Building a Positive Work Environment at School

The work environment of a school has a huge impact on the emotional well being, productivity, and professional engagement of teachers.

For those teachers and administrators who work in a positive work environment, take a minute to appreciate your workplace, think about what makes your workplace so positive, and take some time to share your thoughts with colleagues.

Teachers and administrators working in a negative work environment owe it to themselves, their families, and their students to become involved in changing the school’s interpersonal dynamic.The first step is to organize a Professional Learning Conversation that provides an opportunity for the staff to discuss the school’s work environment.

In preparation for that session, ask participants to:

  1. Consider what is working well at school
  2. Describe what a positive work environment feels like
  3. Arrive at the session with a mindset focused on discovering possibilities for change

To maximize participation, follow a “personal thoughts to shared reflection model”.  Start the session with individual reflection, move on to small group collaboration, and end with whole group sharing and planning.


During this introductory activity, ask participants to quietly reflect on whether and how the work environment of the school community welcomes teachers, stresses teachers, or has little effect on teachers and how they approach their day.  After this moment of personal reflection, distribute the Human Environment Inventory and provide time for teachers to answer the questions and consider the follow up information.

Human Environment Inventory

As you read these questions, think about whether or not it is a common (C), occasional (O), or rare (R) experience to be with a colleague who:

– acknowledges how you think and feel about teaching
– listens and responds with a nonjudgmental attitude
– encourages you to be honest with them
– expects you to be honest with them
– notes and further discusses your ideas and  accomplishments
– provides support if requested and provides useful feedback

If you are rarely or only occasionally with a colleague like this, it’s time to do something about your situation. But don’t start by blaming the system or your colleagues. Blaming may name a problem, but it doesn’t lead to change. Start small and begin by looking inward. Reflect on your contributions to the environment. How often do your colleagues see the qualities noted in the Human Environment Inventory in you? If it’s not common, it’s time to think about your role in developing a positive and productive human environment.

The most effective way to build a positive and productive human environment is to listen – really listen –  to your colleagues. Although this sounds simplistic, it’s not. Our listening skills have developed over our lifetime and we’re often unaware of how our listening habits impact our interpersonal relationships. Effective listening is the foundation of learning about others, building trust, and sharing professional expertise. Beyond the Apple’s blog about effective listening provides some useful information about how we build relationships by listening.  Make it your goal to become aware of your own listening skills and make a commitment to demonstrating these skills in your conversations with colleagues.


The the information gathered during the individual reflection in mind, work in groups to search research, popular press, social media, YouTube, etc. for information that reflects the elements suggested in the Human Environment Inventory.

Here’s a list to get started. There are many more, so extend the search to find ideas that match you, your school, and your school community. Some sources be very useful, some may be a waste of time and some may have one vague idea that might be worth building on. Search far and wide as you read, view, and keep notes about possibilities.

Tips on Reducing Teacher Stress From the Happiest School on Earth

10 Essential of the Most Successful Companies Break Rooms 

APA’s Teacher Stress Module

Snack Nation’s Best YouTube Motivational Videos

My View: Six Ways to Retain Great Teachers

Resources on Stress for New teachers

As the searching proceeds (with snacks, soft music, post it notes, and chart paper close at hand), work with your group to gather lots of ideas, rate the possibilities of each idea and determine which idea has the most promise. Once the idea is chosen, choose a novel presentation style ( poetry, storyboard, mime, etc.) to share your group’s idea with the rest of the participants.  Exploring new ways of sharing information can be the first step to building a positive and trusting work environment.

WHOLE GROUP SHARING AND PLANNING: View each groups’ presentation and discuss.  As a whole group, decide on one or two go forward ideas and schedule time at the next staff meeting to discuss implementation.

For more conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at



About Beyond The Apple

Beyond the Apple provides everything a Professional Learning Community needs! Designed to follow Beyond the Apple's Tenets of Adult Education, our videos re-ignite the excitement of professional conversations among educators in the classroom, university, colleges and professional training. Our free teaching and learning resources provide a follow up with more information that is current, research based and practical.
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