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Helping Teachers Learn: Principal Leadership for Adult Growth and Development

reviewed by Michelle Abrego - 2005

coverTitle: Helping Teachers Learn: Principal Leadership for Adult Growth and Development
Author(s): Eleanor Drago-Severson
Publisher: Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks
ISBN: 0761939679, Pages: 208, Year: 2004
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How do school leaders facilitate the growth of all teachers?  This question is answered in the book, Helping Teachers Learn: Principal Leadership for Adult Growth and Development.  The author, Eleanor Drago-Severson, proposes a learning oriented model of school leadership focused on supporting the transformational growth of teachers at all levels. 


Drago-Severson’s model comes from a study of 25 principals from varied backgrounds including public and private schools.  She identifies the purpose of her study as follows: 

 My purpose in this current study has been to understand what a range of principals, who work in a variety of school contexts with strikingly different levels of financial and human resources, do in support of teacher learning and to understand why they believe these practices are effective (p. 6). 

 From the work of the principals selected for the study, Drago-Severson identifies four “pillars” of practice used by these school leaders to create a school environment supportive of teachers’ learning and professional growth.  The “pillars” of practice found to be critical for teacher growth include: establishing teams, providing leadership roles for teachers, promoting collegial inquiry, and relying on mentoring for the induction of new teachers and the further learning of experienced teachers.  

 Although the “pillars” of practice are commonly implemented on many campuses, the rationale behind such practices and how they aid teacher growth remain unknown.  Drago-Severson addresses the reasons why such practices are implemented and what their effect is on teacher growth and development.  For many readers, it may be the first time that common practices such as teaming and or mentoring are viewed in terms of adult development. 

 The book is developed across 11 chapters with each chapter centered on three main themes: the principal as key teacher developer, principles of adult learning and constructive-development theory, and the school as context for teacher learning.  All chapters end with a chapter summary (with the exception of the concluding chapter) as well as reflective questions focused on the ideas presented in the chapter.

 In Chapter 1 of the book the reader is introduced to the need for the development of a learning oriented model of school leadership.  Included in the chapter is a thorough description of the study’s methodology including sample selection, and the collection and analysis of the data.

 Chapter 2 presents an overview of psychologist Robert Kegan’s constructive-developmental theory of adult growth and development, which is at the center of the book.  Drago-Severson recommends that principals must consider teachers’ “ways of knowing” (developmental levels) and “holding environments” (learning contexts) if professional development is to occur.  Drago-Severson suggests her learning oriented model will increase principals’ capacity to create supportive learning environments for teachers leading to greater teacher retention, improved teaching, and increased student achievement.  Readers of the book are drawn into further exploring the proposed model of leadership by such a claim.

 Chapter 3 discusses principals as climate shapers and their role in creating climates supportive of teacher learning.  Drago-Severson introduces the discussion by presenting current practices in the literature followed by an identification of the practices that principals from the study used to create supportive climates for teacher learning.  The chapter serves as a link to the discussion of pillars of practice in chapters 5 through 8.


Drago-Severson addresses the issue of using financial resources to support teacher learning in Chapter 4.  A portion of the chapter is devoted to dealing with limited resources.  She writes: “this section highlights the different low cost strategies that leaders employ” (p. 60).  Strategies such as instituting sabbaticals, harnessing the power and generosity of alumni, and bringing in reform experts for conversation are identified as low cost.  Such strategies are far from the reach of public school administrators faced with shrinking budgets.  This chapter would be well placed at the end of the book.  Perhaps the best advice from the chapter is to establish priorities for limited resources.

 School leaders will find Chapters 5 through 8 the most meaningful in the text.  These chapters discuss the “pillars” of practice that will support teacher growth.  Each chapter is devoted to an extensive discussion of one of the four “pillars” of practice. The chapter presents the concept in literature and its developmental view, and how it supports teacher growth in light of adult constructive-development theory.  Each chapter also contains the rationale for using the “pillar” of practice as well as practical applications of the practice. A case study of how a principal from the study used the “pillar” of practice for teacher growth concludes each of the “pillar” chapters.  These chapters will serve as a useful resource tool to be revisited again and again as the reader reflects upon his/her own leadership practices and beliefs.  The needs of both veteran and beginning teachers alike can be addressed through the learning oriented school leadership model and its “pillars” of practice. 

 Chapters 9 through 11 complete the book.  Chapter 9 presents the case of a principal who uses all four “pillars” of practice to support teacher growth Chapter 10 explores how principals in the study engaged in self-renewal.  Principals concluded that self-renewal was as important for principals as for teachers. 

 Chapter 11 contains an extensive discussion of the implications of the new learning oriented model of leadership.  Drago-Severson writes in her last chapter that, “This book offers specific practices to help principals, teachers and other school leaders create contexts that support teachers’ transformational learning” (p. 175).  She closes her book with the quote: “My hope is that this work will inform school practice and possibilities for supporting teachers’ transformational learning.  I also hope it will fulfill its promise to make all schools into places where adults as well as children can grow” (p. 176).

e Drago-Severson’s hope of providing school leaders with strategies to create an environment that supports teacher learning is realized in the book.  Practicing principals may use the book as a tool for reflection to assess how well they support teacher growth.  Aspiring principals will find the book’s model of school leadership a valuable tool for the creation of campuses supportive of teacher learning.  Teachers are the most important assets in schools; as such they need to be nurtured and valued.  Drago-Severson’s book will assist administrators and or teacher leaders in doing so.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 2, 2005, p. 241-243
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11395, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 6:29:42 PM

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