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Boundaries in the school system?

2017

Hello CYC-Net,

I am a first year Bachelor's of CYC student. I am a male student and just recently I started volunteering at a elementary school with kindergartens.
I do plan on teaching at the primary level but am not sure yet.

I had a question in regards to volunteering here. Since volunteering the kids have been very happy with me. I always play with them during recess. We play tag, build a snowman, and I even tell them stories during their recess which they love. They always love asking me to sit with them during lunch time which I do. It turns into "sit with me" "no sit with me".

When they do something good I usually tell them great job followed by a high five. They also give me hugs every morning. They always get very excited when they see me first thing in the morning.

I have truly enjoyed my experience so far. I learn a lot from kids. When I help them read, colour and write it makes me feel proud of myself. I'm glad I am volunteering and making them learn/be happy.

Truth is, they see me more of a "cool friend type" which I was worried about. I know I am just volunteering but I feel kids sometimes need that rather than being strict, although having a balance between both is good, which I feel I do. I can be the cool person but still be in charge(technically even though I am just volunteering). While volunteering I have seen a few teachers in the school who need self-awareness and could be better teachers. Example, one kid was misbehaving and the teacher actually was yelling at him and said "I'm the boss." To me that was not good on the teacher.

I wanted to ask with all these would this be ok? Is it crossing boundaries in school? I'm not exactly sure how the education rules are. For example, I know you can't touch a kid, but would a high five or a quick hug in the morning when they run up to you with joy be acceptable? Or does it depend? I would hate to decline a hug from them when they are so happy but at the same time I want to stay protected just in case. But I was not sure. I actually enjoy eating lunch with them and playing out at recess. I know I do a good job because I see that they are learning and are happy.

On the other hand, the kids always ask me questions like how old I am or if I can come to their house. In this case, I understand and know I cannot answer and must decline for obvious reasons. So if they ask me to come to their birthday party what can I respond with?

I know as a male CYC worker there is a lot of negativity. I read online that male CYC workers are very rare which is true but I feel we need more male CYCs.

I know kindergartens are a very young age but I'm very glad to volunteer.

What are your thoughts on teaching?

This field is creating life experiences for me. I absolutely look forward to my career in helping kids/youth. I want to do so much in this field. I wish to also work as a counsellor and in a group home.

Hope you don't mind this long email. I am just learning so please no negative feedback. Thanks!

Thank you all!! Much appreciated.

Raghav
...

Hi Raghav,

A good place to start is the with school/organisation’s policies on volunteers and conduct. Every organisation will have some policies in place and this is where you should start. Hopefully, organisations who use volunteers establish a work contract or agreement which outlines the duties and roles of the volunteers so that they know exactly what is expected from them. You should know what is OK and what is not OK from the organisation’s perspective. If you do not have such a clear agreement or no policies exist, perhaps arrange a meeting with your supervisor/coordinator and ask them some questions to help clarify. Your approach could simply be one of “I want to know that I am doing the right thing, so I have some questions….” Every organisations is different and may have some slightly different policies and expectations, so never assume that general guidelines are always being observed everywhere.

If I can make some assumptions…. From what you write I assume you do not have a clear job description or guideline. This would mean that you are not that restricted by professional boundaries, because you are not working in a professional capacity. Just be clear about that – and again, perhaps have that conversation so that you know what is expected of you.

Hope this helps.

Werner
...

Greetings,

Best to check with legal department on the touching boundaries, so as not to set yourself up for failure. There is not a one rule application. Also, keep in mind, as a volunteer, your are under a different set of rules and perhaps more scrutiny vs. a full time employee. Do you have a handbook or other to refer to? Perhaps in the job description, or contract?

Being cool is great, keeping the healthy boundaries is a must, but use the gift to further your connection with each INDIVIDUAL.

Attending birthday parties is wonderful, but I would keep an escort by your side, for all the right reasons, and gift giving should be kept to a minimum (perhaps a framed piece of art or work they have completed). Just a cameo appearance. Some tend to frown upon this type of interaction and we've gotten away from these traditional ways of a village to raise the child. MY opinion.

Best wishes, I hope this gives you food for thought.

Peace,

Aliese Moran

Hey Raghav!

I must first express how happy I am that you are seeking support from appropriate channels. I have been a CYC in the field for 8 years now and work in the school system. Creating boundaries is something that all CYCs have to work on as it depends on the clientele they are working with and it is an ongoing conversation regarding if hugs are appropriate. Within the school system there are a lot of limitations due to liability reasons, so I would ask what do you feel the purpose of the hugs are? And is it more for you, or for the children? Personally, I feel hugs can be used as a therapeutic method based on situations. However as you are working with young children, they desire touch in order to validate their affection. With that being said, if you choose to continue giving hugs, I would have a conversation with the children about appropriate touching and who they should touch/hug and not. Make it a life skill for them. However, before you even have that conversation it must be okayed by the teacher and possibly the principle due to the teacher. In schools, the principal is the main person who must be involved in discussions regarding CYC life skills and intervention strategies due to the various liability issues they must face, however ensuring you have a team that you can speak about this is always beneficial to create a consistent environment for the children.

Good for you for keeping your boundaries regarding your personal life. It is important to teach children what boundaries look like as they are still developing them and they look different in every household due to culture, values, beliefs, etc.

As you are new to the field I would suggest that at the end of the day you reflect on your day and ask yourself if the choices you made were for the children or for yourself as this can be very difficult to distinguish. I find a lot of workers engage in certain actions because they forget that the child's needs come first, we are just a stepping stool for them to move forward.

In terms of the inappropriate actions of other professionals, it is difficult for you as a student to address them due to the difference in authority. That being said, I would still attempt to address it in a very careful way. Maybe just having a conversation with the person regarding other ways they may be able to deal with the situation, rather than confronting them, I find can be helpful because at the end of the day we are not better than anyone else but we can help them try to achieve better. In our field we must work as a team however we must also be advocates for the 'vulnerable', which is a fine line to tread. You will build these skills as you grow in the field. Continue to look for support because it will help you become a great CYC as it seems you are already on your way to.

Good luck! Hope this helps! :)

Sincerely,

Shadan H.

Hi Raghav,

You have some great advice and ideas here to start with. I would just like to add, I have worked in schools for 10 years now and your particular experience with the teacher is not uncommon. It took me a number of years to develop the skill of approaching teachers and giving my thoughts toward their approach in a professional way. As a volunteer, this will likely not be a option for you yet, but it is a good skill to try and develop - take notes and reflect on how you would approach this teacher in future if you could. We are all human and get stressed out. I find teachers often realize their approach is harsh in hindsight and feel bad about it. How would you use CYC relational approaches to give concerned feedback to this teacher if you were an employee there?

Others here are correct – you need to get clear boundary rules from the principal at your school. Be honest and tell them you feel high fives and short hugs can be used therapeutically to boost confidence, develop trust, etc. Tell the principal you are developing these skills in your CYC program and have learned the warning signs around touch. For example, a child who has experienced abuse may be fearful or resistant to touch, therefore you would not initiate touch with children but let them take the lead on that. Also, some kids can be overly touchy and make you feel uncomfortable; with these children you would teach about personal space and comfort zones. Learning appropriate touch can be a great life skill. I hug and give high fives to those students I know will benefit from that. I believe you can trust your instinct as a CYCP.

The birthday party might be stretching it – I personally would feel this is a professional boundary cross. But again, talk to your principal.

Hope this helps,

Nancy
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