Picture the scene: A school corridor with classroom doors closed and posters covering every possible line of sight into the classes. We’ve probably all seen it before and will probably see it again this week. But what does that say about what is going on inside the classrooms??? Maybe there is some outstanding practice going on inside, but does it suggest you can go and look?
Consider a different approach. All doors open, windows into classrooms unobstructed and a feeling that all classrooms are places where people (peers, SLT & visitors) can wander in freely to see the wonderful learning that is taking place, without having to apologise for seemingly ‘interrupting’ the lesson.
The ‘open door’ approach to teaching really is what is says on the tin – all doors open, all of the time. In this culture (and it is a culture), there is no hiding behind closed doors. It is a culture where teachers have built up a trust between one another that their students are making realistic progress each and every lesson, not just the one off ‘whiz, bang’ lesson that they can pull out of the bag for Ofsted once in a blue moon. This is a culture of sharing and support, one that says ‘look and you will learn’ to the teaching community.
Within this culture, the most important aspect to remember, and the most powerful of it’s features, is the fact that the doors are all open for each other. Yes it’s nice for the SLT to be able to pop into your class to see how you are doing and to monitor the day to day quality within the schools’ learning environment; but the real power is when your peers are welcomed in. If we have that inner drive to be constantly improving our practice and to be always on the look out for new and exciting ways to engage our students, then where better to look than in the classrooms around you. Think of all the experience in your school and the different approaches and ideas that comes with that experience. How often have you used this? How often have you gone to watch another teacher in your school (without being directed to do it) ? Imagine the tips you might pick up (for free) when watching somebody else teach the same students you teach, but in a different subject and a different context. What might you learn from the dynamics of the children under the guidance of a different teacher? Looking from the outside in, if we were not teachers and we heard that the majority of the teachers inside a school who taught the same students didn’t watch each other to pick up tips on how best to teach these kids, we’d probably think it was ludicrous!
For this to really work though, the culture shift needs to come from the ground up. It can’t be forced upon people, otherwise it may seem like another monitoring exercise aimed at weeding out the weakest. The shift must come from the ground by a team of teachers (however small in its beginning) that are passionate about improving their own practice and learning from one another. This will then steadily grow once the word gets out and others will invariably ‘want in’. The competitive ones amongst us will see this as a challenge to find out what other people are doing to make sure you are still up there with the best, where as the less confident should see it as a supportive and friendly network where you can share ideas on how to make that middle ability boys group tick, last lesson on a Friday. Many schools now operate like this and the teachers say that it’s the best thing they ever did.
One of the most intriguing CPD opportunities you can get in your school is to shadow a class or a student around the school for a day. Getting out of your subject area and your relative comfort zone is a must every now and again. Go and see what is happening around the school and do it regularly. Mark on your timetable one lesson per week when you’ll go and explore the teaching and learning opportunities within your school – who know’s what you’ll come back with! But remember, you must be prepared for visitors in return.
Consider this the next time you’re in your class – what does your classroom door say about you?