Cognitive Developmental Theory in Teacher Development: Unraveling the Stages of Growth

(Last Updated On: October 1, 2023)

In the realm of teacher development, cognitive developmental theory provides a powerful framework for understanding how educators evolve over time. Building upon the groundbreaking work of Jean Piaget, cognitive developmental theorists like David Hunt, Jane Loevinger, and Lawrence Kohlberg explored the cognitive growth of adults. Their research revealed that higher stages of development are closely linked to more effective performance in complex human interactions. This article delves into the key assumptions underpinning cognitive development, examines the emergence of various developmental models in education, and explores how adult learning theory complements this framework.

Key Assumptions of Cognitive Development

Cognitive developmental theory operates on several key assumptions, emphasizing the role of cognitive structures, hierarchical stages of complexity, transformative shifts in meaning-making, and the impact of a person’s stage of development on behaviors. These assumptions form the bedrock upon which subsequent developmental models have been built to support teacher growth and success.

Concerns-Based Stage Theory: A Roadmap for Teacher Development

One of the most prominent developmental models derived from cognitive developmental theory is the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM). This model outlines distinct stages, from unawareness to refocusing, through which individuals progress as they learn about an innovation. The CBAM has served as a reliable framework for monitoring teacher preparedness, staff development, school reform, and organizational change. Additionally, it has been an essential component of new teacher support programs, aiding mentors in understanding and addressing the concerns of their mentees.

Andragogy and Reflective Practice: Shaping Professional Development

While cognitive developmental theory has been influential in teacher development, adult learning theory offers a complementary perspective. Andragogy, coined by Knowles, highlights the unique characteristics of adult learners, including their autonomy, life experiences, and motivation to learn. Reflective practice, introduced by Schon, encourages thoughtful consideration and application of knowledge in practice. These concepts have become central to professional development planning for educators, fostering a culture of growth and adaptation throughout their teaching careers.


Cognitive developmental theory serves as a guiding light in understanding the growth trajectory of educators. The stages of cognitive development provide a roadmap for supporting teachers at different points in their careers. Complemented by adult learning theory and reflective practice, this comprehensive approach empowers educators to evolve, refine their craft, and navigate the challenges of teaching, ultimately benefiting both educators and the students they serve.

Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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