Open Door Policy? The Teachers Room and School Culture | A Blog for Principals and Teachers – School Matters

 
 

Open Door Policy? The Teachers Room and School Culture

 
 

 

 

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You can feel it the moment you walk into the building. Every school exudes a certain aura, an overall mood: it is the school’s culture. Some schools are warm and welcoming, while others are more rigid and formal. Either way, the school culture wafts through the hallways like a cloud of smoke, enveloping everything and everybody in its path. You can sense it in the way students walk down the hallways, in the nature of the conversation between a teacher and his students, and in the presence of the principal as she walks into the cafeteria. The school culture is created by a combination of factors: the administrators, the teachers, the students, the physical environment, and the dynamic between them all. But the issue that most powerfully reflects, but also determines, the school culture is the faculty room door policy.


That’s right, the key question just might be: Are students allowed in the teachers room? What is the school’s policy regarding the position of that door that separates the teachers room from the rest of the school? Is the door ajar, inviting students to enter whenever they so please? Or, is the door shut, effectively serving as a barrier between the room designated for the teachers and the rest of the building?


Open the Door


On the one hand, I have great sympathy for schools that have established an open door policy. The aura that is created is one of absolute transparency and unconditional love. Students who know that they are always welcome to speak to their teachers know that they are truly valued by their teachers. They know that the teachers are there for them at all hours of the day. How powerful is an environment in which students can genuinely feel appreciated and valued as individuals, and not just tolerated as the seat-fillers who populate the desks while teachers talk “at” them.


This message of care and concern is broadcast not only by the metaphorically open door, but perhaps more importantly, by the actual consequences of this unlimited access to teachers. More students will have more opportunities over the course of the day to speak with a teacher about their essay, exam, or even their personal problems. Teacher-student relationships blossom only when given the chance.


Keep it Closed


On the other hand, teachers deserve a break! As any teacher knows, facilitating a classroom is among the most draining activities on the planet. In the scant few moments that teachers are afforded between classes, it seems fair to give them some down time, to let off some steam and to lower their guard among peers. Teachers need a buffer, both spatial and temporal, to enable them to recharge their batteries, and simply to enjoy the peace and quiet of being on break.


Moreover, ensuring that boundaries are set up between teachers and students is inherently valuable. Students need to know that there is in fact a time and a place for interactions with teachers. It’s ok and even desirable that teachers be sometimes inaccessible. After all, like in any healthy relationship, boundaries are an important part of respecting each other’s individuality.


Finally, there is a technical reason which supports barring students from the teachers’ room: student confidentiality. There are all sorts of situations which arise in the faculty room, all of which deserve the highest level of confidentiality: teachers grading exams, principals informing teachers about upcoming schedule changes, and sensitive conversations about particular students, just to name a few.


For these reasons, I ultimately come down as a firm believer in a closed door policy. Teachers rooms are called teachers rooms for a reason. It is inappropriate and unfair to deny teachers a safe haven from the intensity of their jobs, and there are too many potential student confidentiality breaches when other students are walking freely through the room.


That being said, even – and especially- in schools which do not allow students into the faculty room, a special effort must be made to ensure that the closed door is not interpreted as apathy, disinterest, or even worse- resentment. It means doing all that can be done to ensure that in every other regard the school is one in which warmth permeates the halls, and students feel supported and loved. Just because the door is closed, and student entry is barred, it doesn’t mean that care and concern need to be left out too.


What is your school’s policy about the teachers room? Are students permitted to enter? Do you agree with the policy? Share below, and join the conversation!

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4 Comments

  1. Dina says:

    I believe there is a middle path.
    The Teachers Room door being generally ajar, but the students knowing they are not allowed to enter.
    They may approach, and request to speak to a teacher, but must wait right outside for that teacher to come out to them.
    This achieves transparency AND confidentiality.
    Approachability AND boundaries.

    • Noam says:

      Hi Dina,
      Thanks for the feedback. I like your suggestion; it’s the best of both worlds. The truth is my open door/closed door dichotomy was intended more as a symbolic representation of the overall policy than a literal description. But, your point is definitely well taken. Thanks!

  2. Wonderful observation. At first glance, it looked like all schools should practice an open-door policy as students can genuinely feel they are appreciated and valued. But, from a more practical, and perhaps pedagogical viewpoint, closing the door and letting it open when in need is not at all a bad idea. Confidentiality on all fronts must be preserved, while the element of ‘who am I’ is also respected.

    Vikash

    • Noam says:

      Thank you, Vikash. As Dina mentioned above, and as you are suggesting now, a balanced approach is probably the best approach. Like in so many other educational decisions, there certainly are many competing values at play here.

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