Friday, September 30, 2011

An Open Door Policy - the IB Learner Profile Communicator

 I have worked in places where there was an open door policy - which meant that any administrator's door was open to any teacher who could stop by whenever they felt the need to discuss something, make suggestions or bring up new ideas.  It was a way for teachers to feel that their voices were being heard without having to go through the more formal channels such as staff associations.  The idea behind it was to encourage trust, open communication, feedback and discussion about any matter that any teacher might be concerned about.

I suppose as teachers all of us actually have open door policies in our classrooms - we encourage our students to come and talk to us about their personal, social, emotional or academic concerns - we are always there to support them.  As a homeroom teacher I've had students tell me about serious issues such bullying, unwanted pregnancies, family breakups, death, illness and abuse.  Some of these students are still in touch with me many years later and they still feel the door is open and that although they are now adults, and despite perhaps not seeing me for a fairly long time, they can still call on me for a chat if they need to.

Do open door policies work in schools?  In some cases this is a great way to encourage communication from the bottom to the top.  Administrators who show empathy and open-mindedness when listening to teachers' concerns are often well respected and are seen as good communicators.  Of course this only works when teachers know there is a culture of trust and don't feel that what they are saying is going to be used against them at a later date.  Teachers need to know that they can be honest and not have to fear reprisals, otherwise even if the door is open they will not walk through it.  The policy only works in situations where the administration also feels secure and not threatened by the open communication.

In some places I've worked a lot of staff feedback was through online or written surveys.  Some of these surveys were completely anonymous, whereas others asked for information that certain teachers felt might be able to identify them (length of service, department, grade taught etc).   As an IT teacher I've even been asked whether teachers could be identified through the laptop they use to complete the survey.  In some cases teachers have been so afraid to answer honestly that they have asked me to log them in to do the survey using a lab computer or have told me that they only felt comfortable filling out the survey in an internet cafe!  Although I find some of these reactions extreme, it's clear that these teachers had reason to be afraid - perhaps because of a previous bad experience.

Communicator is one of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  Everyone in the school is expected to model the learner profile, and as such it would seem that in an IB school an open door policy would be encouraged.  This is what I have experienced:  doors will only stay open when there are good channels of communication, and this is something we all have to work hard to maintain.

Photo Credit:  Open Door by Brian Yap AttributionNoncommercial,  Cartoon from Dilbert,

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