The Power of Public Learning


We recently shared a story from Montalvin Manor Elementary in West Contra Costa Unified, where teachers are using inquiry to understand how to best support students’ academic language development across grade levels and subject areas. At Montalvin, as at all of our partner sites, a central part of improving instruction through inquiry is setting conditions for teachers and leaders to honestly share uncertainties and build their understanding of individual learners through a focus on specific learning goals.

At Lead by Learning we accomplish this, in part, with the public learner. At each inquiry session a volunteer serves as the “public learner”: a teacher or staff member who is willing to publicly share their thinking, their questions, and their student learning data. This core element of the Lead by Learning approach to collaborative inquiry plays a central role in creating the conditions for authentic teacher learning, modeling teacher curiosity about their practice and building collective teacher efficacy.

This happens because:

  1. When teachers are willing to share their uncertainties, their unfolding thinking, their curiosities, and their imperfect student data, it sets the tone for everybody in the group to do the same.
  2. It provides a common text for teacher scholars to practice data analysis and ask probing questions of their colleagues.
  3. It is a powerful way for teachers to understand what is happening for students outside their own classrooms and to build shared understanding of common trends in student thinking and learning at all levels of development.

At WCCUSD’s Montalvin Manor and Verde Elementary, public learning is helping teachers build professional learning communities and achieve positive learning outcomes for students.

Public Learning is an adult learning practice that is transformational at all levels of the system. Learn more about how Public Learning supports progress in Alameda Unified School District between coaches, site leaders and district leaders and how partner educator Arielle Lehman practiced Public Learning with her high school students in Tamalpais Union High School District in her blog. 

This article was written in January 2018, Mills Teacher Scholars changed their name to Lead by Learning in the fall of 2020.