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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Developmental Approach to Feedback and Collaboration: Instrumental Knowers

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


March 06, 2017

For the month of March, the Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey will explore appropriate ways to provide feedback based on the work of Ellie Drago-Severson and Jessica Blum-DeStefano. Drago-Severson and Blum-DeStefano propose that “feedback for growth” intentionally differentiates feedback based on a person’s “ways of knowing” that is dependent on that person’s level of adult development.

They propose that adults make meaning in qualitatively different ways and that feedback should be calibrated to how the receiver can best hear it, learn from it, and improve their instructional and leadership practice as a result. The four different developmental systems, or ways of knowing are: instrumental, socializing, self-authoring, and self-transforming. Week one will focus on instrumental knowers.

Instrumental knowers tend to see things in black and white (“Just tell me what I need to do.”) and may need to develop the capacity for reflection. They orient to rules and generally understand their experiences in concrete, dualistic terms. Instrumental knowers may have difficulty taking others’ perspectives in relation to a question or debate about instructional practice. When receiving feedback, they want to know what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they need to do next.

This week when you recognize an instrumental knower, encourage flexibility by extending their current thinking beyond “right” solutions for teaching and leading. Try to find the growing edge: being in another’s shoes, being able to think abstractly. Giving detailed, concrete examples and specific models that the instrumental knower can emulate is feedback for growth.

Drago-Severson, E. & Blum-DeStefano, J. (2016). Tell me so I can hear: A developmental approach to feedback and collaboration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

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