On the Brink of Boundaries/Sanity #TeacherMom

Back when I was studying to become a teacher, I remember the day my professor drew a highly technical drawing that looked something like this:

The topic of discussion was on boundaries. My professor explained that if we’re clear and firm on our boundaries, students will recognize the limits and stay safely inside; conversely, if students sense a weak spot in the “fence” they will all come along to test it out.

Seemed reasonable. I jotted a line in my notebook, adding it to my list of teacher preparation tips, and went on my merry way.

What it did not prepare me for was the magnitude of said “testing,” not with my students, and most certainly not with my three year-old son.

Take this morning for instance. He declared he didn’t want banana bread. His sister then asked for some banana bread. He then insisted that not only did he want banana bread, but made it clear that the world would end if he did not have banana bread.

Knowing his track record for eating only two bites, I told him that if I gave him some, he would have. to. eat. it. That he would get nothing else until he did so. He agreed.

And like a rookie, I fell for it. I gave him banana bread. Of which he took two bites. And then asked for something else.

Here was my chance to hold firm on my boundaries, and boy, did he test them.

He seemed to possess a finely tuned sense that my boundaries — and my sanity — were hanging on by the slimmest of threads. And the whole herd was rather methodically working away at that vulnerable place.

But that’s when more wisdom on boundaries returned to my memory, this time, from Brene Brown:

See, boundaries aren’t just about keeping the “herd” from wreaking havoc in every which direction. They are about compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

We are compassionate enough to ourselves to hold true to our values (ie, food waste and follow-through in the above story). And we are compassionate enough to others to be clear, direct, and kind so that we don’t end up harboring unseen resentment (ie, lingering frustration with my son and myself had I caved).

And so I held on. I worked to focus on those boundaries and my values I was working to preserve and instill, rather than the frustration that threatened to devolve the whole thing into a shouting match.

Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. We left the banana bread for a couple hours and when we came back, he was perfectly happy to eat it before getting a new snack.

Which just goes to show what a break can do for a battle of wills — and preservation of our boundaries and our sanity.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

6 Thoughts on What’s Wrong With Compliance

In “An Open Letter to Pinterest from a Teacher,” I wrote about worrisome pins, including those that circulate around compliance. One commenter responded with her perspective:
Compliance Comment

 

There seems to be differing views on what compliance really entails. When we are concerned about students’ disregard of rules and respect, where do we look for answers? I would assert that turning to compliance is treating the symptom and not the cause. This thoughtful comment has inspired me to further expound on my thoughts. Below are six issues with compliance that come to mind. 

Lack of compliance does not mean lack of rules

Creating rules is always an important strategy for forming positive learning environments. But if we approach the rule-making process from a teacher-centered “here-are-my-rules;-now-follow-them” mindset, we are unnecessarily centering that environment on a top-down compliance system. We can achieve a more positive–and accountable–environment when we share this process, asking students what they need to be able to learn.

Compliance does not equal respect

The very definition of compliance conflicts with building respectful relationships. Synonyms on Thesaurus.com include:

  • don’t make waves
  • fit in
  • satisfy
  • submit
  • give in
  • give up

If our primary interest is to build mutually respectful relationships with our students, plastering our walls with things like “blurt out” charts detracts from that message.

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Compliance is often counterproductive for cooperation

Principal David Geurin discusses the problems that arise when we value compliance over commitment from our teachers. This principle equally applies to our students. As Geurin says, “[Compliance] may result in some change in behavior, but it may only get the appearance of a change in behavior.” If we instead shift our focus on truly connecting with our students, I believe we would cultivate deeper understanding of and commitment to a shared vision for a positive learning environment.

Compliance diminishes learning

I shared this example in a response to the comment and I’ll share it here, too. During the first few of weeks of kindergarten, my daughter came home chatting and singing all about nothing but following instructions and sitting at the carpet. And that seemed natural, because most teachers focus on classroom procedures and rules during the first part of school. But the unfortunate result was that she was trained from the get-go what school is about–and it wasn’t learning. It was compliance. Not anticipation for the wonderings they’d explore. Not hope that their curiosity and abilities would be cultivated. Not even simple joy for discovering the world around them. Compliance. And when compliance is the tone of a classroom environment, when it is valued above all else, at best, learning is diminished. After all, how can we expect students to branch out, take risks, and explore the possibilities when they are continually waiting to be told where to be, what to say, and how to sit?

Compliance sacrifices creativity for control

Educator Michael Niehoff distinguishes between two “camps:” compliance/control vs. creativity/innovation. He finds that when it comes down to a challenge, we often have a choice to make between the two sides, and that those who stubbornly stick with compliance can miss out on unexpected learning opportunities. If we want our students to think outside the box, we need to actively model that as well by sometimes letting go of our preconceived biases and attitudes toward how school “should” be done.

Compliance can silence student voice

One of the ugliest consequences of compliance is when our students leave their contributions at the door because they know that their voices won’t really be heard anyway. But it’s difficult to spot because teachers, administrators, and a parents alike sometimes confuse it with good discipline. This issue was recently documented by Inquiry Partners when a perceived top-rate classroom was observed and filmed. Most everyone came away with glowing reviews, but as the author states, “what none of them knew…was that what we were actually filming was a prime (and common) example of student disengagement.” They found that 86 of the 90 minutes, the students were sitting and listening. These are clearly students who have been groomed for years for compliance. And it happens in even the best teachers’ classrooms.


 

None of this is to discount the need for individual behavior contracts or similar measures on occasion. But even in those circumstances, we should be careful to ask ourselves if we care more about the students simply complying with the rules, or working to help them take steps toward meaningful change for themselves. What about you? What does compliance mean to you? And what has happened in your classroom when you begin to let go of control?

featured image: Jesse Moore