"[Good schools] are, in short, genuine learning communities--or, if you prefer, learning centers--places where the adults, as well as the children, can, and do, grow. . .I've come to see that most school leaders hunger for a better understanding of adult learning. But I also know how challenging the process can be. It's not easy--and it takes conscious effort. But with such an effort on the part of school leaders, any school community can be strengthened so that dynamic engagement and high achievement go hand-in-hand."
-- Ellie Drago-Severson in "Learning-Oriented Leadership: Transforming a School Through a Program of Adult Learning."
In her essay "Learning-Oriented Leadership," Ellie Drago-Severson provides a framework for transforming a school through a program of adult learning. The framework (more fully articulated and exemplified in her recent book Leading Adult Learning) is built on two "elements necessary for supporting faculty growth." In my February 28 post on this topic, I examined the first element--Four Pillar Practices for Growth: Supporting the Practice of Teaming, Providing Leadership Roles, Engaging in Collegial Inquiry and Mentoring.
In this post, we'll examine Drago-Severson's second element: adults' three "ways of knowing." In setting the stage for these ways of knowing, Drago-Severson writes, ". . .school leaders need to understand that adults, like children, have distinct learning styles and developmental needs. As with multiple intelligences, it's important not to approach teachers as if they learn in the same way, or interpret ideas in the same way."
By first understanding these ways of knowing and then by leveraging appropriate and viable supports in the face of the challenges we face as educators (and in the context of our particular ways of knowing), we can--along with our students--continue to grow as lifelong learners.
Understanding 3 Different Ways of Knowing Most Common in Adulthood
Based on Harvard Professor of Education Robert Kegan's constructive-developmental theory , Drago-Severson presents three different ways of knowing most common in adulthood. Now, while Drago-Severson does not suggest that any one of us falls neatly (or constantly) into a single category, she does argue that "we do tend to lean more strongly toward one of them."
Instrumental Way of Knowing
• Characteristics or features: highly pragmatic; tends to look to others for useful information and, in return, offers information or knowledge s/he thinks others can use; understands world in concrete terms; tend to be rule-based;
• Strengths: understands that observable events, processes, and situations have a reality separate from his or her own point of view;
• Struggles: often cannot take another's point of view;
• Effective methods of support: clear goals and expectations; examples of rules, guidelines or protocols for engaging in dialogue, meetings, conversations and teamwork; mentor who helps them grow in understanding value of multiple perspectives.
Socializing Way of Knowing
• Characteristics or features: orient strongly to other people's perspectives; value gaining and maintaining approval and acceptance from authorities; needs to be known and accepted by colleagues; look to leaders to acknowledge their own beliefs;
• Strengths: enhanced capacity for reflection; capacity/tendency to think abstractly and subordinate own needs and desires to those of others;
• Struggles: interpersonal conflict is almost always experienced as threat to self; tend to feel responsible for others' feelings and, in turn, hold others responsible for their feelings;
• Effective methods of support: let them share their perspectives in small groups, or with just one other colleague prior to sharing with larger groups; help to voice, develop and clarify their own beliefs, encouraging them to become less dependent on views and approval of others; need to be encouraged to look inward then to express their own perspective.
Self-Authoring Way of Knowing
• Characteristics or features: focus strongly on their own competencies and invite demonstration of others' competencies; identify and are identified with abstract values, principles, and longer-term purposes;
• Strengths: can synthesize diverse points of view, critique ideas, and explore and develop own goals;
• Struggles: tend to prefer their own approaches, and need to be encouraged to be open to the approaches of others; can be resistant to the points of others when those views are in opposition to their own;
• Effective methods of support: feel supported in situations where they can demonstrate their analytic abilities and engage in dialogue that offers an opportunity to learn from multiple perspectives; need to be encouraged by mentors to embrace the viewpoints of others.
Implications for Teachers--and for Schools as Learning Communities
As we examine these ways of knowing, it is important to consider two questions:
 How do we help educators understand their particular tendencies?
 How do we then position educators (both teachers and the administrators who support them) to leverage these ways of knowing within our particular learning communities--that is, within the classroom, at faculty and administrative meetings, in committee work, in coaching, in working with parents, and within the context of the many challenges and opportunities we as educators face?
Drago-Severson explains that in the context of teaching, one's way of knowing informs four areas:
 How we understand ourselves as a teacher, leader and learner;
 How we think about what makes a good teacher or administrator;
 How we think about what constitutes effective practice;
 How we think about the types of supports and challenges needed to grow
Perhaps most important is Drago-Severson's point that "what matters most is the match between a person's way of knowing and the demands or expectations any particular culture places on him or her." When there's a mismatch between the demands of a role or school culture and the way of knowing of a particular educator, then the result is "demands outpac[ing] capabilities." The "good news," Drago-Severson argues, is that "adults can grow to be able to do these things if they are provided with appropriate supports and challenges"--as described in the four pillar-practices for growth.
In our increasingly flat world of local, regional, national and international collaboration, the cultivation of self-awareness in our educators of their ways of knowing in the context of four-pillar practices for growth offers a powerful framework for professional growth. As Drago-Severson writes, "Implementing professional learning opportunities that can rekindle adults' excitement in learning, growing, and teaching is essential to student success and meeting the challenges of 21st century leadership."
Educators who are self-aware about and strategic in their response to their tendencies as learners and who engage one another in a school culture of teaming, leadership, collegial inquiry and mentoring, are positioned to model the zest for lifelong learning we seek to inspire in our students.
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