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How to Set Boundaries as a Teacher in a Virtual Classroom

“Setting Boundaries as a teacher does not make you selfish. It gives you the balance to be the best teacher you can be.” -The Present Teacher

It wasn’t that long ago when I struggled with this. When I first became a teacher, I was so worried about putting myself first. The idea seemed selfish.

Instead, I would try to help as many people as I could. And when that wasn’t enough I would try harder. I would get frustrated at myself for feeling burnt out because I expected more from myself. 

But what I didn’t realize was that I was trying to fill cups when mine was empty. Instead of refilling my cup so I could help more people, I would try to help others when I had no more water (or help) to give.

That’s when I decided to go to counseling. Yep, I said it. I’m not terrified of the “stigma” around mental health anymore. 

And after I went and worked on myself for a couple of months I realized that because I was trying to help from an empty cup, I was being a ‘bad’ helper.

You see, instead of helping and showing up for my students as I should have, I was tired of helping others and I wasn’t being very Present. 

When you help others with an empty cup, you’re not helping at all. You may have the best intentions, but how can you help others when you have nothing else to give?

Through this process, I learned to Set Boundaries. I realized just how important Boundaries truly are. And the more I worked on it, the more water I had in my cup to give and serve others.

Especially during Distance Learning and teaching virtually. I feel like teachers are expected to give more now than ever. That’s why Boundaries are so important.

So in this post, I want to break the Stigma around Teacher Mental Health and talk about the hard questions. Today we are going to cover:

  • What are Boundaries?
  • Why are Boundaries Important for Teachers? (Especially for Distance Learning)
  • Good Examples of Boundaries For Teachers (Especially in a Virtual Classroom)
  • And How to Set Boundaries in a Respectful Way WITHOUT Being Selfish.

I am super excited, so let’s go ahead and get started!

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    What are Boundaries?

    According to PositivePsychology.com “Healthy boundaries can serve to establish one’s identity. Specifically, healthy boundaries can help people define their individuality and can help people indicate what they will and will not hold themselves responsible for.”

    In other words, Boundaries are like the wall surrounding the perimeter of a castle. They are the security that protects the inner castle, or in this case your overall health.

    Let me explain. Recently I read a book called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. And in the first chapter, Covey mentions the differences between a ‘Reactive’ person and a ‘Proactive’ person.

    A ‘Reactive’ person is someone who reacts to the environment around them. For instance, if a student were to be disruptive, a ‘reactive’ teacher might become frustrated and take the disruption personally.

    However, a ‘Proactive’ person would realize that this student might have environmental factors impacting their behavior. This teacher might wait to talk to the student individually to see what is going on. Rather than becoming frustrated and internalizing the behavior.

    This is where boundaries can help. When you realize and acknowledge what you can and cannot control you are setting boundaries for what you take responsibility for. In other words, you are putting up walls to not internalize things out of your control.

    Boundaries allow you to accept the things you can control and what you cannot control. When you have Healthy Boundaries you can take control of the things in life that are within your control.

    Or in this instance yourself. 

    How you react or act ‘proactively’ is up to you. That’s why it is important to focus on your actions and not the students. Because in all reality you cannot control the actions of the students.

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      Why are Boundaries Important for Teachers?

      I recently read an article from Edutopia.org that talks about the importance of boundaries for teachers. In the article “The Necessity of Boundaries,” Eduptopia.org states “You need to set professional limits that will support long-term engagement with your students and with teaching. This is about protecting your energy and attention in order to maximize their effects.”

      In other words, Boundaries allow you to protect your energy so that you can be more effective long term. You can only give so much energy before your cup runs empty. 

      Hence the importance of Boundaries and Self-Care. Once I started reserving my energy and saying “no,” I instantly felt this inner peace. I started to love my job again. 

      Not only that, but I was also able to show up for my students and be Present. I was finally able to be the teacher I had always dreamed of being.

      And setting boundaries DOES NOT make you selfish. It allows you the energy to show up every day and be the person you were meant to be. 

      I didn’t realize how powerful this was until I tried it. And trust me, it is extremely impactful.

      To summarize, it’s important to set Boundaries as a Teacher because:

      • It prevents burnout.
      • Setting Boundaries allows you to reserve the energy to do this long term.
      • It allows you inner peace.
      • Setting Boundaries is not Selfish, rather it allows you to be the teacher you were meant to be.
      • Boundaries allow you to show up for your students in a Present and Mindful way. 

      Related:

      Good Examples of Boundaries For Teachers (Especially in a Virtual Classroom)

      Let’s be honest, setting boundaries, especially while Distance Learning is no small task. But there are a couple of things that you can do to eliminate the never-ending to-do list.

      Set Office Hours

      I remember my first month of Distance Learning I was constantly getting messages, calls, emails, and more from my families and students. And it didn’t matter what time of day either, some families would try contacting me at 10 at night.

      I would get so frustrated and burned out that I often didn’t have the energy to be positive and teach the next day. That’s when I decided to set Office Hours.

      When I first told my families I expected them to call me selfish or a “bad teacher.” But what I found out surprised me. My families RESPECTED the Office Hours. They didn’t argue, in fact they stopped messaging me at odd hours and waited for my next office hours.

      This transformation was amazing! And it wasn’t until after that I realized that my families had more respect for my time because I was respecting my time better.

      “My Families had more respect for my time because I was respecting my time better.”

      The Present Teacher

      By setting my availability boundary I was able to wake up energized for the day to come. And my to-do list shrunk immensely. Setting Office hours will help you feel less overwhelmed and better manage your time.

      The List of 3 Things

      One of the biggest struggles of Setting Boundaries as a Teacher is the never-ending to-do list. 

      As teachers, it seems like there is always something to add to the list. By the end of the day, it can feel overwhelming and disheartening because you didn’t get everything done.

      That’s why I started to make the 3 Things List. Every morning or the night before I make a list of everything I have to get done the next day. They can be simple as changing the date for the calendar to writing that email to my colleague.

      Once I have done that I figure out the three most important thing on my to-do list that HAS to get done. As long as I get these three things done it has been a successful day.

      Making the List of 3 Things allows me to cross off tasks as I complete them. But it also allows me to leave my work at work because I know I got my 3 things done that day. Which makes that day a good and successful day.

      A Day at a Time

      As teachers, it is easy to worry about things out of our control. Especially when it comes to the future. 

      When I first started I was constantly worrying about what we were going to do next week and what I needed to get done tomorrow. 

      But when we worry about the future as teachers, we are not being Present with our kids or ourselves. 

      “But when we worry about the future as teachers, we are not being Present with our kids or ourselves.”

      The Present Teacher

      This is something that grief has taught me. When you lose someone they tell you to take it a day at a time. 

      Well, I decided to live my life and teach like that. And you know what, it worked.

      Now don’t get me wrong, I plan out my week on Sunday like most teachers, but my goal is to be in the moment because I will never get that moment back. 

      This has worked out so well for me, that I even recommended it to my colleagues. After working on living moment by moment they became less stressed and more Present with their students too.

      And that is a powerful thing.

      Weekends and Evenings are for You

      I feel like I am sinning in the teacher world. But the reality is, the work is never going to stop. So the question is, are you?

      The work can be so overwhelming. So you bring some work home and get to work. And you finally look up and the whole evening is gone. 

      When you do this, you are missing time with the other things in your life. Whether it’s family, a hobby, building community, or just time to breathe. 

      That’s why I don’t bring work home. And if I do, I make rules. For instance, my rule is no work after 6 pm because that’s when my spouse gets home.

      Life is so short and you don’t want to spend your life working and forgetting to live. So one of the biggest tips I can give you is to set boundaries for how late you are willing to work.

      By doing this you can set your priorities on what really matters to you. 

      And I don’t care about the stigma about bringing work home as a teacher. Bringing your work home is not sustainable and it leads to burnout. 

      I made the mistake of working long hours and it made me want to quit. Yes, quit my dream job as a teacher! That’s why Boundaries as a Teacher are so important. 

      As teachers, we need to stop trying to do it all. 

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        Do 1 Self-Care Thing a Day

        Back in September, The VIP Team and I did a 30 Day Self-Care Challenge. Once a day, we did something that helped us with our Self-Care. At the end, we reflected on how it impacted us. 

        The responses I got were amazing!

         It’s crazy to think that something so small like listening to music can help your overall health. Something that takes only 5 minutes can transform your mental and emotional health.

        This challenge taught me the importance of Self-Care. And since then I decided to do one small act of Self-Care a day. 

        Because when you show up for yourself and make yourself a priority, you are loving yourself. And when you love yourself, you love others that much more. 

        How to Set Boundaries in a Respectful Way

        One of the problems we face as teachers, is we worry about coming off as “disrespectful” when we set Boundaries. In all honesty, this could not be farther from the truth. We can set Boundaries as Teachers while still being professional. 

        3 Main Things

        Another article I have recently read was “10 Ways to Build and Preserve Boundaries” by PsychCentral.com. Throughout the article, there were several key takeaways.

        One of the takeaways from PsychCentral.com is to start small. Setting Boundaries is a Journey, Not a Destination. The more work you put into it the more you will get out of it.

        That and you can gradually set boundaries without seeming unprofessional.

        For instance, you can set after school boundaries with families by letting them know that you are unable to respond to messages over the weekend. However, you are happy to respond to any messages from the weekend on Monday mornings. 

        This is a respectful way to set boundaries by starting off small. 

        The other takeaway from the article is to name your limits. 

        If you name your limits or what you are willing to take on and not, you are setting up yourself for success. By being consistent and setting boundaries early, you are building that respect for yourself and your health.

        Which in turn allows others the opportunity to respect your limits and boundaries.

        The final concept from the article is to be Self Aware. 

        When you honor yourself enough to stay informed on your own thoughts and feelings, you are then in turn in building respect for yourself.

        Much like I mentioned earlier, the more you respect yourself the more others will in turn respect you and your boundaries.

        Overview

        So far in this article, we have talked about the following:

        Table of Contents

          For all of those scared teachers who are trying to do it all. To the teachers who are bringing their work home, scared to step on toes, feeling Burnout.

          I see you.

          But with Boundaries, we can change that. If we set Boundaries as Teachers we can help more students. 

          With Boundaries, we are stronger.

          Because together we make a wonderful, beautiful team. And I am grateful to be called a teacher and to be part of an amazing team!

          PS. Remember that setting Boundaries is a journey and not a destination. You don’t have to be perfect but you have to try. And that’s all that matters.

          Thank you so much for reading this post. I hope it helped give you some ideas on how to set boundaries as a teacher. 

          If you have another teacher hack for setting boundaries please comment it down below! Or if you need help with boundaries please feel free to reach out.

          I love hearing from you!

          Happy Teaching!

          Love,

          The Present Teacher Signature

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