Cognitive Coaching: A New Approach to Building Effective Teacher Leaders

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Cognitive Coaching
A New Approach to Building Effective Teacher Leaders
Nicole L. Winsley

A New Approach to Mentoring

A newly licensed teacher walks into her empty classroom on the first day of school. She has her curriculum guide, her pacing calendar, her unit instructional plan, and her lesson plans for the first week. She has her copies made and in her mind she has stored the countless hours’ worth of instruction she received for four years. The bell rings, and it is time for her first class. With a somewhat nervous breath, she watches as students begin pouring in.

At the end of the day, this new teacher sits down at her desk – for what seems like the first time that day and begins to reflect back on the first day as a teacher. There is a knock at the door. Her mentor is coming by to have a quick meeting about her first day. She remembers the class she took in college about the importance of developing a good relationship with one’s mentor, and what was to be gained by listening and heeding a mentor’s advice.

However the conversation does not go according to the textbook. The mentor, using a set of skilled active listening skills, forces this teacher pinpoint areas of concerns, however instead of offering suggestions, feedback, and tips, or the “correct” way to teacher, the mentor requires this young teacher make her own decision, determine what was and was not effective in her teaching methodology, and advises her that she will be making her own decisions regarding her growth as a teacher. She, not the mentor, will modify herself as a new teacher.

The type of coaching introduced in the example above is a method that more and more mentors, coaches, and administrators are adopting when it comes to training up new teachers. This method is better known as Cognitive Coaching.

What is Cognitive Coaching?
Cognitive Coaching, developed by Robert Garmston, and Art Costa, is where the coach takes on supervisory and peer role for his or her mentee. Cognitive Coaching is a model that mandates a coach and mentor be “non-judgmental, encourage reflective practice, and guide another person to self-directed learning (What Is Cognitive Coaching).” Cognitive Coaching focuses on the teacher’s thoughts regarding their teaching practices, assumptions, beliefs, and perceptions about teaching methodology, and forces them to determine how these practices, assumptions, beliefs, and perceptions affect their personal lives. Costa and Garmston define Cognitive Coaching as a “set of strategies, a way of thinking, and a way of working that invites the self and others to shape and reshape their thinking and problem solving capacities’ (Center for Cognitive Coaching, 2012). Advocates of Cognitive Coaching state that the beauty of Cognitive Coaching is its ability to create a “conscious and willing colleague who knows what is wrong with his or her thinking” (Abrams, 2001) and then seeks out a coach and/or mentor to assist them with effective problem solving. Gone is the ancient model of professional development where effective development consisted of the fixed modeling-practice-reflection model. The Cognitive Coaching style is gaining momentum due to the fact that this development approach seems to enhance student achievement. In a 2008 study, teachers who collaborate and work with their coach to develop best practices to improve their teaching methods receive increased “engagement from their students and increase their ability to differentiate and adapt instructional material and skills” (Stover, 2011).

What are the benefits of Cognitive Coaching in the Education Profession?
Garmston and Costa, the creators of Cognitive Coaching, state that their coaching method is a teachers who utilize the model have the “capacity and to reflect upon their teaching and self-direct their actions based on new information brought forth through work with a coach” (Abrams, 2001). This unique approach seems to have a...
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