June 24, 2018
Leader of the platform Dr Agata Sowińska - International Dalton Consultancy
Austria: Henriette Steinhauer - Akademie der Diözese Linz
Holland: Drs. Annemarie Wenke - Wenke Perspektief
Poland: Prof Renata Michalak - Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan
June 19, 2018
Opening your classroom so your fellow teachers can just drop by and observe is a low-pressure way to collaborate and share best practices.
In our school, Northern Valley Regional High School in New Jersey, our local professional development committee created our own version of the operating theater (without spilling any blood). We called it our “Open Classrooms” initiative.
The genesis was simple enough: Many of us wanted the benefit of another set of eyes, or to share a new tool or technique with colleagues. We also knew that even the best explanation lacked the power of a real-time demonstration with students. So, teachers invited others into their classrooms and received honest, non-evaluative feedback, as well as validation and support from their colleagues.
What we did not expect, though, was how much visiting others would energize us. Even more unexpected? We were learning not just from our colleagues but also from their students.
We liked that other schools that had created similar practices used signs and charts to indicate which classrooms were open to visitors. We chose a clipart picture of a smiley face with a thumbs-up gesture, hoping that others would see the sign and join in. Our goal was for the Open Classrooms concept to catch on naturally, with people inviting and visiting because they wanted to. Several teachers opened their classrooms daily.
When we began, we were successful in many ways that we could not have planned. Some of our committee members had the thoughtful idea to bring newer teachers along on visits. Doing so enabled the new teachers to see veterans in their classrooms. Traveling alongside established teachers also demonstrated that regardless of how long you’ve taught, there are still new tricks worth learning.
We set clear norms for visits. We agreed that they could be short, even just a few minutes, because we wanted to encourage a casual atmosphere where people felt comfortable dropping by a class. It was also OK to take your sign down if you were not open to visitors. The informality led to a more authentic professional development experience. Teachers could visit an Open Classroom and then go back to planning or grading.
Finally, we tried to discuss the status of our Open Classrooms at each monthly professional development committee meeting so that we could share the wonderful things we were seeing.
Though our first year went well, visits tapered off as the school year concluded, and the long summer break made it difficult to start again in the fall. We wanted to get the momentum going again while maintaining the organic, grassroots feel. So, we developed Open Classroom Wednesday as an add-on to our usual daily practice. This monthly celebration encouraged staff to visit their colleagues’ classrooms, as well as to open their own.