Not to be confused with a PLC (Professional Learning Community), which is a small group of educators working together on a specific task, a PLE is how a school approaches professional learning and change, and how it involves the faculty in this process. A successful school depends on high-quality faculty, and faculty growth depends on being in a PLE. Most schools do not purposefully create one, however.

Creating a PLE is a complicated, involved process that by necessity includes the entire faculty and administration, and while it will necessarily look different from school to school, there are elements that every vibrant PLE has in common.

In a true Professional Learning Environment, teachers and administrators are constantly working together to improve student learning outcomes through shared inquiry and experiment and professional learning/professional development. Learning is done as a community as much as, or even more so than, individually, and that benefits everyone and creates a shared purpose. That purpose may derive from the school's mission and goals, but it is stated regardless.

Clear communication is another essential element in a successful PLE, both from administrators to teachers and back, and amongst teachers. This is true whether it concerns a small undertaking or a larger initiative.

Administrators provide meaningful feedback and the support that teachers need to both teach and learn, by providing mentors and coaches and technical support and the funds required to continue learning, be it in workshops or at conferences or by inviting outside experts into the school. Administrators also ensure that teachers have the time to pursue professional learning, both in and out of the school.

Each teacher, then, is part of a department but also a team - often grade-level - and meets regularly (though not necessarily often) with the department and the team. These meetings are substantive, not administrative. Each teacher also has an administrative partner who is there to provide meaningful and substantive feedback - not to assess, but to support. In the same way, teachers regularly observe both their departmental colleagues, their team members, and other faculty and provide feedback and share ideas, again not to assess but to support.

Administrators provide ongoing opportunities for teachers to pursue professional development through workshops and conferences, ensuring that teachers have the time and funds to attend these. For broader initiatives, administrators bring people into the school so that the entire faculty can be involved and trained. The Dean of Faculty (or some position with similar responsibilities) ensures that learning materials at the school are plentiful - these may include a library full of books that teachers can read and discuss, as well as access to online sites - professional organizations and tutorial sites - that provide a variety of training and learning opportunities. Discussions (optional) are held frequently about various topics of interest to teachers in general, but also specific to the school, so that teachers have frequent opportunities to engage with others.

The takeaway from any and all meetings and workshops and conferences are shared widely - through an online resource created and maintained by the school - so that the entire community can benefit.

Teachers also share resources - self-created or purchased or found online - and work in concert to improve curricula.

It is important to note that teachers should be energized by these opportunities and not burdened by them.

Here are the attributes that the North Carolina State Board of Education offers as being necessary:

  • Caring deeply about learning.
  • Feeling free to take risks.
  • Challenging each other and raising the expectations of everyone.
  • Respecting and valuing perspectives other than their own by seeking and valuing every member's input.
  • Intentional in seeking to do the work better.
  • Aggressive in continually building capacity of each member to work smarter.

Is your school a PLE, and if not, why not?