New Mindsets: The Promise of Employing Adult Learning and Development for Educational Leaders' Learning

New Mindsets: The Promise of Employing Adult Learning and Development for Educational Leaders' Learning

Ellie Drago-Severson (Columbia University, USA) and Patricia Maslin-Ostrowski (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5872-1.ch010
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The authors situate this chapter within the context of contemporary educational leadership where leaders face technical and adaptive challenges that are increasing in complexity and quantity. In many cases, these are challenges for which they could not have been prepared (e.g., new accountability measures). While adult learning and adult developmental theories have been employed widely to support adults' learning and development in other sectors, they are only recently being employed to inform the practice and preparation of school leaders. Therefore, the authors describe seminal theories of adult learning and development as a promising foundation to improve curriculum and learning spaces for aspiring and practicing leaders. These theoretical lenses are helpful for curriculum design and content in Pre-K-20 learning centers and also higher education. Put simply, research establishes that employing these will more fully equip leaders to support other adults' learning and development in their communities in order to meet complex educational challenges.
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To frame and emphasize the urgency of the need to prepare school leaders and teacher-leaders better both on-the-ground and in leadership preparation programs, in this chapter we first offer a glimpse of the complexity of leading in today’s high stakes and increasing accountability atmosphere. While we are focusing on the leaders—principals and headmasters or headmistresses—here in this chapter, we like others, know that leaders’ efforts have essential implications for teachers and their growth in schools.

Contemporary leaders encounter both technical and adaptive challenges every day in their work. Compounding this is the reality that these challenges are mounting in complexity and quantity. In many cases these are challenges for which they could not have been prepared (e.g., new teacher evaluation systems and accountability measures, Common Core Curriculum and standards, and the intractable problems associated with preventing dropouts). Some of these kinds of challenges cannot be predicted and there is no formal preparation for them (Barber, 2006; Byrne-Jiménez & Orr, 2007; Peterson, 2002). In addition, scholars and practitioners alike, point to the pressure leaders feel from new testing-and-sanctions policies (Kegan & Lahey, 2009). In essence, leaders need support in order to learn how to tackle such challenges—whether technical or adaptive (Drago-Severson, Maslin-Ostrowski, Hoffman, & Barbaro, 2013; Maslin-Ostrowski, & Drago-Severson, 2013; Kegan & Lahey, 2009).

Leadership scholar Ronald Heifetz (1994) from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government defines “adaptive challenges” (p. 8) as the kinds of problems that are difficult to identify, and for which there are no known solutions. Importantly, these require not only the capacity to learn in-the-midst of managing them, but also necessitate leaders have the developmental (internal) capacity to handle the complexity and ambiguity inherent in such challenges (Kegan & Lahey, 2009; Wagner et al., 2006; Wagner, 2007). In contrast, technical challenges are problems that are identifiable and for which solutions exist even if one needs to seek outside expertise in order to resolve them (Heifetz, 1994). Developing a deeper understanding of how to help leaders who must address these challenges in the practice of school leadership and those who work to prepare them (i.e., education leadership faculty) has important policy implications and practical lessons for curriculum and learning in educational leadership preparation programs as well as in designing professional learning experiences on-the-job (Learning Forward, 2011).

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