Most administrators tell faculty and staff that they have an open-door policy. However, it is important to remember that, besides the restrooms, there are two metaphorical doors in a school: the administrator’s office and the teacher’s classroom.
Many writers about school redesign and teacher leadership argue that a culture of collaboration is key to authentic and sustainable school improvement. Teachers are supposed to be opening their doors to each other, to administrators, and to the community. But one thing I have been realizing lately is that not all teachers are opening their doors. Many teachers are still protecting themselves.
Why are there still places where many teachers still say “I just close my door and do my thing” or “I am not allowed to have an opinion, because I have to worry about my evaluation and paying my mortgage”?
Here are the factors I have witnessed and experienced:
- Too many “accountability” measures: Micromanaged lesson plans, narrowed down curriculum, lots of paperwork, surveys and measurements.
- Inconsistencies in the evaluation systems. Misuse of academic coaches or department chairs and their feedback as part of an evaluation system, even if those closed-door conversations are not acknowledged as “artifacts” for teacher evaluation.
- Multiple levels of externally imposed assessments (National, state, district…) in addition to the PLC being required to develop assessments together.
- Watering-down of Professional Learning Communities: Taking away or fragmenting meeting time, using PLC time for accountability measures and paperwork, administrators spending time sitting in PLC meetings with their laptops out, using PLC time for other professional development or for implementing such things as new standardized assessments.
- New initiatives each year with little follow-through except in writing. The effect is a strange layering of half-implemented concepts that simply muddies the waters of curriculum planning and instruction.
- Top-down approaches to professional growth dominate.
- Requests for assistance, support and teamwork to address student behavior and learning are seen as weakness and used as a lens to evaluate the teacher.
- Institutional culture and history that is not acknowledged and addressed, but simply closeted.
What happens when teachers choose to close their doors?
Think about what it is like for a new teacher to walk onto a campus like that. As a new teacher, you take in all the PD and do your best to conform to all of the school improvement demands placed upon you, but if the culture of collaboration is not healthy, and if the teachers around you are not authentically engaged in the initiatives, and if the teachers around you are biting their tongues, where is your support and validation going to come from? How will you grow and thrive in that environment?
You might be able to do it on your own and with the officially sanctioned support provided to you. You might leave. Or worse yet, you might decide that teaching is not for you after all. And that is bad for everyone.
The factors I list above lead to a culture of compliance, not a culture of collaborative discourse and effort. In a culture of compliance, administrators can have all the open doors they want. But when teachers close their doors, we all lose.
Read my follow-up post: Open Door Policy
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