Professional Development


KNOWLEDGE:  Principals and aspiring leaders who participate in the Cahn Fellows Progrm engage in both informational and transformational learning.  Fellows and Allies begin their educational journey at our two-week Summer Leadership Institute followed by 4 study sessions throughout the year as they dive deeper into this learning.  

Cahn Fellows and Allies gain knowledge from our Core and Responsive curricula taught by distinguished Teachers College professors and notable guest speakers bringing various leadership perspectives to the experience.  The Cahn Core Curriculum is grounded in adult developmental theory and systems thinking and includes instruction in neuroscience of leadership, communicating to inspire peak performance and mentoring in a collaborative network of peers.  By advancing the knowledge base of our distinguished principals the Cahn Fellows Program strives to support teacher development, school culture and student learning.

The Responsive curriculum is derived from those problems that are faced by leaders in today’s society and can include teaching in ethics, implicit bias, leading in a crisis and emotional leadership.  This curriculum is designed to support the mindfulness and developing mindsets of our nations best educational leaders.

Additional knowledge is gained from the work with our Alumni Advisors.  Cahn Alumni Advisors (CAA) and TC faculty work with small cohorts of Fellows and Allies in support of their learning and bridging theory and practice. Faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University offer support to complement CAA’s during collegial inquiry sessions. CAA’s have a deep and vast understanding of the principalship, and of how to coach exemplary Principals.

Our curricula views schools through the technical, personal and organizational lenses to help leaders organize their thinking about school change.  Knoweldge gained from the Core and Responsive curricula support the development of cognitive, emotional, interpersonal and intrapersonal capacities.   In this frame knowledge is shared among the members of the cohort who learn that despite differences in size, location and school type problems of practice are not dissimilar.  This knowledge sharing adds richness to the curriculum and facilitates on-going training in how to think systematically and strategically.

ACTION RESEARCH:  This component of the curriculum is designed to teach the skills necessary to promote the on-going process of transformational learning so that our leaders develop the skills necessary to understand and respond to the challenges they face that enable them to perform in effective, sustainable ways.  Leaders in this program begin to use the action research framework in their practice to focus on problems that are of immediate concern. They are taught the cyclical process of planning, observing, acting and reflecting. In doing so, the Fellows and Allies develop a theory of change they want to make in their school and use data to implement a systematic plan that leads to measurable results.   This plan is grounded in the action-inquiry cycle that supports continual learning, growth and development. Fellows and Allies learn that schools are dynamic systems and complex webs of interactions and use the action-research cycle to analyze their own educational systems, learning about the structure, expectations and timeline for creating a plan. During this process Fellows and Allies examine exemplary projects from Cahn Alumni, learn how to frame a challenge question, gather evidence to support their project and, develop teams within their schools that will engage in the year long work.  This work culminates in the final learning activity, a project that is presented to the larger educational community.

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING:  The first activity that the Cahn Fellows engage in happens on the battlefield in Gettysburg.  Here instruction delivered by Licensed Battlefield Guides place our Fellows in the role of Gettysburg soldiers and leaders as they walk the ground and analyze the decisions made and the initiative taken by officers and men of the North and South.  Lessons around communication and empowerment are core elements of how leaders make decisions and our Fellows experience that directly at Gettysburg both on the battlefield and off. Our Cahn Fellows experience their personal leadership during a fence-building activity that requires creativity, rapid decision making and team building to be successful in the task.

Practical experience takes the form of a year-long problem of practice identified at the outset of the program.  Fellows and Allies undertake an inquiry project in their home schools as a way to embed the skills they are learning and to bring their professional work into the learning experience. These projects are framed as “inquiry” to keep the spotlight on how principals develop themselves and improve their schools through action learning cycles of studying and planning, acting, and reflecting and revising. Fellows, Allies, Faculty Mentors, and Cahn Alumni Advisors work together and support one another through these inquiry projects. Our Leadership Conference provides Fellows and Allies the experience of sharing their work to the larger educational community.


Summer Leadership Institute

The Summer Leadership Institute is designed to enable Fellows to effectively link leadership and instructional theories to their practice. It is an intensive two-week program grounded in two cornerstones: the study of leadership across organizations and the study of leadership at the school level. Through this program, Cahn Fellows have the opportunity to reflect on their own leadership and create a vision of leadership for the future. While in attendance at the Institute, Fellows are required to develop and submit an action plan addressing an Individual Challenge they are facing in the leadership of their schools. The Individual Challenge work facilitates learning across the cohort as Fellows engage with one another on a review of their challenge.‌

Week One:

The SLI begins with a trip to Gettysburg for our Fellows to examine leadership through an analysis of the styles of those who led the Battle of Gettysburg.  Connections and reflections are made on their own leadership strengths and areas of needed growth. Fellows return to Teachers College, Columbia University to spend the week with our prestigious faculty to receive solid grounding on topic focusing on organizational change, adult learning and systems thinking.

Week Two:

The second week of our Summer Leadership Institute is spent examining specific challenges facing urban school administrators and solutions to those challenges.  In addition, notable leaders in diverse fields are invited to speak to our Fellows about their leadership journeys, giving another perspective and dimension to the skillset needed to be a successful leader.

Faculty and Alumni Study Sessions

In their capacity as Cahn Fellows and Allies, school leaders are asked to identify a leadership challenge they are facing in their schools which they believe, if they effectively addressed it, could have a positive impact on student achievement, school culture and/school leadership capacity, as well as a positive impact on their own leadership potential. Each year, Fellows and Allies are asked to independently choose their leadership challenge. Principals are then grouped into their study groups according to their challenge topic.

Study groups meet for five full-day and one weekend retreat session during the year.  Cahn Fellows and Allies work in partnership in a collaborative and action oriented environment.  Each group is led by a Cahn alumni facilitator and a faculty advisor.  

Study groups focus on topics such as:

  • Building trust in the school community.
  • Adult development and teacher leadership.
  • Meeting the needs of diverse learners.
  • Improving on the communication of the school's mission and vision.

Allies Program

In order to leverage the experience of the Cahn Fellow principals to benefit the next generation of public school principals, each Fellow mentors an aspiring school leader from within their own school. The program calls these aspiring school leaders Cahn Allies.

As part of the mentorship, Cahn Allies are selected by their respective Fellows to participate along with them in many professional development activities over a 12 month period, from July to June of each year and to work on a team project. The Cahn Fellows Program provides support for the mentoring relationship, which is best described as a reciprocal and collaborative learning relationship between an experienced and aspiring leader, who share an interest and responsibility in helping one another to develop, grow and move forward in their respective careers. In other words, we see mentoring as a mutually beneficial and growth-enhancing developmental relationship. Since the Program's founding, over 345 new or aspiring principals have been mentored.

Many Cahn Fellows have gone on to mentor aspiring principals through programs such as the Summer Principals Academy (SPA), a transformative graduate program for public school educators interested in becoming public school leaders, at Teachers College and the Advanced Leadership Program for Assistant Principals (ALPAP), a program that provides a venue for Assistant Principals who have already met the challenges of their administrative and supervisory roles; have demonstrated a readiness to become Principals.  They are primed in both programs to explore the decision-making process required of a school Principal.

Leadership Challenges

In their capacity as Cahn Fellows and Allies, principals and aspiring school leaders are asked to identify a leadership challenge they are facing in their schools which believe, if they effectively addressed, could have a positive impact on student achievement. 

This focus on real challenges and measurable results within the Cahn professional development model allows the Cahn principals to more readily apply academic research to practice and take an active approach to their learning.

Once the challenge has been identified, the Cahn principals are asked the following questions:

Cahn Principals are asked to set qualitative and quantitative benchmarks to help them measure their progress against their stated challenge throughout the school year and to submit a self-reflection at key points during the year.

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