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You have five minutes to run to the bathroom and eat your lunch. Just as you sit down, you hear that dreaded knock on the door, “Hi! I was wondering if you could just…”
We all know how this sentence ends. A colleague, administrator, or student wants something from you. Unfortunately, slipping into the closet or under your desk isn’t going to stop those requests from coming. How can you care for yourself while still being a team player?
One tangible way you can care for yourself this year is to establish boundaries. A boundary is a clear place between you and another person. These can be physical or emotional, and they will help you figure out what you will and will not take responsibility for. A physical boundary may look like not allowing yourself to access your work email and computer from home or closing your room to students during your lunch break. An emotional boundary may mean telling the ninth-grade class sponsor you will not help with their homecoming decorations because you need to focus on your curriculum and classes—and not feeliing guilty about it.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” —Brene Brown
Having healthy boundaries can have many advantages. Some include increased autonomy, stable mental and emotional states, and a reduction in burnout. Healthy boundaries are a good thing, but how do you figure out what would be best for you?
Setting boundaries doesn’t mean saying “No” to every request. However, take a look at the request and evaluate whether you should take it on or not before responding. It is also okay to tell the requester you need time to think about it and will get back to them. Don’t feel pressured to have an answer on the spot.
It is easy to feel obligated to help others because it’s “the kind thing to do”—especially if you are a people-pleaser. While the request may not cost you anything financially, it will cost you your time. You have to determine what your time is worth to you.
It’s natural to be short, become flustered, or complain when we are stretched thin. Just because someone asks doesn’t mean you have to say, “Yes.” It also doesn’t mean you should get upset with them for simply asking. They tried, and you said, “No”—end of story. The best way to turn down a request is to stay calm and professional. We tend to spout off excuses or reasons, so we don’t look bad or feel guilty. You do not owe any justification as to why you are saying, “No.”
Remember that lunch scenario where you have five minutes to run to the bathroom and scarf down your lunch? You have minimal downtime to think, relax, or even sit down. Your art room is a revolving door for colleagues and students who pop in to say “Hi,” chat about their problems, and ask a “quick question.” These things always take up more time than you hope. It’s not rude to say, “I can’t right now, but I can at another defined time.”
Create an “open/closed for business” sign for your door to let others know you are not available right now. Provide an option to let them know when you will be available. This will allow you to pour into yourself and the tasks you need to get done while still being fully present to others when you have the capacity.
Remember that saying, “No,” doesn’t mean you are a grump in the corner. By lessening your outside responsibilities, you can focus your energy and attention on those who need it the most—you and your students. There will always be tasks that need to get done, and you are not the only qualified person who can do them. Instead of juggling too much and dropping the ball, say, “Yes,” to a few core things and do them well.
Say, “Yes,” to your students.
Say, “Yes,” to your classroom.
Say, “Yes,” to your art program.
Say, “Yes,” to YOU!
Advocate for what you need to be the best teacher for your students. Reframe your requests by reminding your administration that when they provide time for you to do your job, you have more time with and for your students.
We often give up when we don’t receive something the first time. You request time, you request funding, you request support, and you continue to be denied. However, when you stop asking, you are showing that the need isn’t there. Put it in writing, give clear and concise reasons why, and work together with colleagues to show how this request will benefit students. If it is important, don’t drop it.
Remember, only you get to set your boundaries. You get to make your decisions, and you also get to stick with them. You may decide to help out one colleague and not another—and that’s okay. Once you have set your boundaries, keep them in your pocket. When something comes up that feels like too much of an ask, remind yourself of your boundaries and why you set them in the first place. And remember, when you say, “No,” to the noise, you are really saying, “YES,” to what is important.
What is something you will say “No,” to this year?
How will you make your boundaries clear to others without offending anyone?
How will you request what you need to support your self-care and focus on your students?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.