stage to define the parameters of the boundary for the teacher’s comfort. Spelling out the specifics will help the teacher communicate and enforce the boundary with students. A teacher who gives out their phone number to students might tell students only to use it between certain hours or only for specific circumstances. Boundary planning should also include setting consequences for violations while keeping student development in mind.
Set Boundaries Early in the Term (in Most Cases)
Boundaries work best when they are introduced at the beginning of a relationship, so teachers should plan accordingly. Lay out boundaries for students clearly, making it specific what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if they disregard a boundary. It’s best to set the boundary using positive language rather than negative language because students are more likely to comply. For example, “You’ll get some free time if you finish the assignment by 10:15” rather than “You’ll lose your free time if you don’t finish the assignment by 10:15.”
Of course, life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, a teacher may find it necessary to create a new boundary when something happens to require one. In that case, the boundary should be communicated as quickly as possible after the event.
You can communicate a new boundary with three simple steps:
State what the boundary is
Explain what will happen if the boundary is violated
Tell students what you would like to do instead
Clear communication is essential because students will understand exactly what is being requested of them.
9 Examples of Classroom Boundaries
Here are some examples of healthy classroom boundaries for teachers to use:
Courtesy. All students will treat one another and the teacher with courtesy and respect. For younger students, teachers may need to add specificity (no name calling, for example) to make sure kids understand.
Honesty. A teacher may promise to always be honest with students and to ask the same in return.
Promptness. All students will arrive at class on time and complete assignments on time. The teacher should specify steps for the student to take if they feel they won’t be able to complete an assignment by its due date.
No touching. Both young children and teens may need a boundary that prevents them from inappropriate or aggressive touching.
No cross-talk. Cross-talk and interrupting are both issues in the classroom and teachers can make it clear that only one person has the floor at any given time.
Productivity. When students are given time to work, they should be working. This boundary may require some specificity around what a student may do if they finish an in-class assignment early.
Personal time. If a teacher allows students to contact them personally outside of class time, it’s essential to specify when (which hours) and why students may contact you. This boundary may also be useful for teachers and parents.
Responses. It’s common for teachers to give students or parents their email address, but there should be a reasonable time frame for the teacher to respond. A healthy boundary might say that the teacher will respond within 24 hours or only before 8:00 at night on a school night.
Behavior outside the classroom. Teachers who live in small communities may often run into students or parents outside of school. A good boundary to set would be that there’s no discussion of school in public or during chance encounters.
Articulating boundaries like these can help teachers maintain a peaceful and happy classroom environment and minimize behavioral issues with students.
How Do Teachers Deal with Students Who Don’t Respect Personal Boundaries?
When a student crosses a boundary, there are things the teacher can do to respond and they can vary depending on the boundary that was violated, why it was violated, and the specific circumstances.
Be Direct and Empathetic
If one or more students violate a boundary, the teacher should deal with it directly and empathetically. Individual students should be addressed one-on-one. Try to find out what’s going on with the student and explain what they need to do differently.
Regulate Your Emotions
As a teacher, it may be tempting to waive boundaries when a student asks for help, but it’s not always healthy to do so. It’s important to remember that you are the one setting the boundaries and in most cases, it’s best not to make exceptions.
Compromise When Necessary
Boundaries don’t always need to be carved in stone. If a student is in genuine distress, the teacher may need to make an exception to a boundary for the well-being of the student. For example, a student might need to meet with a teacher outside of the usual classroom hours and in some cases, that may be a reasonable request.
Listen to Intuition
Intuition is a powerful tool and listening to it can help teachers make decisions when they’re unclear about how to react to a student ignoring a boundary. A gut-check moment can help teachers understand what’s required.
While it’s important to be compassionate, it’s also necessary for teachers to follow through on the consequences of a boundary violation. Boundaries are meaningless without consequences and students won’t respect the boundaries set by teachers if the teacher backs down.
At Alludo, it’s our mission to provide teachers with the opportunity to learn and grow. We do it by incorporating elements of gamification into our dynamic learning environment and making it easy for teachers to participate in professional development.
Because we understand the importance of boundaries, we have included microlearning activities and missions related to boundary-setting in the Alludo Professional Development Content Catalog. Our Setting Boundaries mission includes activities to help teachers set boundaries with students, colleagues, and parents. Setting boundaries with all parties contributes to teacher happiness and job satisfaction, helping school districts to minimize teacher turnover and burnout.
Help Teachers in Your District Set Healthy Classroom Boundaries with Alludo
When teachers understand how to set healthy classroom boundaries, they can focus on what’s most important: connecting with students and helping them learn and grow. The nine boundaries we’ve listed here are a jumping-off point to help teachers understand which boundaries are needed and how to maintain them.
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