Indiana Jones, the character played by Harrison Ford during the 80’s and 90’s, inspired a lot of would be archaeologists. With thoughts of adventure around every corner, I would guess that a number of archaeologists are in the profession today because they were inspired by the film series. I must admit I have a Indian Jones type hat gathering dust on the top shelf of my closet that I have never worn in public. Frankly it has been on my head only once, and that was as I gazed at my image in the store mirror.
As a would-be educator, I was also intrigued by Indiana Jones’ teaching career. It was intoxicating to imagine a huge lecture hall filled with students in love with everything I said and waiting outside my office to discuss the tomes of archaeological theory. I imagined myself sneaking out an open window as eager students pressed up against the frosted glass of my office door. Oh, what a wonderful life that would be!
Reality set in though, and after 15 years of teaching, I finally got my first office with a window, and like most modern building windows, it is permanently sealed shut. Students are not waiting in line to see me during my office hours, and while they are, of course, “mesmerized” by my lectures, there is the distinct possibility that I may just be putting them to sleep. In my head, however, there is no way that their droopy eyes have anything to do with my teaching; I am still the Indiana Jones of teaching!
Snapping back to reality, I do have one simple strategy that clearly connects with students. It is partially based on a recurring experience I have encountered while consulting. I often ask businesses for their list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and not surprisingly, many struggling organizations have not thought given this thought. I begin by asking each of them to keep a list of questions they encounter. Of course, the salesmen generate a different list than the CEO, and her list is different than the custodians, which is different from the receptionists. However, there is a common thread on these lists. Although not awe inspiring, it is interesting that these questions often center on availability and locations: When do you guys open? Where are you located? When will you be stopping in on a sales call again? Are you open on Sundays? What is your email address? What are your business hours?
When you think about successful stores, they often have a highly visible “open” sign in the window. Their business hours are clearly displayed in crisp vinyl letters. As educators, should we be any different? Displaying our schedule on the door, including office hours, the classes we teach and where, goes a long way to answering our students’ questions. In business, it also eliminates the need for consultants to tell you what you already know!
When I was an undergrad, one of my favorite professors went out of his way each semester to post a paper copy of his schedule on his office door (an “open for business sign” if you will). I always knew where I could find him, even if it was just to say hi as he went from one classroom to another. His availability, even briefly, was a factor in my success as a student. I think we owe some form of availability to our students (or customers). Posting a simple weekly schedule that shows our classes, their locations, our office hours, and basic contact information is a really good place to start. Of course, posting them on our syllabi and in our Learning Management system are natural extensions of this simple idea. This simply says to the student “Yes, I am OPEN for Education”.
I can’t help but wonder if this simple form of communication is not one of the most important steps in becoming the Indian Jones of teachers. I’d like to think so.