Monday, August 3, 2009

Keeping the Door Open

This summer during the Inspired Teaching Institute we were working through the question of how teachers can help to not only change their own practice, but change that of their peers as well. We discussed the typical school phenomenon where teachers close the doors to their classrooms so they can exercise freedom to teach the way they know they should, in relative obscurity.

In devising their own leadership strategies for next year, one teacher responded to this “closed door” tendency with a simple goal. “This year I will keep my classroom door open.”

That statement sticks with me today as I think about getting ready for the fall. It is so brave in its simplicity. “I will keep my classroom door open” means:

I will not be afraid to do publicly what is right for children.
  • I will share my best practices with my colleagues and not be afraid of their judgment or curiosity.
  • I will take the risk of failing publicly if the new things I try don’t go well the first time I try them.
  • I am confident in my approach to teaching.
  • I am comfortable with students’ behavior and with what people will think of them, and me, when they pass by.
  • I am setting an example that I hope my peers will follow.
  • I want to step into other open doors besides my own.

“I will keep my classroom door open” may seem to be a simple goal, but it is a huge step towards breaking down much of the norm in our current educational system. If, as teachers, we all opened our doors –imagine what synergies might emerge! Just think:

  • How much time you could save lesson planning if you collaborated more with your peers!
  • What new strategies for building classroom community your colleagues might have up their sleeves!
  • What supplies you could avoid buying on your own if you shared with other teachers!
  • How many new ways you could try to reach a challenging student if you talked with everyone in the school who knows him or her!
The list goes on.

It’s not a coincidence that wherever you find people tackling major challenges, you tend to find them working in supportive groups. Marathon runners, smoking quitters, dieters, community organizers, they all know the magic of working in numbers.

Finding peers who share your goals enables you to push through the hard times when you feel like giving up, and to celebrate your victories together when you achieve major milestones. Human beings are social creatures and we do not tend to make our greatest advancements in isolation. Why should the art of teaching be any different?

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