Setting Boundaries: Practical Guidelines You Can (& Should) Start Using Today

Author: Amy Shatila
Date: Aug 2, 2023

Are you smirking yet? 

Has your caregiver heart already kicked into defense mode, telling you that this won’t apply to you because your role is important and there are too many kids to serve?

You’re not alone.

Whether you’re a speech therapist, school psychologist, or teacher, your role is ever expanding and your to-do lists are never-ending. And, if you’re like most practitioners in the United States, you’re tasked with serving too many kids, because there simply aren’t enough of us. We talk about national shortages and reference federal timelines as justification for overwork and poor boundaries. The reality is that the shortage of educators and practitioners should be a catalyst for change in the way we do things. 

In bell hooks’ book All about love, she describes action as both an outward expression of what is inside us and as a way to receive and reshape ourselves. She reminds us that we must approach life as a “conscious practice, a willingness to unite the way we think with the way we act.” 

Our thoughts are to honor the whole child and to understand the perspectives of families and communities. We consider balance and the importance of play and rest in relation to learning and growth. We advocate for reasonable accommodations and support so that children can thrive. How, then, can we reconcile our thoughts with our actions? How can we advocate for others to have balance while recklessly disregarding the same need within ourselves? 

It is no surprise that there is a high level of burnout and turnover amongst practitioners. We are not united within ourselves.

So what can you do today to change your actions to better align with your thoughts?

Set work hours.

Set work hours and block your calendar during non-work time. Whether you’re campus-based, in a central office setting, or serving virtually, having a start and stop time each day is important. If someone asks you to do a task you can’t reasonably fit in your work hours, tell them, My heart says yes but my schedule says no.

Take work email off your phone.

Email is work communication, and work communication happens during work hours. You don’t need to read work emails during the weekend or just before bed. Plus, responding to emails outside of work hours sets an unhealthy precedent that you’re always available, no matter what. If it’s an emergency, someone will call you. So go ahead and take that work email account off your phone (and tablet), and enjoy your new-found freedom.

Be clear & respond promptly.

Saying no is hard, but it’s necessary. Don’t put it off by saying you’ll think about it or you’ll check your schedule. You’ll be stressed until you give your answer. The next time you need to say no, consider saying, Unfortunately, I’m not available at that time.

Speak up when your plate is full.

Sometimes we’re asked to do extra things even after saying we don’t have time. That doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Too much is too much. Speak up! Explain the other tasks you’re working on. Try asking these questions: What would you like me to reprioritize? Which task is okay for me to complete later, since this [new] task sounds like a high priority?

As educational practitioners, we are leaders. In the words of champion soccer player Abby Wambach, “Leadership is taking care of yourself and empowering others to do the same.” Let’s take care of ourselves, fellow leaders. Let’s align our thoughts and our actions so we can retain our friends and colleagues and recruit new practitioners. We owe it to the communities we serve, and we owe it to ourselves.

References:

Affrunti, N. W. (2022). Ratio of Students to Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) School Psychologists in United States Public Elementary and Secondary Schools [Research report]. National Association of School Psychologists.

Hooks, b. (2000). All about love : new visions. New York. William Morrow.

Wambach, A. (2019). Wolfpack. New York. Celadon Books.

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Ashley
Ashley
9 months ago

What great ways to set boundaries, I love “speaking up when your plate is full”! This never occurred to me to talk about re-prioritizing tasks based on importance. I will definitely use these strategies going forward!!

Chris Ponce
Editor
Reply to  Ashley
9 months ago

I feel like it is hard to say no in the educational world. A lot of educators need to work on their “Soft” skills. It is beneficial to their emotional well being.

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