Tags: Classroom Teacher | Continuing Professional Development | Well-being

The space between ‘being available’ and ‘being overwhelmed’.

1. Open Door

How often do you feel your door may open at any time to someone uninvited that wants access to you right now? This may happen to you before you have even entered the front door of the school. It may happen to you walking between lessons, on the stairs, on the way to the loo, just outside the staff room when you’re gasping for a cup of coffee, or even in the middle of a lesson.

How often do you feel that you have no choice but to deal with the interruption, regardless of how inconvenient and untimely?

In this article we are using the word ‘door’ metaphorically as well as literally, to represent your availability. So why would anyone in their right mind choose an ‘open door’ policy?

Some of the reasons we’ve been given include:

  • Wanting to do the best for everybody
  • To be of service
  • To support colleagues, parents and students
  • Not to be thought uncaring
  • Not to be thought dismissive of others’ problems
  • Not to be seen as trying to shirk responsibility.

What this suggests is that the reason for the ‘open door’ is based around strongly held values of service to others, a sense of responsibility and commitment to the school. Unfortunately, this can all too frequently get in the way of taking care of oneself, to the ultimate detriment of those strongly held values.

Typical Scenarios Open Sesames we have seen used successfully Some generic tips to use in similar situations
1. Your head of department Suggestion: • Suggest a specific time
opens the door to your ‘Let me get back to you that works for you.
classroom and interrupts on that at lunch time, I • Walk with the person
to ask for a copy of the have to start my class’ – gently and firmly towards
letter going out to parents, as you’re walking back the door.
just as you’re about to with him / her to the door.  
start a lesson.    
2. A parent, upset and Suggestion: • State the amount of time
emotional about a I appreciate how upset you you have available.
situation with their child, are and I am really sorry • Focus on the other person
comes at the end of the that I can’t be with you and listen intently for the
day just as you’re about to right now (tell them why) – short time you have.
lead a ‘twilight’ session I am available before • Offer an alternative person
with staff. You have less school tomorrow at … – is to deal with it now if the
than 5 minutes and need that OK with you or would need is urgent.
to collect your materials. you like to speak to • Get up at the end of the
  someone else right now? time allocated and end
    the meeting cleanly.

2. Revolving Door and the ‘Open Sesame’

What would it be like to have more uninterrupted ‘time to think’? How could you achieve this? So what would it be like to have your door closed, for example? Do you get an instant gut reaction that this is not possible or remotely desirable? Or do you get a sense of relief and lightness – even if it is immediately followed by guilt?

We’d like to offer up another option, one, which would help you to control your availability and to choose whether, or when you want the door open or closed.

We’ve called this option: ‘The Revolving Door’ and we intend to explore the possibilities with you and look at what an appropriate ‘Open Sesame’ could be in some of the different situations in which you find yourselves.

Please note that the emphasis here is on ‘says me‘:

  • Your choice whether or not to be available right now
  • Your choice as to when you do have time to give your full attention to the person and their issue
  • Your choice as to how long you can be available
  • Your choice if you decide to deal with this matter or delegate.

Depending on your position in the school, there will be different people wanting access to you, and there will be different ‘Open Sesames’ for different situations to allow you to push the revolving door to the extent you wish.

The table above outlines some scenarios and ‘Open Sesames’ reported to us by clients with solutions they have found successful and our tips to use in similar situations.

Is anything occurring to you now that you would like to have done differently in situations in your working life? If so, please list below two old scenarios where you would now change the way you make yourself available.

Old scenario with action(s) at the time What I would do differently now





3. Changing Beliefs

How easy did you find this exercise? Was anything getting in the way for you? If so, please note below in a few words/phrases, the form which your resistance took.

Here is an example which contains several limiting beliefs:

E.g. I would be very worried about offending this particular parent, as she has been known to complain to the headteacher at the slightest provocation. The head may not support me and may say that I gave this woman short shrift.

Your words/phrases

In the early stages of coaching,clients often experience a reluctance to consider the possibility of alternative actions because they are convinced that they will not succeed. Some of the underlying concerns appear to stem from a belief that more trouble will be caused unless the matter is dealt with instantaneously. Our experience genuinely shows this type of limiting belief can be changed to empower you. There is more than one possible reality.

You will always be able to find good and justifiable reasons not to change the way you manage your availability – some of them historic and not of your creation. The challenge is to acknowledge the difficulties, recognise where they come from and choose both what you want and what you are able to do at any given moment.

One way forward is to recognise any beliefs that are getting in the way and may be limiting your choices for action. The exercise below will help you identify and work through such blocks. In the process you will be able to design a new belief that will enable you to act in away that serves you in the future.

CHANGING BELIEFS MATRIX – an example (Parent)

1. What do you believe NOW? 2. What happens when you believe this? 3. What is the result?
I know that parent and if I upset her, she will complain to the Headteacher about me. I am very cautious when I speak to her. I do not take chances and I make myself available on her terms, because I am worried about the consequences if I meet her on my terms. I shelve my plans or let other people down to please this parent. I feel bad about this and angry. I really resent this parent.
6. What do you believe NOW? 5. What would that be like? 4. What would you rather do?
I can defuse the situation with that parent without giving her cause for complaint and have the meeting when it suits us both. I would be calmer and able to fulfil my commitment as planned. I would feel more in control of my time and more professional as a teacher and staff member. I would also be able to see the parent when I am prepared and not distracted. I would rather keep my arrangements that were made several weeks ago and include all the team. I would rather make an appointment with the parent when I can give her my full attention without being all things to all people. I would like this to be at a time that suits her as well.

Here is a blank matrix for you to complete using a scenario that you have experienced. Identify the belief that underpinned your behaviour at that time and work through the headings from 1-6 to see whether your belief changes.

1. What do you believe NOW? 2. What happens when you believe this? 3. What is the result?

6. What do you believe NOW?

5. What would that be like?

4. What would you rather do?


4. Your actions and accountability regarding the ‘revolving door’ of your availability

Research reported by the American Society for Training and Development shows that there is a 40% likelihood of completing a goal when you plan it and that this increases to 95%, when you have a specific accountability appointment with another person. In the coaching relationship, this accountability happens on a regular basis and is one of the most powerful elements of the process.

We recommend that you identify two actions that you will take in the next two weeks in the box below and make a time to report on your progress to a colleague or friend.

My ‘open sesame’ actions to achieve the balance that I would like to have between being available and being overwhelmed Accountability To whom? Accountability By when?





In conclusion, we hope that you will be able to use the ‘revolving door’ and ‘open sesames’ to create many more uninterrupted chunks of time in which to think strategically and to set priorities for yourself, for the people you manage and the students you teach.

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