Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, Personal Learning

Boundaries & Buffers

Take yourself back to the moment you felt that rawness and vulnerability that chose you in place of you choosing it. The moment that got away from you and left you wondering how you got there. When your perception of the moment was a bit skewed and possibly left you feeling unrelatable to others, your emotions started to waver, and you wondered, how did I get here? 

It is the moment you realize you have left yourself open in a way that takes its toll. You know that feeling when your neck grows tense, and you feel your arms stiffen. You can feel the strain straight through your body. You take a deep breath. But when you exhale, in place of relief, you feel the weight stacking up even higher, the kind of weight that has no measure. You think that you are holding it together, but the reality is that you are shoving your feelings down, way down. Then the day comes, and the most insignificant thing breaks you. You feel like you were set up for failure because you had been keeping it together for so long. Why now? Why the break? But maybe the bigger question is, what led you to this point? 

Recently, I was engaged in a conversation with colleagues across the country, and we were discussing various needs within education. We even took the risk in talking about practices we need to question or possibly leave behind. When thinking about what we need most, and that of our children, students, and community alike, I referenced boundaries and buffers, something that I learned from an incredible person and resource in my life, Rogna Jurecko.

I refer to Rogna as my life coach, not because I fear calling her my therapist, but because she has coached me through life. 

Rogna and I share a passion for the Highmark Caring Place, a place for grieving children and their families. It wasn’t until the incredible loss of my beautiful mother-in-law that I found myself reaching out looking for support for my family and me in the same space I had given comfort to students and their families for decades. Grief was breaking me. Her impact was endless. But if I am truthful with myself, I don’t know that I created a strong enough foundation to see me through such devastation. Rogna recognized my needs, she saw me, and she knew I needed boundaries and buffers.

What do they look like?  

How do we create them?  

Why are they necessary? 

Boundaries and buffers weren’t a suggestion. It was an area that I lacked and needed to gain control of in my life. They were within my reach, but I had to recognize them for myself. At one point, Rogna started the conversation. She told me I needed boundaries and buffers. With a brief explanation and a focus on the problematic areas, I found myself in a moment of realness. 

What had I done? 

How did I get there? 

What was I going to do to move forward? 

Creating boundaries and buffers opened up doors, helped me to see possibility, and restored my hope, and yes, faith, which led to an incredible amount of learning. Here are my takeaways:

My interpretation of boundaries: Giving yourself a space that has rules and limits that you can thrive within. Being able to say no, without apology, yet being open to yes, when the moment is right for you.

Three reasons why we need boundaries:

  1. They keep us safe: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 
  2. They keep us focused on what is important to us. We must remember that there are only 24 hours in a day. Yes, we do need to sleep!
  3. They are critical to our needs.

To me, buffers are what keep me healthy in all spaces. They help me to reduce my chance of hurt and pain. Here are my personal top 5

  1. The right to my time
  2. The ability to leave negative energy
  3. The ability to know where my limits exist
  4. Say no
  5. Releasing myself from judgment

What boundaries do you need to thrive? Make a list of the problem areas in your own life. What can you do to keep yourself safe in all capacities and all spaces? What buffers can you create to give yourself permission to maintain your boundaries?  Self-awareness is vital. I challenge you to make a list of areas problematic for you. Clarity brings comfort. Hold yourself accountable… you matter!

Remember, if you need a lifeline, there are experts that are waiting in the wings to help.  Reach out. I did. 

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, Personal Learning

Creating Impact: Take A Walk in My Shoes

When it comes to understanding others and developing true relationships, there is never a time table that is fit for all. While some open up quickly, others need extra nurturing that builds trust and strengthens a bond over time. The relationships I build with my students are no different. The one thing that is for certain is that the bonds are not limited to 186 school days and continuously create impact for years to come. While many schools me be looking to close out their year, my class is continuously open to new conversations, as well as reflections of our journey together. As empathy and understanding are such a large part of our T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. experience, there is always a special vulnerability that is tied into my lesson called “Take A Walk In My Shoes.”

Days before I plan on embracing this heartfelt lesson, I ask the students if they could please bring in an extra pair of shoes to school that they can leave for a week or two. A pair that they have possibly grown out of, maybe a pair from a different season that is no longer needed, or even from an off-season sport. I remind them that if they are unable to bring a pair in, that I will have extra pairs in the classroom for them to borrow.

When the day comes, I start by reading a special book written by Dr. Seuss called “My Many Colored Days.” This book is so simple in so many ways, yet the impact it creates by gifting an opportunity to relate and generate their own version, gives way to a complexity that allows you to see inside their little souls.

With each page, I pause. Maybe it is the color yellow that allows some to feel free to imagine the unimaginable. For others it is the color blue that speaks to them and gives way to sadness. Whatever the color means to them, they simply take in the moment while I read.

Next, I hand out an index card. Just one… one that they use to design their own “colored days”. At this point, I reread the book to them and they embrace the time to add their artistic touch to their card. Once their card is complete, I pass out another.

The first 3 cards are specific colors. I always want to know what their day looks like when it is yellow, black and a rainbow of mixed up colors. I put on music and give them unlimited time to just draw. When they are finished, they then flip the card over and tell me two things:

  1. What this color day is like for them or a story of a specific day that they want to share.
  2. What they need from others on a day like this in their little world.

Once they are done, I put a stack of cards out and allow them unlimited access to add any color days they wish. Most often they take 3-4 more cards, but there is always a handful of students that take ten or more. After completing them, I ask them to bring their cards and their shoes to meet me for a little time together.

During this time, they pick out a special color pipe-cleaner to attach their cards to their shoes and then they are encouraged to pick just one they would like to share with me. After they share with me, I allow the to share with others if they would like. We then gather around and talk about our walk in life… our journey. I prompt them with questions and we take time to listen to how others feel. After many prompts, such as “Do you think others understand what you need on your black day?” or “How can you make someone else feel if you share your yellow day with them?”, I take suggestions on how we can lead others in empathy. There is always a student that suggests placing our shoes in the hallway and that is a moment for me. A moment of trust, love, and leadership. I make sure that they have the option of leaving theirs in the room, but one by one they always take their shoes to the hallway. Such vulnerability, strength, and courage found right there that moment. Come along, take a walk in our shoes.