Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien, WA 98166

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Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien, WA 98166


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Focusing on Boundaries

By Tracy Werthman, Social-Emotional Learning Specialist

As we continue to navigate this ever-changing school year amid double pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, much of what is going on in the world is out of our control. However, one place where we can exert power is through the boundaries we set. 

“A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends... The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you,” (IPFW/Parkview Student Assistance Program: n.d.).

Our SEL and Kaiser Mental Health teams presented a PD opportunity last week, Boundaries in the Workplace and Beyond. A specific focus was on how educators may benefit from reflection around boundaries in our lives and what we can do to push back against white supremacy culture structures that may prevent us from setting healthy boundaries. Here is a brief summary of key ideas from the session.

Types of Boundaries 

  • Physical: who we allow into our space
  • Intellectual: deciding what information we consume and when, as well as how others’ opinions impact us 
  • Emotional: determining how much we share with others and allow them to share with us
  • Material: how many of our possessions are we willing to let go of and take on from others
  • Time: finding balance between the different facets of life: work, relationships, hobbies, self-care

How we set limits may be different for each type of boundary, for different people, and even in different circumstances. 

Common unhealthy behaviors that have become normalized in our current systems include:

  • No defined or structured work schedule
  • Unrealistic expectations to always be “on,” working late nights, weekends and breaks
  • Oversharing and forced intimacy 
  • Us versus Them mentality 
  • Dehumanizing others, or seeing value only in what you can get from relationships 

People face several common issues as they attempt to grow their boundaries, such fear of hurting someone’s feelings, pleasing others above yourself, concern about impacting relationships, fear of being told “no,” not believing you deserve what you want, and even concern about how to say things “correctly.”

The manifestations of white supremacy culture that can impact our work boundaries come with antidotes. For example, a sense of urgency can be balanced with realistic work plans and intentional goals around diversity and inclusion, particularly as they relate to time. Individualism is countered with culture shifts that value collaboration and see problem solving as an opportunity, modeling in our own work lives and relationships the behaviors we teach to our students each day. And defensiveness can be addressed by calling it out when you see it and not allowing defensiveness to stand in the way of new ideas and growth.

More specific actions that individuals can take include:

  • Set limits. Be specific about how you will help and what you will do 
  • Set time limits for tasks
  • Wait for people to ask for help instead of offering 
  • Develop an exit strategy
  • Encourage people to identify a larger support network 
  • Help them plan for the future so you’re not always the answer

As you do this work, there may be pushback from those who are not used to you setting boundaries. This may come in the form of limit-testing, arguing, defensiveness or ignoring the limits you have set. However, the goal of boundary work is to communicate your boundary, hold it, and get to a place where others are able to adhere to what you have clearly communicated. 

You are worth it. As we recognize areas in our lives where we may want to shift our boundaries, be patient and give yourself grace. Remember, this work is a practice. And practice makes progress. There is no perfect. 

You can review the slide deck from this session on our SEL Canvas Course.

More Info

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Good Hygiene

Please remind your student of the importance of following good hygiene practices that prevent the spread of communicable diseases:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or a tissue.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use alcohol hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick. See our guidelines for when to stay home.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.