The two sides to an ‘open door’ policy in leading schools

Many school leaders promote that they have an ‘open door’ policy but what exactly does this mean?

Interpretations of having an ‘open door’ are somewhat mixed. To many teachers, a school leader having an ‘open door’ policy is a signal that means the leader is approachable, open to feedback and available to give guidance to those who seek it. The notion of an open door policy is well intended and, in many schools, allows school leaders to maintain contact with teachers and support staff throughout the school both formally and informally building important relationships.

The distinction between whether the ‘open door’ is there for either formal or informal conversation does, perhaps, need to be made by school leaders. In signalling that a school leader is approachable, does this mean, come into my office at any time the door is open? On the other hand, does having an open door mean that the school leader is approachable but please respect their time and make an appointment? Most likely, it sits somewhere between the two.

Taking the stance of “come in anytime, the door is open.” School leaders need to be mindful of the downside of this in terms of getting things done. There is a real danger of a school leader’s office becoming a revolving door where person after person comes in with something urgent and important. This is where school leaders need to be skilled with their open door not becoming a dumping ground for problems, negativity and distractions. Further to this, constant interruptions mean that, very quickly, other important tasks get away during the day and school leaders begin to panic about an ever growing ‘To do’ list and not getting through the items on it. Stress.

One strategy to navigate the open door, is for leaders to shut the office door for a period of time and ask that they not be disturbed. A possible downside of this, is that doing this regularly may send the signal that the door is not always open, which brings us back to the point of clarifying what we mean by an open door policy in the first place.

Another strategy is to find other areas of the school where uninterrupted important work can get done, leaving the office as a space that the door is always open when you are in.

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