tradecraft…boundaries (part IV)

fun with boundaries (in structured settings) exhibit A

o.k., so we’ve covered a lot of ground…and more recently, we’ve covered a lot of the serious stuff surrounding boundaries (in structured settings)–but at the end of the day, one of the best things you can do is give yourself some grace with this kind of thing…holding kids accountable; setting and enforcing boundaries is not easy…but, you can get better at it–with time and practice (lots and lots of practice)…

while you know how important boundaries can be for an individual, group and/or community…it’s also really important to note that boundaries and boundary setting can be a lot of fun, too!!!

to illustrate that point, here’s a story from my classroom case files:

one day i was giving a presentation to my class (fyi-it was the last hour of the day, with two weeks left before summer vacation) when another group of students from our school (cosmetology class) came out into the courtyard near my room (my classroom has a row of windows that runs down one wall…it’s the wall that faces the courtyard)…

things were going along fine, when suddenly, a student started ‘making a racket’ right outside one of my windows (we, of course, had the classroom windows open–it was almost summer-time, after all!)…the student got ‘loud and obnoxious’…

so, i glanced outside (and so did my students)…to see what all the fuss was about…i stood there for a minute, watching and listening, as this one girl carried on about some boy…i had seen this kind of frenetic behavior before, it’s what i call: the typical cosmetology drama…think: 90210 on speed

i watched, thinking–God bless the teachers in that program…mercy!

anyways…i looked around the courtyard and didn’t see her teachers anywhere…must be on the way….but, she was still carrying on…she continued to distract and disrupt my students…so, i went over to an open window (near the front of the class) and called her over…as she walked to the window, i glanced back at my students…and at that moment, i saw them… simultaneously and as a whole…lean forward in their chairs…like they had practiced that synchronized move all year-long…

so, i turned back to the window and talked to the girl (library-quiet style) who was making mischief…she on one side of the open window (screen-less), me on the other…

me: hey, nice day, isn’t it?!  hey, i can understand why you’d be so pumped up to be outside, but would you mind toning it down a little…we’ve got class going on in here?

student: sure, no problem

me: thanks

after our exchange, i turned away from the window and faced my class…and immediately, my students made their next collective move…

in unison, they were up and out of their chairs, pointing and shouting:

mr. d!!!, mr. d!!! she just gave you ‘the finger’!!!

i looked at my class as if to say, “really?!”…they continued shouting and pointing towards the windows…

so, i glanced outside and saw the girl i had just visited with…she was talking and laughing with her friend on the other side of the courtyard (the other 20 girls in the group continued working on their assignments–they seemed to be unaware of what was going on)…

i still didn’t see the cosmetology instructors…

i turned back to my students…and calmed them all down…then, i zeroed in on one particular student (the most honest one in the class) and asked her quietly:

did she really do that?! (just to confirm what had ‘gone down’)

she nodded back to me and said:


momentarily, i drifted off to dreamland and imagined myself running back and forth along the bank of windows with my arms outstretched, my fists clenched–save for my middle fingers (which i’d locked in the upright position)–pumping my hands up and down like pistols…all the while, shouting p-pow, pow–p-pow, pow–p-pow, powwhat’s up now?!  (press play on bon jovi’s, ‘blaze of glory’)…

but, eventually, i “came to”, snapped out of it, and shook off the daydream…

now, normally…99.9% of the time, i would’ve just talked about the behavior with one of her instructors (after school) and left it to them to ‘consequence her’…and they would’ve (most certainly) clamped down on her the next day (we’ve ‘got each other’s backs’ when it comes to student discipline, no doubt–which is awesome!)…and i would’ve been done with it…

but, this time, i decided to handle it myself (for the fun of it)…

so, i went over to my desk and spent a little time at work…my class was stone silent, of course…waiting, wondering…what’s going to happen next?!

after a moment, i got up, walked to the window, and called the girl over (once again)…behind me, i heard movement…and i knew my class was, once again, ‘leaning in’…

she came over and we started talking…

me (library-quiet once more): so, you know…you owe me something

student: what do you mean?!

me: you know, for your hand gesture…for the ‘disrespect’

student: really, ‘the finger’?!  that was nothing! (admission)

me: hmmmm…

[i handed her a sheet of paper…at the top, it read: 20 things you could’ve done–instead of flippin’ a teacher off*…]

[she looked at it, was quiet for a beat, then looked up at me…and stared me down]

student: no way, not doing it

me: ok, you can do “20” for me today, or “40” for your teachers tomorrow

[she thought about it for a moment, frowned, and slowly walked toward the other side of the courtyard…then, she sat down at a bench, took out a pen, and started writing…i smiled to myself 🙂 ]

at this point, trying to teach anything was completely futile…so, i told my class about the consequence i gave her…and waited…perched on the edge of my desk…

after a little while, i saw one of her teachers come out to the courtyard and talk to some of the students about an assignment…then quickly, she headed back into the school (before i got a chance to ‘wave her over’)…

anyways, not long after that, the girl got up and came toward the window again…

at the window, she handed me her list of “20 things”…

it read:

  1. smiled
  2. waved
  3. walk away
  4. thumbs up
  5. yelled
  6. talked about it
  7. stayed calm
  8. wait until you weren’t there
  9. laughed
  10. ignore it
  11. screamed
  12. gone back inside
  13. listened
  14. been upset to myself
  15. wrote a note
  16. flicked off someone else say hi
  17. punched my hand
  18. not gone outside
  19. stayed at home
  20. ran away

as i read it over, i thought it was spectacular (and funny, too)…and in our exchange, i had her change #16 (for obvious reasons)…when she did, i thanked her politely and we went our separate ways…

at that point, i turned back to the class, held up the list, and said (with a smile):

“20 things”–no one messes with criminal justice, peeps!

[they clapped and cheered as i pinned it to my bulletin board…then, we moved on with what was left of the day]

later, i talked to my friends (the cosmetology teachers) about what ‘had gone down’ in the courtyard…they were ‘cool with my response’ for their student and appreciated me holding her accountable…

proposition: boundary setting is no ‘piece of cake’…but, sometimes, it sure can be fun! cheers!

*the “20 things” is something i got from my wife, who happens to be a stellar middle-school teacher!!!

note: the consequence(s) imposed should be reasonable-meaning, it should fit the offense…getting ‘the finger’ is a really minor offense in my world (then again, i’ve been punched, kicked, spit at, grabbed, pushed, slapped, poked, (vehemently) ‘swore at’ and had objects thrown at me over the course of my career…so, my perspective is skewed off of that…heh, heh)…so, giving/recommending the ‘clas program’ or an ‘in-school suspension (ISS)’ for this particular offense would’ve been over-the-top, in my opinion…but, again, my response was based on my specific work situation/experience/prior history with the ‘youth in question’–and ultimately, my discretion…your situation/setting and (to some degree) your perspective will dictate your boundaries and how you respond to certain behaviors…

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