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Leadership Institute for School Change

Teachers College, Columbia University

Leadership Institute for School Change:
Building Capacity by Supporting Adult Development


Ellie Drago-Severson, Professor of Education Leadership and Adult Learning & Leadership, Faculty Lead and Co-Facilitator of Institute, Teachers College, Columbia University

Jessica Blum-DeStefano, Co-instructor at Columbia University’s Principals Academy, Adjunct Instructor at Bank Street College of Education, Co-Facilitator of Institute


June 4-5, 2018 – The March Institute was a sellout!

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This 2-day interactive and introductory workshop provides leaders and educators of all kinds—principals, assistant principals, teachers, professional developers, curriculum specialists, coaches, district leaders, policymakers, professors, community college leaders, administrators, and for- and non-profit leaders who support others—with an opportunity to more deeply understand how to support one’s own and other adults’ growth by learning about adult developmental theory, a developmental model of leadership for supporting growth, and promising, capacity-building practices that can be implemented in your school or district.

Participants will have multiple opportunities during and after each seminar day to apply their learning, develop action plans, and enhance their noble practice of leading in support of adult development—including supervision for growth, coaching, and practices that support adult development.

At the completion of the Institute, participants will have learned about:

  • Adult-developmental theory (Kegan, 1982, 1994, 2000) and its practical application to supporting growth (Drago-Severson, 2004a, 2004b, 2009, 2012; Drago-Severson, Blum-DeStefano, & Asghar, 2013)
  • A developmentally-based model for leadership and professional learning (Drago-Severson, 2004a, 2004b, 2009, 2012; Drago-Severson, Blum-DeStefano & Asghar, 2013; Drago-Severson, Roy, von Frank, 2015) that focuses on supporting adult learning and growth, and offers promising practices that can be implemented in your school and system
  • A developmental approach to offering feedback (Drago-Severson & Blum-DeStefano, 2016, forthcoming) so others can best hear it, take it in, learn from it, and act upon it
  • School leaders’ practical, on-the-ground strategies for supporting continuous adult learning and collaboration and positively impacting student achievement
  • School, district, system and organizational supports that would enhance this work, and
  • How to design learning environments that support adult growth, and positively impact student achievement (Drago-Severson, 2012; Drago-Severson, Roy, von Frank, 2015)

Participants who complete this Institute will be able to answer the following questions:

  • How can you support adult development in your work context to help build internal capacity and improve student achievement?
  • What are the characteristics of four qualitatively different ways of knowing in adulthood, and why do they matter for leaders and educators with and across schools and school systems?
  • What developmentally oriented practices can be employed in your school, team, district, or professional context that support growth and capacity building?
  • How can you differentiate your leadership and feedback to support adults with different ways of knowing?
  • In what ways might your action plan inform your leadership in support to adult development?


Around the globe, leaders—principals, teachers and systems leaders—in schools and within systems face unprecedented demands that are arguably adaptive in nature, as Harvard leadership scholar Ron Heifetz (1994) describes them. These murkier kinds of challenges, which are complex and harder to define (e.g., implementing standards, caring for adults’ and students’ diverse needs, closing the achievement gap, working effectively in an era of high-stakes accountability and reform, and—especially—navigating pressing teacher and principal evaluation systems), require something different from leaders, something more. Unlike technical challenges, which can be addressed by increasing skills, knowledge, and expertise, the mounting adaptive challenges that leaders and teachers face in education—and all sectors—require greater internal capacities and new approaches. Indeed, research now corroborates what educators have long since understood as truth—that strict content delivery during “professional development days” (or what is known in some circles as “sit and get” learning) has very little influence on teacher and leaders’ practice or student performance (Murnane & Willet, 2011).

On the other hand, a developmental approach to building adults’ capacity, supervision, instruction, teacher leadership, feedback, and advancing professional learning—that takes into account adults’ diverse meaning making about their work, leadership, and learning—is one very promising way to help build the internal capacities needed to meet the adaptive challenges that define education and leadership today.

Our research shows that adult development is leadership development, and vice-versa. While we often intuitively understand that we need to provide children and youth with diverse supports and challenges to help them grow—in other words, we need to scaffold them—the importance of differentiating professional development, supervision, feedback, mentoring, teaching, coaching, and leading for adults is often overlooked. Now, more than ever, we must recognize the very real and essential role that developmental diversity plays in the professional learning and feedback processes, and in supporting capacity building. It is vital to consider individuals’ developmental orientations when supporting adult learning and when offering formal and informal feedback to improve instruction and instructional leadership in order to facilitate adults’ internal capacity building in ways that both honor and stretch them as well as to attend to this under-recognized form of diversity.


  • Drago-Severson, E. (2004a). Becoming adult learners: Principles and practices for effective development. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Drago-Severson, E. (2004b). Helping teachers learn: Principal leadership for adult growth and development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press/Sage.
  • Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Leading adult learning: Supporting adult development in our schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press/Sage and Learning Forward.
  • Drago-Severson, E. (2012). Helping educators grow: Strategies and practices for leadership development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
  • Drago-Severson, E., & Blum-DeStefano, J. (2016). Tell me so I can hear you: A developmental approach to feedback for educators. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
  • Drago-Severson, E., Blum-DeStefano, J., & Asghar, A. (2013). Learning for leadership: Developmental strategies for building capacity in our schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  • Drago-Severson, E., Roy, P., & von Frank, V. (2015). Reach the highest standard in professional learning: Learning designs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press/Sage and Learning Forward.
  • Heifetz, R. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self: Problems and process in human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kegan, R. (2000). What “form” transforms? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. In J. Mezirow and Associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation (pp. 35-70). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Murnane, R., & Willett, J. (2010). Methods matter: Improving causal inference in educational and social science research. New York: Oxford University Press.