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Volume 11, Number 1
January/February 1995

Giving Voice to Our Hidden Commitments and Fears

A Conversation with Robert Kegan


Psychologist Robert Kegan, in his books The Evolving Self and In Over Our Heads, has proposed a new way of understanding the processes of development across the lifespan and the complex mental demands placed on children, adolescents, and adults by modern society. His most recent work, with Lisa Lahey, focuses on how traditional forms of professional development might be adapted to fit better with the needs of educators in today's schools. Kegan is chair of the Learning and Teaching Area of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a senior faculty member at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, chairman of the Institute for the Management of Lifelong Education at Harvard, and a Fellow at the Clinical-Developmental Institute in Belmont, MA. He was interviewed for the Harvard Education Letter by Edward Miller and Terry Woronov.

HEL: How can professional development for teachers be informed by an understanding of adult development?

RK: First, we have to make a distinction between two kinds of professional development: informative and transformative. Informative training transmits information. It increases the teacher's content knowledge, understanding, and skills. Most in-service staff development is designed on this model. But Lisa Lahey and I are more interested in professional development that is transformative—that enables people to develop more complex capacities of mind. We think that the most powerful changes in professionals' practice come about because professionals change their minds.

HEL: Is there something wrong with the informative type of staff development?

RK: Not at all. Informative training increases your fund of knowledge. Lord knows, that's a useful thing. But it is an insufficiently nourishing diet by itself. If in our work with young people we found that their knowledge increased, but they did not develop more complex capacities of mind, we would be disappointed. We should want no less for ourselves as adults.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


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