Sunday, April 9, 2017

Exploring the theory behind Cognitive Coaching

Almost 3 years ago I started on my journey to become a Cognitive Coach, and although I was initially skeptical about the transformative power of coaching, within the first day or so I was hooked. I could see that I could apply to all areas of my life, not just to my role as a tech coach, and I wanted to learn more.  I completed the 8 days of the foundation course, took the advanced course, went to the Presenter's Forum and started scribing days 1-8 with a view of starting to take on some of the co-teaching.  This time has now come!  So for the last few weeks I've been digging a little deeper into the theory.  I find I learn best when I write, as this enables me to clarify my thinking, so the next few blog posts will be about coaching as I get myself mentally prepared for the upcoming seminar.

The aim of cognitive coaching is to produce self-directed individuals, and so the coach develops his or her identity as a mediator to empower the cognitive functioning of others, allowing them to reflect on and solve their own problems.  A coach is not a teacher, and I'm discovering that a coach is also not a mentor which both imply superior knowledge or skills and therefore power.  A coach helps others to learn from situations - "from telling to inquiring, and from finding strength in holding on to finding strength in letting go."
It's a dialogue that provides space for self-reflection, for revising and refining positions and self-concepts, where a colleague is invited to see him/herself in a new light. (Costa and Garmston)
Cognitive coaching is built on the belief that growth is achieved through the development of intellectual functioning - the coach will question the coachee's thinking (perceptions, beliefs and assumptions) and so it's important to establish and build rapport and trust.  The reason a coach focuses on thinking rather than behaviour is because Cognitive Coaches believe behaviour is determined by a person's perceptions and so a change in perception is vital in order for there to be a change in behaviour. Because a coach is there to serve others, a coach has to set aside his or her own unproductive ways of listening, responding and inquiring.

At the mission of Cognitive Coaching is to produce self-directed persons who function well both individually and in groups, the concept of holonomy is a key one that is introduced early on Day 1 of the foundation course.   I'd never heard of this word before starting coaching (it's a combination of 2 Greek words), but basically it refers to the study of parts/whole relationships.  We are all unique individuals, yet are part of many groups such as families, friends, work colleagues.  Each of these groups and systems influences us as individuals, and in turn individuals can influence the systems.

In the first chapter of their book Cognitive Coaching, Costa and Garmston address why coaching can be so powerful in schools.  Teachers need and want support, and research shows that engagement in mentoring improves both teaching practices and student achievement.  Coaching enhances the intellectual capacities of teachers, leading to them becoming more adaptable and flexible and more able to tolerate stress.  They are more likely to empathize with their students, vary their instructional strategies, and give more feedback to students, and as a result these students are more cooperative and involved in their work.  Other studies have shown these teachers show greater commitment to the individual student and employ more generation and use of data.  There is also evidence that shows that high-concept teachers are more effective with a wider range of students, including students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

I was also interested to read that few educational innovations achieve their full impact without a coaching component.  This made me think more in terms of instructional coaches who are responsible for supporting the introduction and implementation of new programmes or standards.

This year I'm mentoring a new teacher and I'm learning how to navigate between coaching and other support functions.  I have come to see how important skillful feedback is - and that when in a coaching role judgements and advice can reduce the capacity of the coachee to reflect.  Studies in California showed that after 3-4 years of service, beginning teachers mentored with Cognitive Coaching gradually assumed significant teacher-leadership roles.

Perhaps one of the most powerful impacts of Cognitive coaching is on interpersonal relationships, for example working effectively on a team.  We know that adult interactions in a school influence the climate of the learning environment, and in turn the instructional outcomes for the students. Cognitive Coaching can promote the norms of honest and open communication that enable everyone to work together in respectful ways.

Photo Credit: left-hand Flickr via Compfight cc

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