What if classrooms had no doors? by @HeatherLeatt, School Improvement Adviser

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This post answers the 14th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks. You can see my other top-Thunks here.

Thunk 14: What if classrooms had no doors? by @HeatherLeatt, School Improvement Adviser

Answer below:

“The door of opportunity is wide open if you are prepared.”

What is the purpose of a door?  Is it to define a space that is ours, affording us privacy of thought and deed, allowing us to keep things safe from would-be thieves and prying eyes?  Or is it something more utilitarian and practical: a piece of material designed to keep the cold out and the warmth in?

Classroom doors fulfil all these functions, and probably a good few more.  If we open them, or remove them altogether (with some walls for good measure) we risk losing some of the things we hold most dear, because however you look at it, doors represent a barrier.  You can hide a multitude of sins behind a closed-door, but also a wealth of good practice and opportunity…

One well-known commentator suggested not so long ago, that the reason teachers in Britain were reluctant to open their classroom doors to visitors, was because of what went on inside them was so appalling, that they were too ashamed to let people see the reality.

Is this really the case, though?   In my job I am privileged to visit schools, working with classroom teachers and Senior Leaders on a whole range of school improvement issues. I sit in on lessons frequently.

It is daunting being a teacher and it can be nerve-wracking having someone watch you teach, looking out for what’s going well, but ready to pick up on what isn’t.  Good teachers put so much of themselves into their lessons, from the planning through to the execution; and what teacher worth their salt doesn’t want to be seen at their best, overseeing happy, engaged and interested children, who are learning and making good progress?

For a variety of reasons, it isn’t always like this though, and we naturally fear exposure and criticism if it all begins to go horribly wrong.  Thank goodness for that firmly closed-door, when things are unravelling and nothing is going to plan!

‘Opening the classroom door can be as liberating as it is daunting…’

Despite the possible risks involved, in my experience, opening the classroom door can be as liberating as it is daunting.  It makes collaborating and sharing good practice so much easier.  Dropping in on someone else teaching that dreaded year 9 class that always gives you so much trouble, can be a revelation – look how your colleague has the little darlings eating out of her hands, when you can’t even get them to sit in their seats!  Talking to that person, discussing strategies, perhaps doing some joint planning or even co-teaching can help to build confidence and bring about improvement.  Changing approaches or using new strategies as a result of watching someone else at work, or being watched yourself, not only gives you the opportunity to grow as a practitioner, but also takes away the sense of isolation often felt when we struggle with difficult classes alone.

Schools where dropping in and out of each other’s lessons is the norm tend to thrive on a culture of co-operation and creativity.  Solutions are sought to problems, rather than blame being handed out and colleagues act as critical friends, supporting one another, bringing out the best in everyone… Such schools are usually happy places to work in.

“What have you got to lose?”

Inevitably there will always be times when closing the classroom door is tempting, but those might be the very times when letting the world in would be much more beneficial in the long run.  The door of opportunity is indeed there, if you are prepared to open it wide and let the light in – what have you got to lose?

Written by @HeatherLeatt, and posted by @TeacherToolkit.

Heather Leatt is an English & School Improvement Adviser

@HeatherLeatt, School Improvement Adviser
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