Let’s Talk About “Open Door” Policies at Schools

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Many parents have trouble entrusting their children to strangers all day. So, my school, like many others adopted what is called an “open door” policy meaning parents can drop by for a visit during the school day to check up on their children to see what is going on in class. This sounds like a good idea in theory.  But having experienced it first hand, my school’s administration and I have learned a few things along the way that you may want to think about while adopting such a policy:

1.       Parents sometimes get too involved.

The spirit of the policy is to allow parents to come and observe what is going on in their child’s classroom. Many parents come in and do more than observe.

Often, parents come in and start conversations with their child or even other children. I’ve seen them bring in unsolicited food and snacks. Some well-meaning parents even try and help discipline students when they are talking or disruptive…the irony being that this "help" is often more disruptive than the behavior I experienced from the students, and I can’t exactly give the parent a consequence like I can a child.

2.       It’s not supposed to be an unscheduled conference block.

It’s great that parents want to stay up to date with their child’s grades and progress. The problem arises when they use the open-door policy to try and meet with their child’s teacher while they are supposed to be teaching.

My class is lecture heavy and when I am not directly delivering content, I should be monitoring student work and behavior. I can’t do that effectively if I have Jessica’s mom following me around inquiring about why should she earned a C+ on the last exam. We have a time and place to talk about student progress. If someone is in my class during school hours, they should only be there to observe.

3.       Parents lack context around lessons and classroom structures.

Unless a parent visits literally every day, a single visit to a classroom can potentially be misleading.

I had a parent come in while I was showing my 8th graders The Patriot. Two months later he comes in while I’m showing the class the movie Glory. He remarks, “Is that all ya’ll do in here is watch movies?”

  

The obvious answer is no, but from his limited perspective, I can see why he thinks that. After the tests in all of our major units, we watch a movie on that subject. The Patriot came after the American Revolution unit, and Glory came after the Civil War unit. In four months, we spent a total of four days watching movies, but because of his work availability, those happened to be the two days he came. Now, he thinks his daughter's social studies teacher shows movies all day and he wants to know why she doesn’t have a higher grade if we don’t do any work.

  

4.       Safety concerns abound.

You normally don’t think about safety concerns being an issue when you are just talking about parents, but you should. You would like to think that parents can be above the petty drama their children often get into, but sometimes they aren’t.

Parents can and will come into a school and confront teachers, admin, and even students they feel have wronged their child. They don’t always do this in the most constructive way and an open-door policy exacerbates that problem.

My school has now revised its open-door structure. Parents can still come in, but they must have a quick background check completed first. Parents are also told that pop-ins are for observation only, not conferences. Additionally, the front office screens their reasons for visiting and alerts the teacher upon their arrival. My school has actually even begun asking teachers “Is this a good time…” for a parent to pop in. I pretty much always say yes, but it’s nice to have the option of saying no depending on the day.

Make sure your school’s well-meaning open-door policy is actually conducive to learning.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.