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The Teaching Space Podcast

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Nov 8, 2018

Episode 36 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores why establishing boundaries with learners is essential in educational situations.


In today's episode we're talking boundaries. 

I like to think of boundaries as positive limits. They aren’t huge walls with barbed wire on the top. They are a protective measures. Boundaries can relate relationships, physical elements and emotions.

This week it's about your learners. The next episode will be all about your colleagues.

Why are Boundaries Needed?

There are lots of reasons but as this is a ten-minute episode let’s highlight three:

  • Each party in the learning relationship understands their role. This also translates well to real life so you are modelling expected behaviour, regardless of the age group you teach.
  • Boundaries define the limits of your role as a teacher - this profoundly influences your workload and ultimately your mental health.
  • Safeguarding reasons (age and location dependent as laws are different). In Guernsey we are bound by the Children Law and so this means learners under 18 are classed as children. One ramification of the law is that if a teacher thinks a child is at risk, they have a duty to report it. Boundaries play an important role in making this clear.

The Teaching Space Podcast is all about YOU, your health and well-being. So this episode will focus on the second reason for setting boundaries I mentioned - setting expectations regarding your role as a teacher.

How to Establish Boundaries

The suggestions I will make work best with older children and adult learners, however, if you teach younger learners, use your experience to adapt these:

  • Boundaries not rules: rules are often negative, boundaries are positive. For example “do not come and see me in the staff room between 12 and 1 pm” is better explained as “I will be available from X to X am and X and X pm to help you - please come and see me”. Both are clear. In the same way, talk about consequences rather than punishments. This is helpful when preparing younger learners for adulthood and the workplace.
  • Discuss and negotiate: this is effective when working with post-16 learners. Again, don’t talk about rules, say boundaries, or in this case the word expectations might be better. Some things will be negotiable. For example, in an FE environment, when breaks happen, or when they use mobile devices. Learners are more likely to adhere to established expectations/boundaries if they are involved in devising them.
  • Expectations exercise: with my 16-19 and adult learners we always go through an expectations exercise at the start of a course. I split the group in half (or smaller groups as needed). Half of the group are to act as the learners (themselves) and the other half are to pretend to be the teaching team. This relates to the course they are just starting. Using a flip chart and pens each group lists out their expectations of the other party. We then get together, have a group discussion (learner-led but teacher coached), refine the expectations and publish them in an appropriate place. As the learners have devised the rules/expectations, they are far more likely to adhere to them.
  • Group contract: this can become a group contract which all learners sign - you need to sign it too, the expectations are not just for the learners. They will have expectations of you - things like how you deliver feedback, how quickly you turn work around and your punctuality and attitude.

Wrap Up

This would be a great topic to discuss in our Facebook group - please pop over and join us!

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