Boundaries In Schools

Sarah SaidBlog, Self Care Better, Teach Happier


  • It’s important to have healthy boundaries so you can be your best self for your students.
  • Allow yourself to say no.
  • Don’t take things personally, and watch what you tell people about yourself.
  • If boundaries are violated, be kind, specific, and honest with the necessary people.
  • Give yourself 24 hours before addressing something, allowing yourself time to think about what you want to say.
  • Take care of yourself and don’t take work stress home with you.

It’s the end of the year…you are SO exhausted. You did everything you could to catch your students up from what the world of non-educators refers to as “learning loss.” And behavior… yikes… It was rough transitioning students back to in-person learning. But you did it, and you really deserve some time off. You time. Netflix, greasy pizza and Uber Eats Starbucks to your door as you are wearing pajamas you really don’t feel like changing. Yup, that’s the plan. That’s okay.

So, you go to an end of the year meeting. The administrator is standing proud talking about this thing that Brene Brown wrote about called Braving in the book Dare To Lead. The B stands for Boundaries. You’re sitting down and you’re thinking to yourself, Yeah that’s what’s up. Boundaries. There is excitement for what is to come in the future.

Here We Go…

You walk out the PD conference room and ten minutes later, your administrator asks to speak to you. They say, “I really need you to teach summer school and no one wants to do it.” In your head, you’re thinking “Darn, I really wanted to just do nothing this summer.” Finally, you try to tell the administrator that you really needed time to rest this summer because the year was difficult. They talk you into it anyway. Boundaries…BRAVING…Riiiiiiiiiight…

Why did your administrator approach you? Simple. They can trust you to be reliable. You are too reliable. In the past, you have always put your job before yourself. What have you gotten out of this? Maybe difficult relationships with your partner, time you lost with family and friends and your pets, weight gain, impulsive shopping…the list goes on and on and on and on. 

But you still said “yes” and later you tell yourself, “I should have said how I felt.”

Listen, stop shoulding all over yourself, you’re just going to make a stinky mess out of your mind. Instead, take some time to seriously explore your boundaries and stop smelling the past.

So you’re stuck with this summer school gig. You can either A) Quietly suffer to a point that start hate your job, get burnt out and look for something else. B) You go back to your administrator and explain that you really had summer plans and can’t do it. So, if you go with B, 1) You don’t need to explain yourself. 2) Stop worrying about hurting feelings; they need you more than you need them. Having been the “yes-woman,” all it got me was anxiety disorder, a closet full of stuff I don’t need, lost time with my husband and children, and the inability to stay present at home with my family because my mind was all over the place.

The more we can preserve ourselves, the more we can give the students we serve our best. Protecting our boundaries is really a form of professional development - our skills are stronger in the classroom when we are rested. Click To Tweet

Traits That People Exhibit With Boundaries 

Now, there are three traits that people with boundaries exhibit. There are people with rigid boundaries who never ask for help, are very protective of themselves, are detached from people, and have a fear of intimacy and rejection. On the flip side, you also have those people that have porous boundaries. These are the people that come to your room while you’re trying to get ready for your day in the morning and tell you EVERYTHING about the evaluation they didn’t like, the administrator they can’t stand, and very specific details about the date they had the night before. It’s a lot. As you see, rigid and porous boundaries are polar opposite boundary traits.

In the middle, you have people with healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries require work…lots of work in your mind. You know what you need, and you want, and you can appropriately communicate that. You know how to accept when others say “no” to you. You’re grounded in your values and don’t compromise them. You can appropriately respect your own opinions. You share information, but you don’t overshare.

Boundary traits shift and change in people depending on the situation. Sometimes, you might be porous at school, rigid with friends and a mix of all three types at home. And cultural norms can impact your boundary. In some cultures, you never give details of what is going on in your home—even with simplest things like what you made for dinner last night. There are cultures that do not condone expressing emotions publicly.

Types of Boundaries

In addition to the traits, there are types of boundaries. These are physical, intellectual, emotional, sexual, material, and time boundaries. In schools, we have our physical boundaries violated when we are touched by other staff or even students when we don’t want to be.

Where schools really struggle with boundaries are emotional and intellectual boundaries. Unfortunately schools can be breeding grounds for toxic interactions between staff. Many times, I have walked into a school building with teachers telling me “our school is too cliquish.” Feelings get hurt when emotional boundaries are crossed and violated because someone criticizes, belittles, or invalidates another person’s feelings. Yes, that one teacher and her friends are sizing you up because you chose to do something in your classroom that you got praise for and they didn’t like the recognition you got. They are violating your emotional boundaries when they make sarcastic comments about you in the lounge. You need to be able to work through this. Ignore the snarky comments and ride the emotional wave as you move on with your awesomeness. Don’t let the remarks stop your sparkle from shining and keep doing what you are doing.

Additionally, intellectual boundaries are broken when people’s ideas are invalidated or criticized. Yes, in schools we have different ideas and beliefs and perspectives. We have to use our wise mind when we are given feedback whether it be kind or not and remember that not all people, even in schools with degrees, have evolved into the appropriate people they need to be. It’s a struggle to not get emotional, but we have to be kinder to ourselves and not let this criticism take us over. 

A Focus on Time Boundaries

Creating boundaries when it comes to people taking over our time is one of the hardest struggles we have as educators. Our administrators ask us for extra all the time. As a former administrator I can tell you that those requests come because there is something that people above them want from them. Also, we deal with parents who don’t get that we won’t answer emails after our contracted hours. It’s hard to say no, trust me I have fallen victim too, but I had to learn the hard way. I have spent time in the hospital and therapy due to my inability to create time boundaries with people as an administrator and a teacher. I allowed people to take advantage of my time. It took away precious time from my husband and kids, my social life, and my sanity.

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Preventing Issues With Boundaries

There are ways we can prevent issues with boundaries:

  1. We need to allow ourselves the freedom to say “no”. I know, it’s so hard but we need to stop shoulding all over ourselves after the fact and move on.
  2. As we want to be able to say the word “no,” we also need to be able to hear the word “no.” Respect from others what you want them to respect from you.
  3. I’m a big fan of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement is called “Be Impeccable With Your Word.” I had to learn that when I was nice with my words to others and about others, people would be generally nicer when it came to dealing with me. Simple lessons, but really we have to learn them the hard way.
  4. Also from the agreements, “Don’t take things personally.”In education, this is so hard because our work is personal, but we have to learn to move on with a clear mind.
  5. Watch what we tell people about ourselves. This is advice I can take myself. I tend to be too much of an open book at times because I want to be transparent. But, we have to filter what we should say and what we shouldn’t say.

What Can You Do and Say When Time Boundaries Are Violated

There are times where our boundaries will be violated and we need to know how to deal with them and not suffer in silence.

  1. We need to be kind, specific, and honest with people that our boundaries were violated. Be mindful of your tone and volume with people. And to be fair, when you say “yes” to an administrator, they really think you are saying yes to things because they are things you want to do. Your administrator needs you more than you need them. There is a teacher shortage. Just be fair. It’s better to talk to a person directly and not about them.
  2. If someone is bashing your ideas in the teachers lounge, A) You can just move on with your idea. It’s your classroom and your students. B) You can be direct with them and telling them their demeanor isn’t appropriate. Please don’t hide in the staff bathroom crying because of it.
  3. Give yourself 24 hours before addressing something. This way you can really think about what you want to say about it. 
  4. Always always always…take care of yourself and please don’t take your work stress home with you.

The more we can preserve ourselves, the more we can give the students we serve our best. Protecting our boundaries is really a form of professional development—our skills are stronger in the classroom when we are rested. 

About Sarah Said

Sarah Said has spent 17 years in public education. She has served in the roles of teacher, Director of ELL, Director of Language and Equity, Dean and Assistant Principal. Sarah has been published on numerous educational sites including Learning for Justice, The Teaching Channel, and EdWeek Teacher. Sarah stands strong when it comes to ensuring an equitable school community for all stakeholders. She is an advocate for Multilingual Learners and their families. Lately her writing is focused on destigmatizing Mental Health. Sarah just became an Edumatch Author. Stay tuned for her book Making Our Minds Matter, a guide book on mental health strategies and resources for educators.