in Coaching, Education, Professional Development, Reflection, techintegration

Cognitive Coaching: Supporting Professional Growth

License: CC0 Public Domain

License: CC0 Public Domain

This post is part of a larger series based on the book Coaching Approaches & Perspectives edited by Jim Knight. This post is based on sections of Chapter 4: Cognitive Coaching. Visit the Coaching category for other related posts.

Cognitive coaching is a non-judgmental, constructivist approach to coaching. It aims to value the capacity of humans to use their mind in the process of development and growth. Cognitive Coaching assumes that humans have an intrinsic drive to learn and grow, and engages higher level thinking of participants to realize this drive. “[Cognitive Coaching] provides support for managing the tensions of autonomy and community” (Knight, 2008, p. 80).

As I read the description of a Cognitive Coach as a mediator who helps the coachee make sense of his experience to derive new learning (or meaning) that will be useful in navigating future experiences or meeting goals, the model got a bit clearer to me. This is phrased more elegantly as “the intention of the coach is to assist the learner in clarifying, developing, and modifying his or her internal schema (Costa & Garmston, 2002, as cited in Knight, 2008, p. 80).

The authors present theories by Robert Kegan that are related to Cognitive Coaching. These include three stages of adult development: socializing, self-authoring, and self-transformational. Adults at the socializing level assess their worth based on how others judge their value. Adults who are self-authoring hold personal values and use personal standards to judge their value. At the self-transforming stage, adults value challenges and tests as a way to grow and develop understanding. Most adults stay between the first two stages because they develop informational learning (knowledge and skills) rather than transformational learning (ways of knowing). Cognitive coaching can be used for transformational learning by providing the right balance of inquiry, challenge and support.

Cognitive Coaching is one of four support functions that we can see in education. Ellison and Hayes present Cognitive Coaching as the optimal support function because of its relationship to transformational learning. The other three support functions are evaluation (external evaluation), collaboration (collective evaluation) and consultation (goal setting by external evaluator).

I’ve read other research in education that speaks of the importance of teacher beliefs in the success of professional development. It seems to me that a non-judgmental, open environment for reflecting on experience through the lens of refining/reconstructing thinking, and challenging values, and identifying mental models and beliefs would open the way for changing practice. I think it would benefit me to see this approach in practice. I’m wondering how Cognitive Coaching addresses the necessary informational learning for implementing change, along with the transformational learning that will drive the change.


Book Citation: Knight, J. (Ed.). (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Corwin Press.