Why you should keep your classroom door open

Introducing an open-door policy at school sends a powerful signal to teachers, leaders and students, argues Hanna Beech

Opening your classroom doors signals a school culture of openness and support, says Hanna Beech

There is something about a closed door that creates more than just a physical barrier between the outside and inside of the classroom.

It’s symbolic. 

But could an open-door policy in your school improve outcomes?


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Opening doors shows that teachers are supported

Teachers at closed-door schools always notice when the door opens. The crossing of the barrier indicates a change in the way they should be teaching; it can feel like someone has walked into their private event, uninvited. 

When teachers with closed doors experience formal observations, they feel a strong sense of "other" presence when someone enters their room.

In an open-door school, teachers know that if someone wanders into their classroom, teaching will continue as normal. 

They know that leaders care about the practice in their schools beyond formal observations. There is no sense of checking up but more a sense of checking in.

Teachers see that leaders want to know about the teaching, and this makes them feel supported and valued.

Letting leaders absorb the classroom culture 

When leaders work in schools with closed doors, it can feel like they don’t know what is happening across the school. 

When they do open doors, teachers can assume that this is for a special reason. Leaders stay only long enough as they can stand the tension.

They visit classrooms less and less frequently, often opting for a peek through the glass of the door, if it hasn’t been covered by a poster.

In the school with open doors, senior leaders feel welcome to join lessons and absorb the learning ethos of the room.

When leaders walk through open doors and witness behaviours that are less than ideal, they then spend time reflecting on how to best support their team. 

Open-door classrooms create open conversations. Leaders are able to discuss with conviction the learning that takes place in each classroom, not because they formally observed the teacher three times last year, but because they have regularly spent time in classrooms as a guest.

Children in open-door schools

When classroom doors are closed, a visitor can feel unsettling, making the children alert to the guest as opposed to their learning. Children sense that their teachers change when the door opens, and this makes them feel tense. Children detach from the school leaders and don’t associate the leaders with their classroom learning.

When the classroom door is open, young people can get used to leaders entering the room, so much so that they don’t especially notice when this happens. They get to know who the leaders are. 

They are aware that visitors might come in at any time and know that this provides them the opportunity to celebrate their learning and demonstrate their understanding with a range of people.

How to develop an open-door culture at your school

If you would like your school to shift from a closed- to an open-door culture,  here are some tips:

Leaders

Share the purpose
Leaders who simply start walking into classrooms without having shared the purpose behind this are likely to irritate or worry their teams.

Don’t use open doors as a chance to scrutinise 
Of course, there is some level of knowledge about practice being gained but, unless you are very concerned, avoid offering too much feedback.

Be realistic
Occasionally, teachers will want to shut their doors. Always assume there is good reason for this.

Think beyond the door
Just having the door open won’t do a thing unless wider issues relating to the feedback culture in school are addressed.

Teachers

Don’t worry
When something goes wrong and the leaders happen to be present, remember that they are not expecting perfection. The point of an open-door culture is to gain a genuine understanding of daily practice.

Keep teaching
If the leader needs to talk with you and comes in for a specific reason, they will interrupt at a suitable time.

Show off and be proud 
Leaders should want to be in classrooms. They should see the amazing things going on every day.
 

It isn’t just about the positioning of your door, of course. The open door represents the open culture that your school embodies.

With a culture of openness, everyone truly benefits. Open the doors and see what doors this opens for your school. 

Hanna Beech is deputy head at Ramsgate Arts Primary School in Kent

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