Leave the Doors Open

Commonly we hear in schools across the country that when the first bell rings the classroom doors close and they reopen again when it’s time to go home. This is extremely similar to the admin doors as well. Everyone has an office. Everyone has their space: their room. Everyone has their desk. These spaces tend to become a home away from home. However, it is precisely this facet of education that creates an immediate fracturing of admin, staff, and students. It is the physical representation of, “Leave me alone; I’m busy in my space.”

Elon Musk, an incredibly innovative and progressive entrepreneur, is known for his lack of having an office. His desk is where the biggest problems arise. He is mobile. He is aware of others as they are aware of him. With no door to close, you are inherently always open: physically and philosophically. Staff and students (and humans in general), see an open door as opportunistic, welcoming, available, friendly, accessible, and the like. Granted, one still has to come across your room, but when one does, one knows she/he is welcome. This is an incredibly empowering and uniting feeling that spreads throughout the staff, and this feeling doubles when one is not only open but mobile.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

It can be quite a sad and disheartening day when a student is unaware of who their administrators are. This may be quite literal in that they truly can’t put a face to the name, or it may be more of a misunderstanding: sure, I know the name of the principal, but I don’t know the principal. While yes, this is a major malfunction in the educational system, it isn’t uncommon. So often admin may easily find themselves stuck in their office burying noses in paperwork and taking phone calls making little to no time to simply roam the halls, entering the proverbial “front lines”. Or maybe our admin simply gets so comfortable in their “home away from home” that it becomes increasingly difficult to make the rounds. While yes, it is easy to not find time to visit every room and instead keep busy with whatever can be found in the closed office, making that effort to get out and be seen can drastically transform the culture of a school expressing the importance of communication and face to face contact.

Frank McCourt wrote in Teacher Man:

First day of your teaching you are to stand at your classroom door and let your students know how happy you are to see them. Stand, I say. Any playwright will tell you that when the actor sits down the play sits down. The best move of all is to establish yourself as a presence and to do it outside in the hallway. Outside, I say. That’s your territory and when you’re out there you’ll be seen as a strong teacher, fearless, ready to face the swarm.

There is a great lot of truth to this. Granted, McCourt may have been speaking more toward the dominant power of a teacher that comes with this ultimate presence, but that is not to say the same doesn’t apply to a sense of interpersonal relationships. Yes, teachers, let your students know you are happy to see them with open doors and the like. However, our admin has the responsibility to let not only our students know this same truth but the staff as well. The staff needs to know the admin has their back and, more importantly, is simply aware of their presence. It would seem this should be a no brainer. As a principal or member of administration — in general — you would think seeing the school and knowing what is going on would not only be something you need to find time for, but you would want to find the time. When administration hunkers down in that office with a door that is often closed, that ripples throughout the cultural fabric of the school like rocks in water. Imagine all the wild projects, collaborative learning, incredible mistakes, passionate dialogues and the like that (hopefully) are constantly happening in schools. What administrator wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

It is so easy to fall into unpleasant and destructive habits without knowing it: chewing nails, skipping the gym, closing doors, dolling out worksheets, assigning points because no one is listening, ad nauseum. These habits can seem so innocuous and possibly quite menial; but, this is far from the case. You tell yourself: Well I’ll just stay in my room today and tomorrow I will get out there and see what’s going on. That tomorrow begets another tomorrow and at some point it’s been months and eventually years. Admin: don’t worry about tomorrow. Deal with that then. Don’t worry about yesterday. It is out of your control. Do what can be done today. Take the hinges off your door, push the office walls down, start doing paperwork in common areas, and watch how the ripples spread. Live the expectations of your staff and student body . They will see that, become empowered and secure in the vision, and like wildfire this will spread.