Joy and knowledge

Top 5 reasons to hold an open classrooms week. Teacher Matters Magazine, 2014

This article was first published in Teachers Matter Magazine, New Zealand, 2014, whilst I was working as a Head of Learning and Development.

The best kind of professional development is that which is accessible, engaging, and provides sufficient time for reflection. So often, we focus on the students’ learning that there’s little time left for us to consider our own.

It was in March 2013 that Reading College started to look at a more sustainable, accessible and time-friendly CPD for its staff. We wanted learning to be as much any time and any place as it is for our students and it began with bitesize 30 minute sessions as well as a range of online content. The programme was named, ‘Pass It On’ and the ethos is that staff will share with one another, learn together and inspire each other and their students. As well as offering CPD at any time or place, we wanted there to be multiple access points to engaging with learning. It was ‘open classrooms week’ that first fit this bill. The week was designed to enable learning conversations between colleagues and we hoped that it would be a vehicle for the sharing of good practice and the start of more cross-departmental collaborative learning too.

On the Monday of the week, all staff were given a door hanger that was red on one side and green on the other. They were to hang this on their door and if staff wanted visitors then all they had to do was ensure it was green-side up. If staff wanted to visit, then all they had to do was open the door to the world of learning contained within. If you’re thinking that this form of informal CPD could suit your school/College, then these top 5 reasons may persuade you:

1- Staff

‘I enjoyed the opportunity to see my colleagues teach in a truly informal and non threatening way.’

Observations have a stigma attached to them but this kind of green door visit is a far more friendly way to achieve an insight into your colleagues’ teaching in order to inform your own practice.

2- Inspectors

In our recent Inspection Report, Ofsted cited the ‘green door’ as part of the consideration of CPD effectiveness at the College.

‘Opportunities for teachers to take part in professional development are plentiful and varied. Much professional development is innovative and makes good use of web technologies to allow teachers to learn at a time that suits them, or collaboratively with colleagues. Staff increase the range of teaching strategies they use with learners by learning from each other. For example, on a ‘Green Door’ day, teachers hang a green sign on their classroom door to indicate to colleagues that they may come in to observe a lesson.’

3- Other educators

Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit) has written an excellent teaching book entitled ’100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers’. In it, he references open classrooms.

He says, ‘Creating and open door culture in your classroom will not only benefit you as a teacher but also your colleagues, the school and your student community. That’s got to be a win-win situation, right?’ He also writes about the many benefits: ‘They include promoting reflection and evaluation of your teaching, as well as increasing collaboration and trust among teachers and across the curriculum.’

We actually got the idea from a visit that was made to Swindon College. This all goes to show that being aware of what others within the sector and beyond are up to can inform your own practice, perhaps in a hugely transformative way.

4- Teaching and support staff

It’s a great time to sit in on a colleague’s lesson in the same area as you but much can be gained from having a wider view of the teaching occurring across the whole school/college. Go it alone and reflect on your own practice or report back to department colleagues at your weekly meeting. Go with colleagues so that you can see and then immediately discuss how what you’ve seen could improve practice in your area.

5- Students

The final reason to get involved in open classrooms week is that it’s great for your students too! Add a new dimension to the experience: Why not take a student with you on your travels?

‘It’s been great to discuss my practice with everyone and the students have enjoyed having different individuals in the room to discuss with them what they’ve been learning.’

‘I’ve really enjoyed seeing so many good examples of student led learning in action across the college.’

‘I think it’s a great way of getting students used to having visitors to enable them to feel comfortable.’

When I took part for a week, I witnessed physics, sports, catering, construction, public services, maths, dance, English, employability, games design, business, health & social care, history, law, literature, art & design and lessons in the LLD/D department. PHEW! I can’t think of any other week when that would have been possible; especially in such a relaxed and informal manner. This week provided some much needed reflection on my own practice and I loved having others in my room; it wasn’t as intimidating as I’d previously thought as I knew everyone was looking for the goodness in what they saw.

One of our members of staff recently said about CPD,

‘If we can transform ourselves, imagine how we can transform our students, employers and communities.’

So what are you waiting for? Turn your door green today!
What will you learn, share and be inspired by?

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

Leave a Reply


Mini Learning Project Journal

Between April and July, a number of The Sheffield College staff volunteered to participate in a project that would help us to trial what will