Valentines, Rules, and Boundary Objects


It’s Valentine’s Day. Hearts and sweeties fill the tables and backpacks in my classroom. The kids munch on heart shaped gummies and show off pink bears. Valentine’s Day really is for teenagers. They share cupcakes, they give their loves Valentine candy, and they even leave cookies and lollipops on my desk. I can’t help but smile— they remind me why I love teaching. My kids are good people.


Valentine’s Day comes with extra snacks. I do have some rules in my classroom about food, and I warn brand new teachers about why I have a few ground rules. 


Before I explain, I think it’s important to note that high school culture is not what it was 20 years ago. For example, kids do not have lockers in my building, and they tote everything they care about in their bookbags. This includes food. They have their snacks and drinks on them. They have become accustomed to taking out a snack whenever they feel like it. I offer no harsh judgment on this because honestly, I have a bit of flexibility in place so that I can build relationships with my kids. I don’t fuss at them over little things like some potato chips, and they generally try to show some enthusiasm for whatever we are learning that day. It’s kind of like the concept of spending a little money to make money. I give a little “chill” attitude, and they give me that positive vibe in return. I have found that they listen better this way as well. 


Here is what I tell the new teachers about snackies in the classroom.


  • Allergies are serious. Pay attention to WHAT kids eat in the room.
  • I do not allow my kids to eat peanut products in the classroom.
  • Generally, I do not allow students to pass food around unless it’s just gum or mints.
  • Talk to the kids about their allergies (quietly) so that there is an open understanding between teacher and student. 
  • Their snacks must be quiet and not distracting.
  • They must clean up after themselves.


I was thinking about how a manual for new teachers, that covers topics like food in the classroom, is a boundary object. According to Wilson and Herndl, the boundary objects “are open and flexible as global structures that provide meaning for a wide range of actors and coordinate a variety of practices. And they are instantiated differently in specific, concrete contexts” (Wilson & Herndl). The “global structure” in my scenario is the idea of a new teacher manual “ being used by new hires (perhaps anyone in the county). It’s important to note this because in technical communication, I cannot necessarily control who becomes a member of my audience. I have a responsibility to write for that “global structure” but also for the “specific, concrete, contexts.” 


For example, another school building may not allow snacks at all, so my guidelines may not apply in the same way. However, the plan is flexible. The ability to take what one needs from the manual is up to the context of its use. I think this is important as I learn to write for a broader audience, which may include people beyond my intended audience.

Wilson, Greg, and Carl G. Herndl. “Boundary Objects as Rhetorical Exigence: Knowledge Mapping and Interdisciplinary Cooperation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 21, no. 2, Apr. 2007.

2 thoughts on “Valentines, Rules, and Boundary Objects

  • February 18, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    YES! That’s a great example of a boundary object. You might find that it’s a set of boundary objects — each individual guideline might be a boundary object on its own — or you might find that it only works as a boundary object as a whole manual. Either way, use the boundary object as a theoretical frame for your project — you won’t go wrong. Be sure to read Starr and Greisemer whom they cite in that article. There’s also an article by Susan Popham on medical forms as boundary objects that would be insightful for your project.

  • February 22, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Man, I – for the first time ever – told my students that eating in class might no longer be allowed if they don’t straighten up. They are using those dumb orange hot puffy things as an excuse to not complete assignments. (Holding up orange powder-covered fingers, “Mrs. Heyssel, I can’t touch my keyboard right now”). Ridiculous.

    I really do love my job. These people make me laugh, even when I shouldn’t.

Leave a Reply