Unexamined Habit #1: Relying solely on the “open door” policy and how it could be hurting your school.

Dear Educator,

Just like me and you, school communities have collective attitudes and actions on autopilot. These are habits and just like our personal habits, they’re subconscious and usually unexamined.  

You’ve probably run into these habits at your school. They’ve become the “way things are” or “how we do things here.” Over time, they become ingrained as institutional patterns.

But some school communities choose a different path. We’ve worked with a lot of highly successful family engagement teams and instead of falling into unexamined habits, they consciously cultivate habits and create effective institutional patterns. As a result, these school communities:

  • Achieve higher test scores

  • Experience better intra-school communication, and

  • Have increased parent participation

For the next three months, we’re going to follow the lead of these highly successful family engagement teams.

We’ll explore three common, unexamined habits that might be happening at your school. Then we’ll think about some ways to cultivate new ones.

We’ll identify symptoms you might experience, like:

  • The “open door policy” and how it could be hurting your school (February - this post!)

  • What’s really going on if you feel like “families just don’t care” (March)

  • What to do when families don’t get what you’re doing (April)

At the end of the semester, you’ll be a good habit champion—meaning you’ll be better prepared to make the difference for parents and kids in your school community.

We know you’re up for it. You’ve been a champion for a better school before and we have nothing but brave educators here.

Ready to go exploring?

We are.

Unexamined Habit #1: Relying solely on the “open door” policy


Tell-tale symptom: You hear someone say, “We have an open door policy. Families can come in and give us feedback whenever!”

Open door policies lead to some informal conversations, which can be productive—if administrators welcome diverse voices and keep asking hard questions to get to the root of the problem.

But they might also be called a “bury your head in the sand” policy. Open door policies are passive and they depend on families coming forward.

Schools sometimes use this policy to avoid directly addressing tough issues. Relationships suffer (or never get better) and engaging families more deeply is nearly impossible.

When schools solely rely on open door policies, parents end up not feeling heard. “Thank you for sharing…” is about as far as conversations go.

Highly successful family engagement teams do this instead: they ask families for specific input.

A yearly school-wide survey is a good place to start.

But if you really want to change this institutional habit and make real progress in your school community, asking for input must become a mantra that every staff member embraces.

Here are five ways staff at your school can ask for specific input:

  • Teachers can ask for input about homework policies

  • Librarians can ask for input on book buying decisions

  • Front office staff can ask for input on safety protocol

  • Lunch personnel can ask for input about meals & snacks

  • Administrators can ask for input about drop off and pick up routines

Asking for specific input makes it clear to families that you care about what they think. It also makes it easier for them to respond to a specific topic or idea - rather than a vague “open door” invite.

When your school asks parents for specific input, you’re more likely to get a response from a broader set of families, too!

Even better: highlight a different set of staff each month to help them ask specific questions to parents and families. This makes the question/response exercise a community habit and a fun, engaged conversation.

Now that you’ve started examining your school’s common habits, we want to know - what’s your biggest takeaway from this conversation? What insight or action is now really clear for you? Leave a comment below so we know.

And - if your school has made progress cultivating good habits that make a positive impact make sure and share the love. We can all learn and get inspired by what you already do well.

Everybody has something to contribute.

Committed to your success,

Dr. Joni, Amanda, and the entire FFS team

P.S. We love books! Explore more about this topic in one of these fabulous resources from our bookstore.