Closed Door Policy

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Life in the Classroom, Mentoring, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership, Uncategorized

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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


Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

Comments 3

  1. Christine Porter Marsh

    Well said. I used to “close my door and teach.” In fact, I did it for many years. I have changed in that regard, though. I no longer think that it’s the most effective–nor the most responsible–way to go about teaching. We need to metaphorically keep our doors open.

  2. Sandy Merz

    All the reasons you list are fair and valid, but they are also reactive. I’ve heard plenty of teachers who fall back on rationales like:
    All that sounds good, but until you get ______ to buy in, nothing’s going to happen, or,
    I’ve been doing this the same way for 20 years, why do I have to change?, or,
    You know how I am with technology, or,
    Who are selfish and don’t have anything remotely collaborative in their disposition, or
    Who their age and experience – both young and old – adopt a condescending attitude,
    Or others who bulldog their peers into doing whatever they say.
    That’s kind of reactive, too, huh? But I think fair and valid, too.
    An alternative is to know that there are barriers everywhere but also alternative means to any end and no matter what, we ourselves can always do something.

  3. V. V. Robles

    I love you statement, “…culture of compliance, not a culture of collaborative discourse and effort.” I strive to let teams I collaborate with know their voice is valued, even if we might disagree; every option must be considered. It has to be about bringing your best to the table for all. The last thing we need are educators leaving because they feel devalued and alone. Thanks for this!

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