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:
- Consider what is working well at school
- Describe what a positive work environment feels like
- 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.
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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 Beyondtheapplecontact@gmail.com