Cognitive Coaching to Student Success

Speaker began by listing his credentials: undergrad @ Aquinas, grad @ GVSU, HS/MS english teacher, then MS assistant principal and then elementary principal.  Presented data from Tri County district showing growth of students in MEAP and pre-ACT (8th grade) growth over 2011-2014.  His argument for such growth comes from administration and teachers being cognitive coaches.

Definition of cognitive coaching- to produce a self-directed person with the cognitive capacity for self-directed acquisition of knowledge.

Key tools that teachers need to use to be the best cognitive teachers include:

Conversation techniques: planning, reflective, identifying problems/solutions, and gathering data on effectiveness of conversations.  Then teachers must have specific mental mindsets everyday to be cognitive coaches; efficacy, consciousness, independence, craftsmanship, and flexibility.  In essence, a cognitive coach believes that all answers lie within the student, and it is the teacher’s job to employ a proper mindset with good questioning skills to really draw out the new thoughts/ correct thoughts from their students.

There exist four supporting functions that coaches do: coaching conversations i.e. “teacher mode”, collaborating- one-on-one students in class, consulting- not something we want to do until the student is basically saying “IDK”, then coaches need to properly/effectively/fairly evaluate both how their students have done with the material, and how you, the teacher/coach has done in presenting the material.

So principals (assistant) serve as teacher cognitive coaches; thus, a.p.’s fulfill the role that checks on the teacher to help the teacher best plan out, execute, and then evaluate an entire unit.  Simultaneously, a teacher serves as their student’s cognitive coach by employing the aforementioned conversational tools to maximize student potential.

Hence a “procedure” for being a cognitive coach both as an administrator and as a teacher is to utilize lots of questions to draw out all of the questionee’s knowledge, and then ask their permission before giving advice/right answer.  This grants respect from the coach to the coachee that is vital to encourage both between administration and teachers, but more importantly, between teachers and students.  So the goal of a coaching session is to get the coach thinking on the same ‘wavelength’ as the teacher/student.

Cognitive coaching as a teacher is a great way to get both formal and informal formative assessments done because each session allows the coach/teacher to get a gauge of how much knowledge the student has.

When teachers are being coached, then the session is about getting their thoughts organized and getting a good feeling  (as an administrator) of how well the lesson seemed to go, and any pros/cons/changes that the teacher noticed pre/post lesson.

He then presented what administrators should focus on during monthly staff meetings- use them as time to better themselves as instructional leaders!!

Discussion of a Lab Classroom cycle in which a host teacher has a coach (administrator from different district) and guest teachers observe a pre-lesson interview between host and coach, observe lesson, then a post-lesson reflective session.  Guests look for all sorts of things including: student comprehension of lesson, issues presented/came up in lesson and how teacher dealt with them, and in pre/post lesson their thinking/emotions/expectations/feelings on the lesson.

Wrapped up with handout Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device Device by Jim Knight on cognitive coaching and a spiel on formative assessment:

snowball, thumbs up/down/side, exit slip, etc.

Adaptive schooling is a focus on differentiating between a discussion and a dialogue.  Essentially one directional vs. two directional communication.

Overall, this is what I think of this set up for teachers.  For new/incoming/rookie teachers [defined as less than approximately 5 years experience], this is great because it gives them a new support to bounce ideas off of and a different environment in which they can organize their thoughts and ask questions about their ideas. The only thing I would be concerned about is that my personal preference is that when I ask a question, I expect an answer, not a series of questions designed to make me discover the answer.  Now I realize that I am splitting hairs a bit because that type of questioning is extremely valuable for teachers to use with students, and it can be helpful in this context of having a cognitive coach; however, at a certain point in time, I need to get a straight answer.  Most likely, that would be only a minor thing to be concerned about.

For older/veteran teachers, this set up could go either way depending on how flexible/inflexible they are.  The simplest way to explain this is to consider the old mantra: “no one likes change”.  From there, we can see that those who have been doing things their way for a certain amount of time and then they are told to change it all could result in a disastrous outcome.  That being said, I am confident that those “good” teachers would recognize the benefits of having a cognitive coach.  Then they would augment their approach to teaching accordingly.

As a future teacher, I would really like to have a cognitive coach available to me in my first teaching job because the knowledge of having that extra support goes a long way; plus the coach will be a great source of ideas/advice for how to proceed with a particular unit/lesson.

Presenter: (Steve Johnson)


3 thoughts on “Cognitive Coaching to Student Success

  1. Thanks for doing this, Matt!

    content – looks all here
    clear, coherent, complete +
    consolidated – this is what I’d like to see: a synthesis (what’s the big idea?), what is important about these ideas (so what?), or what are you going to do with this info (now what?).


  2. Wow Matt, you are super thorough and really covered well the speakers thoughts! I think that the idea of us as teachers drawing out every ounce of knowledge that are students already have is key for helping them to persevere in problem solving and make connections to the next step in their learning process! I really enjoyed the psychology involved in this approach, but it does sound very intense. I think the principles should be applied in classrooms certainly and the idea of a teacher having an administrator keeping them accountable for maintaining this coach and coachee relationship between students is a good idea, but I could potentially see this system as being very robotic and frustrating for students if the teachers are not careful. A robot could ask these same questions to draw out understanding, what makes a teacher different is how they relate to the student and can sympathize with their struggles. Great post, and very thought provoking! Thanks for attending I wanted to go, but could not make it back to campus fast enough!


  3. This was a well thought out and organized analysis of the talk. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend as well so this was very interesting to me. I liked the connection between administrative and teachers and teachers and students. We can see that these “coaching” strategies can work in multiple different situations in which everyone can benefit from. One suggestion that I would want to make is that the relationship between the coach and coachee is kept up to par. This is very important in order to keep management within the classroom and school in my opinion. Maybe there could be an extension in which this is talked about perhaps.


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