“And we’re back!”
As schools across the country say these words in just a few short weeks, it undoubtedly brings up some nervousness and apprehension for both staff and students, as we all get back into the groove of being at school in-person, learning in-person – and interacting in-person.
Independent schools are known and sought out for their great and meaningful interactions between staff and students. And although staff and students often create special bonds, there are important boundaries that need to be strongly maintained to avoid unintentional mistakes, misunderstandings – or misconduct.
For example, sometimes, teaching and non-teaching staff unintentionally say things that make children uncomfortable – with seemingly non-controversial comments – like about someone’s new haircut, what they’re wearing or if they look like they look like they’ve been training and are in better physical shape. Oftentimes, staff end up second guessing themselves or feeling awkward because they want to say something nice or complimentary, but just aren’t sure how to do that. In a world that is moving in a direction to really value people in ways other than their looks, isn’t it important to give compliments that reflect that? Each school’s mission, vision and values illustrate the community that their staff, students and their families embrace. This is a good place to start from when giving a compliment to a student. Such as:
- “I’m impressed with your sportsmanship this season, and your responsibility as team captain.”
- “You showed tremendous resilience in the last game.”
- “Your kindness to your classmates demonstrates real empathy.”
The adults your students interact with in your school have a profound impact on their lives. And, little things that are said become big deals in children’s minds. Although teachers and other school staff bring their particular skill set to your school, staff rarely are taught about the best ways to interact with children and the nuances of boundaries.
When we return to school this year many children will not have been in a physical classroom in a long time. This could create anxiety and even a stronger need for connection with the adults in the school. Your school needs a framework on how to interact with students that creates a safe and respectful atmosphere. For example, many staff often think that it’s not appropriate to discuss a student’s body, when in fact there are three situations where it would be completely appropriate:
- If there was an injury and a staff member was talking to 9-1-1 or the student’s parent;
- If it’s related to a sports move;
- If there was a dress code issue and the student may be revealing something that they wouldn’t want seen by others.
Schools want their students to be able to rely on their teachers and staff for support and to build up their confidence and self-esteem, but boundaries are crucial so the relationship stays healthy and appropriate. Some students will struggle and feel strong connections to adults at the school and rely on them for necessary support during a difficult time. That’s an important benefit of an independent school education but the adults should be clear on how to navigate that situation properly. They need to communicate what is happening to other relevant colleagues and supervisors so there is transparency and the best support possible for the students. All these nuances and scenarios should be covered in Boundary Training.
We are here to help. Our online, 30-minute asynchronous Boundary Training: Creating a Culture of Safety course – and our interactive online or in-person workshops – present the fundamentals of strong boundaries in a way that speaks specifically to your school’s culture. As child safety experts and Independent school leaders, we know how to approach this complex topic in a way that resonates. For more information on how we’ll help strengthen boundaries at your school, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.