Making It Work: Setting Boundaries

Setting Boundaries When There is No Balance, No Control, and No Right Answer

“Back to School 2020” looks nothing like any of us expected it to. Two weeks before school begins, I would generally be organizing the Orff instruments returning home to my classroom after levels courses, adhering fresh sit spots to the carpet, tuning strings, and shopping for school supplies for my two elementary aged children. Instead, I’m homeschooling my own kids and waiting with anticipation to hear anything – anything­ – official from my district about what teaching will look like in a few weeks. We don’t know much, but we know enough to be nervous. Spring 2020 tested us and left us tired. I’d like to offer some perspective that I hope might be helpful as I attempt to frame my mindset for the coming school year, whatever it may bring.

I’ve been playing with a paradox this week:

I am not in control.
Everything will be ok.

I, as a parent and as a teacher, am not in control right now.  There’s some freedom in that along with a little sadness because it means it’s not up to me to make the “right” decision that will guarantee success for my children and my students or one “wrong” enough to ruin their futures. It’s also hard because we are bombarded by voices from the news and through the only means we have access to social interaction right now:  social media. These voices come from those that do not live in our homes, sit in our classrooms, or even will be there at the end to cheer with us when this is all over. So the voices feel really important. They’re confusing. It’s hard to drown them out. I keep trying to listen to the quiet one inside myself that is telling me, “This will end. It’s not forever. It’s ok. This will be behind us before we know it.  All you have to do is figure out how to get through today as best you can.”

In the past, I have tried to do the impossible. Like many of the brilliant people reading this, I have built music programs with few instruments and no budget. I have created a beautiful, joyful classroom for my students to feel safe to explore their creativity. I have poured thousands of dollars and hours of my time into these endeavors, often at the expense of my own life balance. Now that I’m faced with doing all of this online with no paid professional development AND simultaneously homeschooling my own children while I teach music class synchronously, I’m drawing some hard boundaries in my life.

Here’s another paradox:

I am a good teacher.
I will not sacrifice my physical, mental, and emotional health, my finances, or my life balance for my job.

There are hundreds of incredible teachers sharing their homemade instrument kits online right now. I look at their posts and think, “Wow… they are incredibly brilliant.  Also, I will not be doing that.” For what remains of the summer, I don’t need to lose sleep and spend hours attending unpaid PD or trying to zip tie jingle bells onto bracelets or tape ribbons to dowel rods or cut out 400 laminated manipulative sets to sharpie with student names and class numbers to send home that will just get lost in the first week of school to be a good teacher. I don’t even need to know what I’m going to say when I first see their sweet faces on the screen. I just have to show up and love them. That’s always worked before, even when I was a first-year teacher with zero tools in my teacher toolbox. I have to believe it’s going to work now.

It’s important to recognize our individual boundaries right now. As I’m examining my current energy levels and weighing what behaviors feel authentic and appropriate for myself, I am also thinking ahead to the boundaries I will hold in the coming school year.  For now, that looks like:

OFFICE HOURS – I will answer student and parent inquiries during regular, contracted hours. My computer will be shut down after the school day ends.

RUBRICS – I will use rubrics to make grading clear for teacher, student, and parents.

CURRICULUM – I will use my curriculum. So much great content has been generated, there is no need for me to spend hundreds of hours re-creating the same or similar lessons just so I can take credit for making the video or Google Slides myself.

GRACE – I will give myself grace when I make mistakes.

CLASSROOM – My home will have dedicated work space so I can give my work physical boundaries.

FINAL BELL – When my workday ends, I will change into workout clothes and go for a walk to signal to my body that the workday is finished.

FINDING FUN – I will calendar hikes, movie nights, and special dinners with my family so we can remember to have fun.

SELF CARE – My nightstand will be stocked with books that nourish my soul. My refrigerator will be stocked with healthy nutrition to keep my body going, even when my mind and spirit are tired.

This school year may begin differently than we ever could have imagined, but I take great comfort in the fact that it will also come to an end. How we handle the in-between has the potential to impact our physical, mental, and emotional health greatly. I’m choosing to set strong boundaries in the coming year, and I’m sending my fellow music teachers so much love as we step into the unknown together. We will get through this.

Crystal Pridmore

Crystal Pridmore is a music and movement teacher at Finney Elementary School in San Diego, CA who has completed three levels of Orff Shulwerk training. She is the President- Elect of the San Diego Chapter of the American Orff Schulwerk Association, creator and cohost of the Chaotic Harmony Podcast, the Director of Advocacy for the Music for Every School Foundation, and a director for the American Center for Elemental Music and Movement. In addition, she is a certified health coach through the Center for Obesity Prevention and Education who coaches clients in healthy habits and nutrition.

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  1. Misty Noble on September 2, 2020 at 6:11 pm

    You are a wise woman! Best wishes for you and your family this year.

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 2, 2020 at 10:08 pm

      Thank you! Best wishes for you, too. We can do this.

  2. Lisa Heinrich on September 2, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    I love this! Thank you for the wise words.

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 2, 2020 at 10:09 pm

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m cheering us all on!

  3. Kathryn on September 2, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    Thank you for such a beautiful, thoughtful insight into feelings inside of me. It helps to have someone else air their concerns!

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 2, 2020 at 10:11 pm

      There is so much power in “You are not alone.” Here’s to honoring the feelings inside us and allowing them to be our teacher.

      • Eileen Andrews on September 2, 2020 at 11:35 pm

        Yes & Amen to the Truths you have shared. Thank you! Onward together!!

  4. Ann on September 2, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    What a fabulous article! You are so wise to set these boundaries and to make me aware that I need to do the same. We have all taken so much of our own precious time to get ready for school in the past but we need to remember that no matter how many years we’ve been teaching (me -starting my 37th year!) that this is new to almost everyone and we need to be kind to ourselves. Have a great year!

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 2, 2020 at 10:13 pm

      Yes! ALL the kindness to ourselves and everyone around us! Thank you for your comment. Here’s to redefining success this year to include wellness.

  5. Karin McCartney on September 2, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Just what I needed. Clear ,concise and to the point. We have to turn inward to everything that we have done in years’ past to build our great programs and rely on THAT and not the latest platform, cool tech lesson and prefabricated plans that feature other teachers. Our kiddos want to SEE us and HEAR from us and FEEL our love – even if through the screen! Simple delivery with our human touch will be all they need…and really want! Thanks for a great article!

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 2, 2020 at 10:14 pm

      Yes absolutely! They miss us just as much as we miss them. The magic is still in our relationships with our students. The music is the vehicle. Wishing you magic this year.

      • Melanie on September 4, 2020 at 3:27 pm

        Thank you Crystal Well Put! Now all we need is to put this into action! I saw all those music kits too and I just knew right then that I did not have the money for those and neither did my school. I told my students today as I journeyed through and said Hi to my Division 2 students. We will be journeying, make music more creative then we ever dreamed, and problem solve and travel together this year in a whole new way. I’m counting on them to find ways to make music too and this is a cooperative journey! All the best to you in your school year!

  6. Samantha Opp on September 2, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing, Crystal. There are some really great reminders and practical ways to set boundaries so that work doesn’t consume us!

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 3, 2020 at 11:40 am

      You’re welcome! Let’s get through this with ourselves intact.

  7. Nancy Fiske on September 2, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    Thank you for saying what I have been thinking, but feeling wracked with guilt for not having all my teaching videos already made, sending home kits, etc…..I gave myself a real weekend and will continue to do so. I am a musician, not a techy, so I will show up, sing and dance on zoom, and try to add some joy! Thanks for saying that that is OK! Year 36 comin’ up!

  8. Clara on September 2, 2020 at 9:14 pm

    This is exactly what I needed to read today! I am definitely feeling out of control and it’s hard not to be consumed in the stress and anxiety I feel. Thank you for validating my feelings and offering wise suggestions for coping.

  9. Elaine on September 2, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Thank you. I really need to adapt this mindset!

  10. Ru Reis on September 3, 2020 at 6:24 am

    Thank you for writing it and sharing with us! It is truly one of the areas I will need to work the most during this school year!

  11. Karen R. on September 3, 2020 at 6:40 am

    Thank you for this reminder! It is relevant for LIFE! Blessings for sharing such wise words.

  12. Shirley Moore on September 3, 2020 at 6:47 am

    Thank you for this. It’s as if you were in my head. We all love what we do (I do for sure) bu the uncertainty of the approaching year can produce anxiety among the best of us. I’m so glad I read your article!

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 3, 2020 at 11:43 am

      I’m glad it served you! All the grace. All the deep breaths. You are enough.

  13. Mrs. Martin on September 3, 2020 at 7:49 am

    Thank you so much! I totally agree about the home music kits…so much work for something that will definitely be under-appreciated! Thanks for giving me permission to make like Elsa and let it go.

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 3, 2020 at 11:42 am

      Let everything go that does not serve you. It might be the right path for someone else, but we are all different. Whatever you can do is perfect.

      • Maria on September 8, 2020 at 9:51 pm

        I love this. Thanks for the reminder of how to keep things in balance. Tomorrow is our first in person day with protocols, rules, and my first time ever being on a cart…. I’ll need this reminder.

  14. Kristin Prince on September 3, 2020 at 8:13 am

    Love this post! Thank you for the reminders, especially about showing up and loving our students which is always in our control. Take care as we start this new school year!

    • Vincente Batsford on September 3, 2020 at 9:59 am

      Exactly! I copied the line, “I just have to show up and love them. ” with a big bold font and put it on my desk. Thank you! Music finds a way.

    • Crystal Pridmore on September 3, 2020 at 11:41 am

      Wishing you all the best this year!

  15. Tiffany U. Barry on September 3, 2020 at 10:56 am

    Such an empowering and timely article. Thank you, Crystal, for advocating for all of us (and yourself!) as we move through this collective trauma.

  16. Jennifer Vandergrift-Gladden on September 3, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    I think this is the best display of what I have been thinking and feeling for months!

  17. Harold Walt on September 3, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    Well said and so timely!!!! Excellent advice to “paradox” by. Thank you –

  18. Dana Fanning on September 3, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks you! I’ve had a particularly rough “Covid” day and reading about taking care of myself was a gift from God. One day at a time, right? God Bless you and all my counterparts out there working to keep the beauty of music in the lives of our students!

  19. Russell N. on September 5, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    Thank you, Crystal. Your comments reminded me of the last part of this excellent article I just read about building resilience – he calls it “hardening your optimism.”
    Stay strong!

  20. Brian Michaud on September 8, 2020 at 11:57 am

    Well said. I had a good chuckle when you mentioned the music packets. I feel the same way. No offense to those who made them. Kudos to you for going the extra mile for your students.

  21. Felicia on September 23, 2020 at 10:38 pm

    Thank you! I needed to read this! I’m glad I finally opened this email to discover your article.

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