Jay Mathews had a great post in today’s WaPo, highlighting two schools, one private, another public, and their refusal to let prospective parents visit classrooms. He wrote that, “I suspect many other schools, public and private, have the same knee-jerk restrictions on outsiders hanging around a classroom to feel the vibe. I am wondering how they know this would cause trouble if they have never allowed it.”
Like Mathews, I find the attitude puzzling. Don’t get me started on the reaction of the private school admissions director. Mathews wrote, “She had all the power and no need to cater to outsiders,” but if I were the school’s headmaster, I’d be very troubled by this sort of attitude, no matter the size of my school’s wait list. It lacks any semblance of thoughtful client service, and I hope the director’s reaction comes back to bite that school in the backside, as word gets out to other prospective applicants.
This barring of parents from visiting classrooms tells me a lot about the school’s or district’s culture. Wait, let me try that from a different angle: The allowing of parents – of any appropriate visitor – into a school’s classrooms tells me a lot about that school’s culture. I have been in many schools where there’s an open attitude about open classrooms. In these schools, when I come to visit, teachers and kids pay little attention to me. They might say hello when I enter the classroom but then ignore me and go back to work. “Oh, I get a lot of visitors,” the teacher will tell me later, referring to the variety of people that visit her classroom: Her principal and other school-level personnel, district-level folks, parents and other community people, even visitors from other schools and districts. Yes, these schools have schedules and work to ensure that visitors do not become a distraction. And visitors are not allowed during times when there’s state testing or some other important in-class assessment. But these schools treat parents as they should be treated, as important customers, and have an open, transparent approach to their classrooms and their school.
I like what a friend and superintendent of a small rural district had to say when I asked him about its policy: “We go above and beyond getting parents in the doors to see all of the outstanding teaching and learning going on. However, we try to schedule a proper time that would be good for the parents, teachers, and students together. It is very important that the students are the center focus for all involved.”
I got the above image from here.