Cloud and Townsend (1992)
offer the following list of boundaries, the examples are mine:
could include everything from self protection against germs
or allergens to appropriate physical contact, affection or abuse.
Examples for faculty include:
- Ensuring that
your work environment is safe for you and that you ask for
support if equipment is out of safe reach, or if you are
allergic to a substance in the room.
- Avoiding any
inappropriate contact with students. Some students
may find even a pat on the back or shoulder an invasion
of their space. Unless the curriculum necessitates
touching a student you should refrain from doing so and
always ask their permission.
includes the ability to say no, to express likes and dislikes,
and to set rules for appropriate conversation. Examples
for faculty include:
rules for classroom conversation including informal conversation
during class time, the use of slang or obscenities, and
protecting against sexual harassment or attacks on the ethnicity
or religious beliefs of others.
- You are legally
obliged to protect your students from harassment in your
presence or that has been brought to your attention.
Seek advice from your Dean of Students if you have questions
about a particular situation.
relates to knowing who you are, what you believe, and respecting
others. Examples for faculty include:
- You may have
strong beliefs about a subject. Some faculty can do
an outstanding job of covering various perspectives on controversial
topics without disclosing their bias. Others are better
served to acknowledge their bias and to carefully explain
how they came to that conclusion. Those who have a
bias must be careful to present alternative perspectives
on topics where controversy exists and respectfully explain
why reasonable people may differ.
- Students can
tell when you lie, and they lose respect for you.
If you don't know the answer, say so. Ask a volunteer
to find the answer and report back, or be sure to research
the answer and report back at the next class, giving students
both your research process and your finding. Students
will often learn a great deal from this exercise.
They will learn how to find the information, and they will
learn that experts in a field don't have all the answers.
- If a student
points out that they think you may be wrong about a fact,
and you think there is even the slightest possibility that
they are correct, respect the courage it took to point this
out. Follow up to find out the facts and discuss it
when you have more information. You might encourage
the student to bring their research and supporting evidence
to the next class. Never argue with the student or
belittle them. You will appear out of control
- Take responsibility
for what is your responsibility. If you didn't get
something done you committed to doing, or recognize that
you won't be able to finish it, own that. Be honest
about it and inform those it effects right away. Waiting
will only make you feel worse and make them more angry or
distrustful of you.
- Don't take responsibility
for things outside your sphere. You can't save every
student. You aren't responsible for their arrival
in your class unprepared. Don't waste precious time
being angry about it. Help them if you can and know
where to send them for assistance you cannot provide.
- Recognize that
nearly everyone you work with is probably working very hard
to do the best job they can. Often administrators
are doing the best they can with little or no training in
how to be an administrator. Help them succeed if you
can. Don't enable bad management by giving them unclear
messages about your boundaries (or values), but don't undermine
weak managers either. Most will learn with time.
Don't denigrate or disrespect administrators. Community
Colleges are suffering a significant shortage of trained
administrators, and often those who are quite capable are
asked to perform tasks beyond the capacities of nearly any
human with scarce resources and little help. If an
administrator forgets to do something they said they would,
assume they forgot and gently remind them. Don't assume
its about you or a lack of respect for your needs.
If you sincerely believe you can do a better job, apply
for your department chair position, a position in Senate
or union leadership, or an administrative post. Remember
that many administrative positions exist only to serve you
and your students. Those individuals do not have power
over you. Don't fall into the us against them trap.
We need to retain good administrators. Let those who
are doing well know it.
- Always be confident
about what you know, but remember that most people read
arrogance as a cover for insecurity and wonder what it is
you are hiding.
distance refers to the ability to remove oneself from situations
that can cause harm or undermine one's self worth. Examples
for faculty include:
- Keeping your
distance from colleagues who are always negative.
You can't fix them, and they usually can't help you;
- Getting away
from the college for a vacation, or long weekend.
Leave town, leave your papers, give yourself permission
to experience other aspects of life.
refers to the ability to take time off from work, give a spouse
or child space to grow, set limits on what you are able to do
in a given time frame, and know when you can do your work most
effectively. Examples for faculty include:
- Respect that
not all students learn at the same pace;
- Know that for
some students the positive impact you have made on their
education may not be apparent for months or years.
Don't expect appreciation now;
- Value what time
brings to your teaching life. You will likely be better
equipped to relate to your students social lives and maintain
energy and enthusiasm at the beginning of your career.
At the same time, you won't know as much about your field
as you will in 10 years. You won't know how to get
things done on campus as easily, and you won't be as emotionally
wise. Your students will learn something valuable
about life from you if you are 23 or 73, if you bring the
best of that experience with you into the classroom;
- Know the limits
of your own physical, emotional and mental capabilities
and recognize that these will change over time. Generally
as your physical limits become apparent with age, your emotional
and mental capabilities will increase, and you'll be equally
or even more productive in less time. Life is not
a race against a colleague who can do more this year.
Those with self-confidence and self awareness will value
the contribution they can make, do the best job they can
in the time available, and NOT overbook.
- Get away from
the college for a vacation or long weekend. Leave
town, leave your papers, give yourself permission to experience
other aspects of life (yes I know this is repetitive, but
many faculty need to be reminded). If you truly cannot
get away, turn off the phone, computer and pager and take
a vacation at home with a novel, religious work, video or
other no stress, no performance-pressure activity you enjoy.
There is a reason that most religions advocate a Sabbath
- Take time to
laugh. Don't take yourself, your class or your profession
so seriously that you lose sight of the humor in campus
situations. Having a hard time with this one?
Ask students who they think is the funniest professor and
visit their class. Watch how engaged the students
are likely to be.
is a temporary boundary drawn to ensure that you maintain self-control.
Examples for faculty include:
- Ask an angry
or tearful student to take some time to think about what
you have brought to their attention and talk about it in
a few days (set a time and appropriate place);
- Avoid an angry
colleague for a few hours or days until they have had time
to think more clearly;
- Remember that
while you have the power to improve yourself, you don't
have the power to change another person. It is important
not to need the emotional approval of students, colleagues
or administrators who try to undermine your value as a person
or as a professional. You can't fix the other person.
Stay away from them as much as possible and focus on those
who do want your help. By the same token, if their
comments are professional in nature and appropriate to helping
you succeed at the college, pay attention and follow up
to learn how to make necessary adjustments.
You may need to ask for a bit of reflection time to clarify
which analysis of the situation is most appropriate.
If you feel yourself becoming emotional (angry, hurt, etc.),
give yourself a bit of emotional distance to digest the
- Stop yourself
from getting angry with a student, faculty member or administrator.
If you believe you may lose control, excuse yourself politely
and leave the room. Losing your temper will undermine
others' respect for you and your respect for yourself.
If you have continuing problems with anger, be courageous
and seek advice from a professional. Don't risk your
- Don't confuse
your department chair or dean with mom or dad or a sibling
rival. Their role is not to comfort you or punish
you. Their job is to create a college where students
learn. If either of you think the relationship is
parental or competitive, you will lose sight of your professional
responsibilities. Stay focused on serving students.
- If you find
yourself romantically or sexually attracted to a current
student, avoid being alone with them. If they come
to see you during office hours, ask them to walk to the
cafeteria with you and buy yourself (not them) a soft drink
or coffee, or go get a library book. Avoid any situation
that heightens the opportunities for emotional or physical
intimacy. It is true that many faculty members are
married to former students. If your attraction is
to someone you might consider as a life partner wait!
Ask them out or allow yourself to be approached only after
the class is over and a few weeks or months have passed.
Be self confident enough not to rush. Don't allow
yourself to become the victim of a manipulative student
who is infatuated with you. Don't risk your job by
setting yourself up for a harassment charge.
- You also need
emotional distance from your work. Avoid taking campus
problems home unless your partner is a saint, a psychologist
and a real problem solver (humor intended). Be sure
to cultivate other social circles that support you as an
individual or your family relationships. Religious
institutions often perform this function very well.
Maintaining close ties to old friends can help keep you
humble and provide critical support when things at the college
aren't going as you had hoped. Nearly every faculty
member has a bad class or a bad semester when little seems
to go as you hoped. It is important to have people
who value other aspects of you, or who remind you that you
are a fabulous teacher even if this semester you are saddled
with illiterate students.
social animals. People need the assistance of others,
and we need to help others too. We need relationship,
input from others and teaching (or mentoring) by others.
We need support networks in our professional lives and outside
them (particularly outside them). Some people have
significant boundaries problems in their relationships with
others. Some have good boundaries, but could clarify them
to increase their emotional well being and personal success.
Boundary problems in relationships often occur in one of four
Compliant person feels guilty and/or controlled by others;
they can't set boundaries.
Controller aggressively or manipulatively violates boundaries
Nonresponsive person sets boundaries against responsibility
Avoidant sets boundaries against receiving care from
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries:
When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of
Your Life, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids
Examples for faculty
- Faculty members
who lack confidence in themselves or their position in the
college often feel they must do it all, or they won't measure
up. Within a short time they are exhausted, frustrated
and beginning to do less than their best work. Don't
allow yourself to be controlled by what others might think.
If you don't know what is reasonable in terms of workload
or other campus involvements, put your academic research
skills to work and find out what is common in your campus
culture. Consider how this matches your abilities,
family commitments and energies. Allow yourself to
commit to only what you can do well. While you might
be willing to "burn the midnight oil" for a few
months, remember that your career is not a sprint; its more
like a marathon, and you want to enjoy the exercise and
be smiling at the finish line.
- If you are asked
to do things by your department chair or administrator that
you sincerely believe are inappropriate, beyond your capabilities
or your formal responsibilities, you need to respectfully
share your perspective with them. If you have doubts,
withhold making any commitments until you have consulted
with other faculty or administrators who may be more knowledgeable
about what is appropriate.
- Some faculty
members don't want to risk failure or loss of friendship,
and fear commitment to campus responsibilities over and
above those directly related to their classroom. In
fact, many people are attracted to academia because it allows
them great autonomy. Within certain limits (class
assignments), faculty have tremendous control over when
they work and the physical environment in which they do
that work. Faculty can choose to work summers or take
them off. Often they can supplement their income with
an overload class. Most departments are able to schedule
classes for faculty with children in such as way as to make
it possible to be home when children arrive from school.
Teaching can be a good life. However, faculty who
set their boundaries too high and focus on their personal
needs to the detriment of their reasonable professional
responsibilities abuse this position. Sometimes this
is not simply a function of self indulgence; it may reflect
a lack of recognition of the value of one's contributions.
It is important to stay in balance over the long run.
- Faculty members
who dominate class time with constant lectures and belittling
of students who ask questions have boundaries against
others. It is very important to think carefully about
how people learn and about how one can best reach their
students. Students are not here to serve faculty.
We are here to serve them. While it is imperative
that we set high standards, we should not set barriers against
- Faculty live
in the world of education, yet a few of us seem to think
we can no longer learn from others. Most young faculty
will learn as much from their students as their students
might from them. Mature faculty need to be careful
not to set boundaries against continued education be that
in the form of on campus professional development activities
or formal education. Even if it turns out that we
know more about the topic than the speaker, we might learn
a new teaching technique. Being the student again
can make us feel vulnerable. Many faculty don't spend
much time feeling vulnerable by mid career. Sometimes,
reminding one's self what it feels like to be a student
can be a huge help in relating and connecting to our own
students. Most faculty love to show off what works
for them. If you are feeling a bit stale, visit the
class of a colleague who seems at the top of their game
and be inspired. Remember a boundary is not a wall.
- Faculty with
healthy boundaries will know what they need to be responsible
for and what they aren't. Don't confuse being self-protective
with selfishness. We must all be good stewards of
our health and self-respect. Often these are not things
we learn overnight. Be patient with yourself as you
figure it all out.
A final thought on boundaries
- In my experience some of the best faculty see their teaching as
their life's work. I think this is fine. Where we need
to be careful, however, is confusing what we do with who we are.
While we can teach how to die from our death beds, we can not and
should not be college professors 24 hours a day. We are also
children, spouses, friends, parents, hikers, lovers, housepainters,
gardeners, grandparents, celebrants and mourners. We will
learn far more than we will teach during our professional lives.
We can't do it all or have it all. But, we can be delighted
with our choices and comfortable, even joyful with what we get.