For the better part of my nearly-nine-years as an administrator, I took great pride in the fact that I rarely closed my door. I’m not sure when in my leadership development I came to revere the open-door philosophy as the defining characteristic of great principals, but I’m rethinking this approach. After almost nine years as an administrator, including three as a principal, I’m pretty certain that an open-door policy is not good for anyone.
Re-thinking open-door policies for leaders & whether anyone really benefits when attention is constantly shifting b/w tasks & modalities.— Scott Elias (@ScottElias) October 22, 2012
As teacher evaluations and school improvement plans increase in length and complexity (certainly a topic worthy of its own post, but right now it’s the hand I’ve been dealt if I want to keep my job — which I do!), I have found that the perpetual parade of pop-ins — these two to four minute, standup conversations — means no one is getting what they deserve. The constant shifts in my attention and the resulting on-and-off cognitive focus on a document I’m trying to finish mean that I am constantly working on things at the last minute. A writing task that should take me an hour or two takes me a couple of days.
On the flip side of this equation, consider the staff member who wants to talk about something important to him or her. Is it fair to that person to have the portion of my attention not thinking about the work I just abandoned in order to chat?
I’ve realized that I cannot do my job as effectively as my students and school deserve if I am constantly doing it in two-to-four minute bursts.
In re-considering the open-door norm I’ve established, I am looking at strategies that balance my need to handle the administrivia that comes with the job (always doing it at home at night is unfair to another group of stakeholders: my family), the need and desire of teachers, parents, and students to have my attention, and the need to just “wander around” and visit classrooms.
Some things I’m chewing in now thanks, in part, to an article in last month’s Phi Delta Kappan by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo:
- It must truly become a norm that is communicated to all stakeholders. It’s not something I can just do without clarifying the purpose behind the shift. However,
- It’s not necessarily something I’m going to ask “permission” for, either.
- I evaluate 26 licensed staff members. If I set up short, biweekly meetings with each one, would that help? That way they’d know they have my time in the not-too-distant future and that it’s truly a time that we are “present” and not just shifting from some other task or having a “fly by” conversation.
- How many non-assertive staff members have I missed talking to because the assertive ones are the ones being heard most?
As I approach the midpoint of year three, I am proud of the shifts we have made in our school. Now it’s time to dial in this open-door thing because right now, no one is benefiting.