When I first began teaching, I experienced a paradox of parental push and pull that almost killed my career. Teachers in the previous grade had allowed parents of my students to visit their classrooms almost daily to help with centers, management, and classroom activities. To make a long, painful story incredibly short, these parents were unhappy with how little I had them come in. They pushed me to have parties when I did not want to; Then visibly and audibly bad-mouthed me right inside my own classroom!
The next year, I did not do what you might have guessed. I went ahead and told my new parents that I was going to have an “Open-Door Policy”. One of the main complaints the year before was that parents felt like they did not know what was happening in the classroom. Now they would have as much access as they wanted. One of my families had moved to the school from out of state and really appreciated being able to walk in whenever she wanted to check on her daughter. I tried not to let on, but this was not a comfortable experience all of the time. I used joking and banter to shake off the nerves.
A school shooting brought more and tighter security limiting my classroom’s “open door” on the following year. When parents were already in the building, helping with other classrooms, though, they would pop into my room to say “hi”. This has persisted, and I have grown to love the feeling of excitement that comes from the unexpected visits. It keeps me on my toes.
Looking back at that early time of my teaching, when I wrestled with having parents visit my classroom, I can admit that part of my reason for not wanting the visits was my insecurity. I was afraid the students would not listen to me. When I told my parents the next year that they could visit any time they pleased, I was telling myself, “this class better behave.” I was holding myself accountable. Each time a parent was in my room and it was a positive experience, it made me feel more and more secure in my behavior management. I came to realize that kids will not always behave perfectly when parents are around, but if I showed strength, understanding, and leadership it exuded security that parents and students alike respected.
Today is a new era in “Open-Door-Ness”: Video Conferencing. Many teachers are video taping their lessons in order to flip their classrooms. What if, in addition to that, we live-streamed our rooms? Put a link on the classroom website for a Google Hangout that anyone who logs into the school district’s Google account can use to access a stream to the classroom. If a kid is sick, he/she can still be part of the class. That student can leave comments in Google docs, slideshows, and Google classroom. I have done this when I am out of school, sick for a day. When I assign an online activity, I can watch my students complete it and comment on their progress. They feel like I am there and love it.
This is more than just breaking down the walls; It is spreading the light of education into nooks and crannies.