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An open-door policy that works

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Chrissie Rumpler from Owairaka School discusses how to ensure an effective open-classroom-door policy through making connections with the community and having a school structure that values the engagement. She shares some of the things her school has done to ensure that teachers understand why and how to engage with the diverse cultures represented in their school. 

There are five films in the Owairaka school series:

  1. Ideas to engage your community
  2. An open-door policy that works
  3. Supporting teachers with community engagement in the classroom
  4. Community engagement - a parent's perspective
  5. Engaging Pasifika families - Owairaka School builds a fale

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Community engagement

Community engagement is "meaningful, respectful partnership between schools and their parents, whānau, and communities ... focused on improving the educational experiences and successes for each child."

(ERO, 2008)

  • What does an 'open door policy' mean for you?
  • How could you generate an open door policy at your school?
  • How could you challenge your own pre conceived ideas about learners, or those of your colleagues?
  • What are some of the ways that you already engage with the community? How could you build on that to deepen the relationship and improve student outcomes?

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Community engagement
The resources on this site support school leaders, teachers, and professional learning facilitators as they engage with school communities.


The whole engagement with the community does come from the top and that’s just not like management, it comes from the board as well (even though they’re managing) comes from the board. If you want to start from the board, we always endeavour (doesn’t always mean that it happens, but we always endeavour) to ensure that we have got a board that has got representation of as many cultures as we possibly can anyway. That’s the first one.

The second one is really about having your vision, a school-wide vision, a school-wide goal. Because if you don't have that you’ve got nothing to work towards. Then of course what we’ve done from there is that we have just picked up from that and thought about how can we engage with the community? How do we get the community into the school? How do we approach that?

Number one - I think it comes from you as an individual, it comes from you, as in my case, a team leader as well, and it also comes from the overall school. For me, I think number one is the open-door policy. So even though it comes from the top it’s got to kind of come from the bottom as well. So it’s got to kind of move its way up because if you haven’t got your teachers buying into that and having that open-door policy - and it’s one thing to say we have an open-door policy but it’s another thing to climb the hurdles of ensuring that that open-door policy is there.

So you have to think about what are the reasons and possible reasons that people don’t feel comfortable coming into the classroom because the teacher is seen to be here or something. It could be through their own experiences, that could be a negative experience, it could just be time, it could be work commitments, it could be whatever. So how do you overcome that?

Number one I think actually you have to step outside of the classroom and enter into their world as best you can. Number one when they come through the gate don’t expect them to always be the ones to come through the door - you go out the door. So you talk to them. And actually, yeah, I may be the teacher, and I may be the senior teacher but actually [it] takes a village to raise a child. We’re all in it together, but you have to show them that. Don’t always expect that a little piece of paper that says “Oh our policy is open-door policy”–You’ve got to actually put it into practice and it’s also about stepping out into their world.  Part of that was also understanding them. So what we did as a whole school is we went to Samoa. Of course we had some very strong learning intentions and some outcomes that we wanted to come out of that. We also had a personal challenge which was one of mine, which was my own preconceived ideas of what actually, or how, the Samoan community dealt with particular things or whatever. Personally, I had to come back and rethink my own set of values. Where do I actually get those from? Yeah, it’s actually OK to change those perceptions that you have. Because actually sometimes our perception is not correct.   

So I learnt a lot about the Samoan culture. I learnt a lot about how they function as a community, as a family, an individual family but also what was actually more important to them. Now I have a greater understanding of how difficult it is for people to leave their own culture to come here and assimilate themselves into what, I guess, they perceive our set of expectations, or our norms if you want to put it that way. So then with that I took that and I started to talk more openly about that with the families themselves as individuals. So I think from there, they started to feel a little more relaxed, it’s OK you know. So I just got alongside them a little bit more.

So don’t always just think that it’s the school experience that you need, it could be something that you can actually bring in. Involve them in it and you get a much greater understanding of them, and also an understanding of the diversity and the cultures within cultures. Remember that.

Published on: 22 Mar 2013