The Effects of Cognitive Coaching on Education and in Supporting Teacher Leadership “Creating a profession of teaching in which teachers have the opportunity for continual learning is the likeliest way to inspire greater achievement for children, especially those for whom education is the only pathway to survival and success” (Sumner, 2011, p. 10). Educators today are required to have a different set of skills to effectively prepare students to be global competitors in the workplace.
Educators cannot make these alterations in teaching methodology and instructional delivery without support. Coaches support and encourage teachers, improve teacher strategies, promote teacher reflection, and focus on desired outcomes (Sumner, 2011). A key ingredient for improving student achievement is high quality leadership. Although leadership skills may come naturally for some, most educators need some form of practice and coaching to become high quality leaders (Patti & Holzer, 2012).
What is Cognitive Coaching? Cognitive coaching is a relationship that is learner-centered, where the person being coached is an active participant in their learning process. The coach is responsible for creating an environment that is sensitive to the participant’s needs, providing ample opportunity for self-reflection which enables the participant to learn from their own unique experiences.
Garmston (1993) stated: Cognitive Coaching is a process during which teachers explore the thinking behind their practices. Each person seems to maintain a cognitive map, only partially conscious. In Cognitive Coaching, questions asked by the coach reveal to the teacher areas of that map that may not be complete or consciously developed. When teachers talk out loud about their thinking, their decisions become clearer to them, and their awareness increases (p. 57). The relationship that evolves through cognitive coaching is based on a journey of self-discovery for both the coach and the coached individual.
The coach is equally responsible for reflecting and learning from their own experiences in an effort to providing the best guidance to the coached individual throughout their coaching relationship. If mentors are to facilitate learning of their mentees, they can best begin by being in touch with the forces in their own lives (Zachary, 2000).
The learning that takes place in stages is the focal point of cognitive coaching. Cognitive coaching uses a three-phase cycle: pre-conference, observation, and post-conference. These cycles are used for the sole purpose of helping the teacher improve instructional effectiveness by becoming more reflective about teaching (Garmston, 1993). Cognitive Coaching asserts that instructional behavior is a reflection of beliefs; teachers must analyze and change their beliefs in order to change their behaviors. Coaches ask teachers to reflect on their beliefs about the classroom to facilitate making changes or improvements (Patti & Holzer, 2012). Cognitive Coaching in Education
The most valuable asset in the education profession is its human capital – teachers and administrators. Unfortunately, these professionals are typically given limited opportunities throughout their career to enhance their knowledge and skills enabling them to be more effective teachers and leaders. Newly hired recruits into the profession usually receive coaching for a few months during their first year of employment, but the majority will gain experience through their own trial and error.
According to Patti & Holzer (2012): Professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators who function in a leadership capacity are often too scarce or narrow in focus to cultivate lasting and effective improvement. Most school systems regularly provide teacher educators with just two or three days per year of professional development, typically aimed at improving literacy and mathematics scores. Effective professional development happens when the adult learner connects personally to the new learning. When educators participate in reflective practices that cultivate self-awareness, emotion management, social awareness, and relationship management, they are in a better position to deliver high quality instruction and leadership (p. 264).
The education profession can benefit from implementing cognitive coaching as a way of helping teachers and administrators expand their professional development through self-observation, self-reflection, and self-feedback. An analysis of the findings from these factors will help the professional to become aware of their own self-imposed limitations.
In education, coaching has traditionally supported teachers in the acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities that target student achievement (Patti & Holzer, 2012). The effects of cognitive coaching on teacher efficacy has been positively correlated to increased student performance.
Sumner (2011) offers: Coaching is a key method for helping teachers improve student achievement and school culture. Much of this potential school improvement comes from educating teachers in how to be reflective about their practice and in learning how to establish an equal relationship based on mutual desire to improve. Perhaps most importantly, ―a culture of coaching improves teaching and improves student learning (p.47). While the ultimate goal of cognitive coaching is to help foster change in the thinking patterns and behaviors of the coached individual – the end result of this endeavor is improved student performance. Professional development can only work if it is focused on both student and teacher learning and a culture of support for and valuing of quality staff development is present (Sumner, 2011).
Cognitive Coaching Supporting Teacher Leadership Cognitive coaching allows teachers to take ownership of their professional development by encouraging them to be accountable of their cognitive learning process. The self-reflection that is involved in cognitive coaching coupled with professional vision enables teachers to become a catalyst of change both in the classroom and beyond.
Patti & Holzer (2012) stated: The coaching relationship provides a safe haven for mindful attention to self-change in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. It is through this individual process that the teacher and administrative leader positively impact the culture and climate of the classroom and school (p. 270). Every teacher has the capabilities to improve their knowledge and skill and cognitive coaching affords the opportunity of exploration into one’s self, challenging old beliefs and habits, emerging a better, stronger leader.
Leadership is not mobilizing others to solve problems we already know how to solve, but to help them confront problems that have never yet been successfully addressed (Fullan, 2007). The reflection learned through cognitive coaching helps develop problem-solving skills as teachers examine their experience, generate alternatives, and evaluate actions. Educators need to model risk taking, open-mindedness, and continuous learning to create schools that are communities of learners (Garmston, 1993).
Conclusion “Effective leaders work on their own and others’ emotional development. There is no greater skill needed for sustainable improvement” (Fullan, 2007). Cognitive coaching enables educators to develop unexplored potential, while expanding their repertoire of teaching methodologies. The implementation of cognitive coaching increases student achievement and teacher efficacy, produce higher order teacher thinking, and provides teacher support (Sumner, 2011). Great schools grow when educators understand that the power of their leadership lies in the strength of their relationships. Strong leadership in schools results from the participation of many people, each leading in his or her own way (Donaldson, 2007). Cognitive coaching is the key to educators’ unlocking their inner power to profoundly impact students’ learning.