School staff members “need to learn their roles and how to work with their peers, and they need to continue to develop the skills and knowledge that will help them carry out their work in that context…[T]hey need to be socialized; they need to be organized; and they need to develop their professional expertise."
(Hatch, 2009, p. 91)

Creating a productive work environment

A productive work environment grows out of the right balance between collective and individual activities and formal and informal learning opportunities. Schools need to establish enough of a sense of community to organize work effectively and to share expertise productively, but they also have to provide enough flexibility in their approach to professional development to meet the diverse needs of sub-units and individual staff members. They have to find that balance without spending so much time on coordination, community building and collective professional development that staff members feel constrained and overwhelmed and the organization itself lacks the time, energy and resources it needs to invest in other activities.

To develop a productive work environment, schools should consider:

Consistent, coherent, job-embedded professional development. Research suggests that shifting from involving individual teachers in a roster of short-term activities that cover a wide-range of topics is likely to be less effective than engaging groups of teachers in a series of related activities that are more closely connected to teachers’ day-to-day classroom responsibilities and are focused on the improvement of student learning in a specific content area.

Cultivating learning communities. Rather than trying to transform beliefs and practices individual by individual, establishing learning communities creates a culture that encourages everyone and the organization as a whole to reflect on their work and improve their performance.

Fostering trust. When individuals trust each other they share the belief that the members of the organization can carry out their responsibilities and live up to common expectations, as a consequence, responsibilities can be divided up effectively, with staff able to work together efficiently or work independently when the situation calls for it.

Exploring mechanisms for sharing responsibility. Giving many different people roles in school governance and decision-making creates opportunities for members of the school community to develop the trust, care, and respect they need to work together. These potential benefits, however, can quickly erode if individuals grow tired and frustrated from spending too much time in meetings and debating procedures and meeting processes rather than discussing key issues of teaching and learning.