Understanding the Power of Public Learning

Keely Potter
Dodson Branch School

For years I have valued the power of student thinking in the classroom. To see students share their thinking with peers in meaningful and purposeful ways almost always means an atmosphere of inquiry and respect for different perspectives is present. As educators we know creating a community of public learners in which students feel safe to think, talk, write, and question does not automatically occur. We must feel competent in these skills ourselves to create such an environment in our classrooms.

In the past, teachers have relied on outside professional development to acquire new methods of instructional practices and strategies. There is often no follow up or coaching that occurs after teachers receive professional development, resulting in teachers retreating back to their own teaching worlds, behind the doors of their classroom where they are left to implement new learning with little to no coaching or collaboration. Even if teachers are energized and passionate about applying new strategies and practices into their classrooms, these feelings can quickly become replaced with frustration when teachers receive little to no support in their new initiative. In so many cases, learning remains private. Private learning can lead to the demise of new practices. If we do not consistently monitor and question our own practice, how can we expect our students to do the same?

The implementation of TAP, and the value it places on public learning, has the power to change the way teachers approach learning. Weekly cluster meetings are centered on student data, generated by common goals. Teachers come to the table and not only document the student outcomes, but also reflect upon why the outcome is present. This is public learning at its best. Teachers share ideas and look at student data and teacher instruction in honest and objective ways. No one is alone in their thinking or instructional practices.

Master teachers strategically plan cluster meetings so learning is constant. They ensure new strategies are taken back to the classroom, implemented, and reflected upon. Master teachers are never alone in their planning, either. The regional master teacher offers ongoing support on best practices in classrooms, adult learning, and the art of facilitation. Without the on-going professional development that she provides, and the collaborative learning that we do together, we would be limited in the success we have encountered in moving our teachers from being private learners to public learners.

Now that we are in our second year of implementing TAP, there is a “safe” feeling present at each cluster meeting as teachers discuss their successes and obstacles. There are still a few teachers who are uncomfortable with the vulnerability that accompanies public learning, but they are becoming more comfortable each day. It is difficult to be a private learner when it is a requirement to bring student data to each cluster meeting. The majority of teachers now see great value in sharing the “tough stuff” along with the celebrations. The best part is seeing this value system develop within our students as it develops within teachers. Students are thinking, talking, sharing, and reflecting more as a result of the journey that we are on with TAP.

Public learning requires us to be honest with where we are, where we have been, and where we are going. When we, as educators, display this type of thinking, we grow. When we become public learners, we naturally begin to foster the same values and beliefs within our students. This is when magic happens.

Keely Potter is a National Board Certified Teacher with 21 years of experience. She received her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education at Middle Tennessee State University (TN) and her Master of Arts degree in Reading and Language Arts at Millersville University (PA).