Use A Variety Of Practices To Connect With All

Learning designs

By Eleanor Drago-Severson
February 2016
The first strand of the Learning Designs standard focuses on the underlying beliefs and values that drive professional learning and the common features of robust learning environments that are informed by theories, research, and models. For example, the strand names “active engagement, modeling, reflection, metacognition, application, feedback, ongoing support, and formative and summative assessment” as key components of effective learning designs (Learning Forward, 2011, p. 40). These are all very important. My approach and perspective have been informed and enriched primarily by constructive-developmental theory (Kegan, 1982, 1994, 2000), a neo-Piagetian theory of adult development created by Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan. Kegan’s theory sheds light on how adults make meaning at a given point and over time and how our ways of knowing can stretch and

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Eleanor Drago-Severson

Eleanor Drago-Severson is a professor of education leadership and adult learning & leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her work explores the promise of practices that support adult development, leadership devel­opment, and capacity building within schools and districts as well as across school systems.

Cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators have studied how learning occurs for nearly a century. The resulting theories, research, and models of human learning shape the underlying framework and assumptions educators use to plan and design professional learning. While multiple designs exist, many have common features …

— Learning Forward, 2011, p. 40

Eleanor Drago-Severson’s research, writing, teaching, and coaching has helped show that supporting adult learning and professional development improves outcomes for students. Given the mounting adaptive challenges educators face in education today, teachers and school leaders must continuously learn and grow as they manage these tremendously complex issues and programs and the ambiguity inherent in them. Drago-Severson’s full essay explains how the Learning Designs standard helps educators prioritize these designs, as well as understand how to effectively support learning and improvement.

The full essay looks at the three “big ideas,” or strands, that comprise the Learning Designs standard. In this excerpt, she examines the first strand, which concerns the way learning theories, research, and models help us understand the adults we want to support.

Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.

About the Book

use-a-variety-of-practices-to-connect-with-allDrago-Severson, E., Roy, P., & von Frank, V. (2015). Reach the highest standard in professional learning: Learning Designs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Excerpted with permission.


Drago-Severson, E. (2004a). Becoming adult learners: Principles and practices for effective development. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Drago-Severson, E. (2004b). Helping teachers learn: Principal leadership for adult growth and development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Drago-Severson, E. (2006a, Summer). Learning-oriented leadership: Transforming a school through a program of adult learning. Independent School, 58-61, 64.

Drago-Severson, E. (2006b, March). How can you better support teachers’ growth? The Learning Principal, 1(6), 1, 6-7.

Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Leading adult learning: Supporting adult development in our schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin & NSDC.

Drago-Severson, E. (2012). Helping educators grow: Strategies and practices for leadership development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Drago-Severson, E. & Blum-DeStefano, J. (in press). The art of feedback: Tell me so I can hear you. 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.

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 Press.

Kegan, R. (2000). What “form” transforms? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation (pp. 35-70). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kegan, R., Broderick, M., Drago-Severson, E., Helsing, D., Popp, N., & Portnow, K. (2001, August). Toward a new pluralism in ABE/ESOL classrooms: Teaching to multiple “cultures of mind.” [NCSALL Reports #19a]. Cambridge, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Learning Forward (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

Winnicott, D. (1965). The maturational processes and the facilitating environment. New York, NY: International Universities Press.

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