Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My closed door policy

In the month of May, many people who are not in K-12 education might think that they school year is winding down.  Summer is on the horizon, the weather is getting better, and summer holidays are on the horizon.  However, for those of us who are in schools, we know that this is a frenetic time of the year.  Kids are realizing that finals are coming soon and are pulling up their socks.  Teachers are making sure that the students are in a position to finish their courses by the middle of June.  Coaches are gearing up for Provincial Championships.  Drama and Band performances are in full swing. Counselors and administrators are working feverishly to marry budgets to human and physical resources.  Plans around awards evenings are being finalized.  Grad planning has reached a fever pitch.  Everyone seems to be running at top speed in a dozen different directions.

I love this time of year.

But as exciting as this time of year might be, I always need to be cognizant of the fact that there can be a great deal of angst in the building.  Some of our students are starting to see the writing on the wall that they may not be successful in a particular course, and are wondering how they are going to turn it around.  Staff are curious as to what their teaching assignments are going to look like for the fall, and others are wondering where or whether they are going to have jobs.  Some are considering retirement, a decision that seems so easy to make on those dog days in November, but is not quite so easy when the time actually comes to make that huge decision.  Kids are tired and teachers are tired at a time of year when the energy demands are never higher.

I was walking down the hall this morning when one of our faculty approached me and said that I was "a hard guy to get a hold of" because "my door was always closed".  I immediately apologized, and expressed my regret for not having been able to see him for the last couple of days.  He quickly turned to me and said "No, sometimes it's your job is to close the door with people.".  He smiled, and walked away.

Reflecting on his comment, I have needed to close my door with people over the last couple of days.  A staff member has a sick family member, and needed to chat.  Another had some fabulous ideas for a program at our school.  Someone was tired and frustrated, and just needed to vent.  And yet another was describing how difficult that final retirement decision was to make when they were actually confronted with it.  A parent needed some reassurance for them and their child in contemplating a move to our school.  An alumnus stopped by to tell me how they were doing in their third year of university.  At one point I had three staff members in my office to chat about teaching options for next year, two more outside the door at the same time to ask about our upcoming PD day, and my cell phone ringing and my office phone ringing at the same time.  We all laughed.

At the end of the day, it is easy for us to beat ourselves up about not being in classes as much as we like, or being visible.  I wish that I could be out and about so much more than I am.  However, there are times when where we are needed most is behind closed doors.  To be a sounding board.  To be an ear.  To be a shoulder.   

So every once in a while, I hope it's OK to have a closed door policy.  Not all of the time, but every once in a while.


  1. Thank you for this post! I am a first year teacher and am experiencing so many of the emotions and stresses that you mentioned. It's reassuring to know that I am not the only one and that my stress level isn't directly related to my competence! Having someone who is ready and willing to "close the door" with and for you is extremely comforting. Your colleague was right - no need to apologize.

  2. Hi Cale,

    I think it our first instinct to apologize for closing our doors. This can be the case at any point in the year but it seems magnified around this time because of the large number of conversations that are necessary. As much as it is unfortunate and somewhat frustrating for those people who must wait to speak to you, you have good reason to close your door...RESPECT. I'm sure these same people appreciate that you conduct your conversations with them in private. As you have mentioned, it is not an easy time of year and this is why it is important for us to be sensitive and understanding of peoples's stresses and emotions.

    Thanks for the post!


  3. Stephen Lamb @see_eye_ohMay 19, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    I attended a great management course many years ago at Sauder, UBC and the prof asked the group "How many of you have an open door policy with your staff". Many of us raised our hands with a degree of satisfaction (or because we thought it was the right thing to say) to indicate that we were open and accessible. His response was an emphatic "YOU FOOLS!". No explanation; no need. It made us all reflect throughout the rest of the session on the fact that we need to manage our own time effectively to be of maximum usefulness to our teams; and that means carving a chunk of time for focused, uninterrupted work.

  4. Your blog here is an awesome way to have your virtual doors open and provide another way to listen/speak. You can't imagine how refreshing it is to see an administrator with a thoughtful web presence. If nothing else, it gives your staff and others in your educational community a chance to measure what you say and do against a considered narrative, even if (or especially if) it is ongoing narrative self-inqiury. So many admin tasks in our district revolve around, well, administrivia and educational leadership is often way down the priority list. As a result, many admin have a poor understanding of learning theories and pedagogical models, even the leadership and community models they are supposed to facilitate. They'er not necessarily daft, but they have not been afforded the time or freedom to really pursue the models (and work on the necessary relationships) in anything other than a cursory manner. I would say this is a trend rather than an across-the-board characteristic, and I've observed this most closely at the secondary level and not just among admin. Again, thanks for setting a different example... I've just discovered your blog but I'm going to be comin' round to give you hard time more often now that I know where you are. I want to probe your use of some trendy terms and get some ideas about how to redeem some systemic value from models that are often selectively understood and applied.

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