Cognitive Coaching

What is the purpose?

external image 314.jpgCognitive Coaching is a method used by coaches to make teachers self-directed in three ways:

1) Teachers should be self-managing... able to set their own goals, identify their own visions, and develop their own plans and strategies
2) Teachers should be self-monitoring... constantly examining internal and external data and comparing it with their intended outcomes to make sure they are staying on track to accomplish their set goals
3) Teachers should be self-modifying... having an inner desire for constant growth and a commitment to making changes based on experiences and how well their thoughts and actions are producing their desired outcomes

(Knight, 2008).

How is it different from other coaching methods?

There are four primary approaches to coaching, each of which is distinguished by its emphasis.
1) Content Coaching: emphasizes the use of questioning techniques and other methods to help teachers develop thorough knowledge of the content they teach to increase student learning
2) Instructional Coaching: emphasizes the importance of providing support for teachers and facilitating their use of proven teaching strategies to increase student learning
3) Literacy Coaching: emphasizes the importance of improving the reading and writing abilities of students
4) Cognitive Coaching: emphasizes the importance of improving teachers' metacognitive abilities to improve teaching and increase student learning
(Knight, 2008)

The characteristic that makes Cognitive Coaching different from other coaching models is its focus on cognitive capacity. This model is based on the assumption that teachers have the capacity for a higher level of cognition so it is the coach's mission to facilitate the development of the teacher's cognitive, social, and emotional functioning, as individuals and as members of a given community (Knight, 2008).

Five States of Mind


The goal of Cognitive Coaching is to produce self-directed teachers.

There are Five States of Mind that coaches must instill for teachers to become self-directed.

These are efficacy, consciousness, craftsmanship, flexibility, and interdependence (Knight, 2008).

1) Efficacy describes one's belief in his ability to accomplish something and make an impact (Knight, 2008). To become self-directed, it is important that teachers have an awareness of their abilities to meet specific goals, achieve expected outcomes, and really make an impact on student learning. As a cognitive coach, it is important to help teachers develop efficacy as a state of mind, so that they believe in their own capabilities and are commited to pursuing attainable goals.
  • Example: A cognitive coach can use questioning techniques in a conversation with a teacher about her strengths and weaknesses, her goals, and how she believes she can apply her strengths and improve or compensate for her weaknesses to achieve the goals she is setting. The coach should work with the teacher to monitor her performance and give her kudos as she progresses and meets certain goals. Over time, this will strengthen the teacher's efficacy and will motivate her toward continuous growth and improvement.
2) Consciousness describes self-awareness and careful observation (Knight, 2008). To become self-directed, a teacher must consider how her thoughts and actions interact and contribute to her performance. She must be aware of how her own biases, judgments, opinions, and assumptions affect her way of thinking, which ultimately affects her actions. She must also be aware of external cues. As a cognitive coach, it is important wo work with a teacher to identify internal and external factors that affect the teacher's thoughts and actions and to make connections between past and present experiences.
  • Example: A cognitive coach should observe the teacher as well as the students in the eduational setting. While discussing these observations with the teacher, the coach should observe the teacher's nonverbal communication and actively listen to what the teacher is saying. The coach should help the teacher identify personal thoughts or experiences that have an impact on her teaching (such as biases or assumptions about a diverse group of students) and help her to put things into perspective to make logical, data-based judgments.
3) Craftsmanship describes an internal drive toward improvement and excellence (Knight, 2008). To become self-directed, a teacher must have the ability to set certain criteria against which she measures her performance and she continuously raises the standards for herself and her students to support growth and development. As a cognitive coach, it is important to help teachers develop data-driven criteria against which they want to measure their performance and help them to learn to continuously strive to do better and better.
  • Example: A cognitive coach should ask questions to reveal what standards a teacher aspires to achieve. These standards should be measurable and realistic and leave room for ongoing improvement. As the teacher approaches competence in these criteria, the coach should give the teachers kudos and then encourage her to raise the bar. The coach can also work with the teacher to develop criteria for her students to meet and work to exceed.
4) Flexibility describes an openness to diversity and multiple perspectives (Knight, 2008). To become self-directed, a teacher must appreciate and accommodate the diversity of her students. She must be able to think creatively and consider multiple alternatives and perspectives when problem-solving. As a cognitive coach, it is important to help teachers open their minds and think outside of their personal scopes.
  • Example: A cognitive coach should ask the teacher to identify diverse learning needs and characteristics amongst her students and then ask her which teaching strategies she thinks she could employ to accommodate the diversity of her classroom. While considering strategies, the coach should encourage the teacher to think of the problem from many angles and viewpoints and come up with several creative alternatives that may be effective.
5) Interdependence describes being a part of something larger than oneself and focusing on relationships as opposed to isolation (Knight, 2008). To become self-directed, a teacher must realize that she is part of a team or educational community working toward common goals. She must evaluate her role in the community, appreciate the ideas of others, and work to contribute to a mutual cause. As a cognitive coach, it is important to show the teacher the benefits of cooperation and working together to produce something greater than what could be accomplished as an individual.
  • Example: A cognitive coach should ask the teacher questions about her needs and goals and how those tie into those of her students, their parents, her fellow teachers, and administrators. The coach should ask what the teacher believes she can accomplish alone and ask her to compare it to what she thinks can be accomplished by the learing institution as a whole, encouraging her to build trusting, mutually beneficial relationships with others. The idea of working together and building relationships will be further enhanced as the teacher recognizes the benefits of working with the coach and developing the coaching relationship.

Four Support Functions

Support.pngThe four support functions include Cognitive Coaching, collaborating, consulting, and evaluation. These four functions serve very different purposes and are differentiated by their sources of judgment (Knight, 2008).

1) Cognitive Coaching is a continuous process that is sensitive to the needs and internal capabilities of the coachee. For example, a coach can provide support and facilitate development based on a teacher's unique needs, goals, and thinking capacity. Because this process is centered on the teacher's needs, the teacher is the source of judgment as to how well criteria are being met (Knight, 2008).

2) Collaboration is a process whereby a team or a pair work together to ask questions, set goals, develop plans and strategies, and resolve any issues that arise. For example, a coach may work with a teacher or a group of teachers to decide how to evaluate the performance of a group of students. In this scenario, the coach and teacher(s) would be the source of judgment as to how well criteria are being met (Knight, 2008).

3) Consulting is a process in which an expert is assigned the task of sharing his knowledge and experiences with others to teach them how to perform a job or solve a problem. For example, a coach may provide a group of teachers with an exact lesson plan or a proven strategy that they should implement in their classrooms. In this scenario, the coach would be the source of judgment as to how well criteria are being met (Knight, 2008).

4) Evaluation is a process that involves evaluating one's performance based on a given set of standards. For example, a coach may evaluate a teacher's performance based on standards set by the school district. In this scenario, the coach (using the established set of standards) would be the source of judgment as to how well the criteria are being met (Knight, 2008).

While consulting and evaluation provide benefits in an educational setting, they do not contribute to self-directedness. Collaboration helps some teachers become more self-directed but "Cognitive Coaching has the greatest potential for transformational learning" (Knight, 2008, p. 82).

Conversation Maps

Conversation maps are intended to guide a coach as he explores the internal map of a teacher's mind using effective questioning technniques and listening skills. There are three types of conversation maps, each of which serves a unique purpose:

1) A Planning Conversation Map serves two purposes. It allows teachers to mentally plan and rehearse an event and anticipate modifications that may need to be made to plans as they transpire. This map also assists teachers with self-reflection in order to identify potential for growth and development, ultimately leading to self-directedness. Through careful questioning and listening, a coach can guide a teacher through this conversation map and provide feedback to nurture the teacher's personal growth (Knight, 2008).

2) A Reflecting Conversation Map is intended to help teachers reflect on past experiences to create generalized knowledge that will help them grow and perform better in future experiences. Through careful questioning and listening, a coach can guide a teacher through the process of shifting the focus from the actual events that transpired to causal factors and outcomes that will serve as a basis for future planning and decision-making (Knight, 2008).

3) A Problem-Solving Map helps teachers to identify the existing state and the desired state. Through careful questioning and listening, a coach can guide a teacher through the process of shifting the focus from the from the current situation to a more desirable future situation. This reduces neurochemical changes caused by stress or unhappiness which diminish cognitive ability. Instead, emphasizing the desired state of being and drawing on the Five States of Mind for problem-solving, the coach can help the teacher become more self-directed (Knight, 2008).

Coaching Tools

coaching_tools.png"Cognitive Coaches work from a toolkit of effective communication skills that support creating an environment of trust" (Knight, 2008, p. 85). There are five basic tools used by coaches to produce self-directed teachers.

1) Rapport skills are used by Cognitive Coaches to make teachers feel comfortable and valued through one-on-one attention and listening. This builds a positive relationship and trust between the coach and the teacher, allowing the teacher to relax so she can engage in effective thinking (Knight, 2008).

2) Pausing is a tool used by Cognitive Coaches to allow teachers time to think. Fast or immediate answers are often not well thought out so by asking questions and pausing for a response, the coach is encouraging the teacher to reflect and engage in more complex thinking (Knight, 2008).

3) Paraphrasing is a tool used by Cognitive Coaches to repeat back what a teacher says, allowing the teacher to hear her own thoughts out loud. This essentially puts the teacher's words on display for reflection and examination. This helps the teacher to hear how well she is communicating her thoughts, thus building her communication skills (Knight, 2008).
4) Probing is a tool used by Cognitive Coaches to encourage teachers to elaborate on their thoughts, bringing clarity and focus to the situation. If the teacher's words are unclear, this means she is probably thinking too generally. Probing is used to help teachers better understand issues and better plan and solve problems (Knight, 2008).

5) Inquiry is a tool used by Cognitive Coaches to invite the teacher to explore her thoughts and consider possibilities that she may not have otherwise considered. The coach is showing an interest in the teacher's thoughts, thus providing a sense of support, yet challenging the teacher to explore her mind, considering all possibilities and creating new alternatives (Knight, 2008).

How does Cognitive Coaching impact the current climate of eduation and support teacher leadership?

Research on the direct impact of Cognitive Coaching on teachers and students is somewhat inconclusive for several reasons. Educational coaching is a fairly new concept, is affected by mulitple factors making it difficult to pinpoint its exact impact, and is limited by the research methods and resources available (Knight, 2008). The research that has been performed, however, suggests several benefits to districts, teachers, and students.

The Douglas County School District created a Building Resource Teacher (BRT) program using the Cognitive Coaching process to develop quality teachers and create a culture of learning and improvement. The BRT consists of cognitive coaches who work with individuals or groups of teachers. After 12 years of using this program, these are the findings:
  • When district and school leaders invest in Cognitive Coaching, it shows that they value their teachers and are willing to invest in the teachers' success.
  • Cognitive Coaching for teachers shows a positive correlation to job satisfaction and retention.
  • The availability of Cognitive Coaching can be used as a positive incentive when hiring teachers in a competitive job market.
  • Cognitive Coaching improves teacher performance and increases student learning.
  • In districts that implement Cognitive Coaching, student test scores consistently improve over time and often exceed state averages.
(Hayes, Noble, Simmons, & Stranahan, 2011)

The idea behind Cognitive Coaching is to develop teachers' metacognitive skills, helping them to reflect on their own thoughts and actions to improve themselves as teachers and therefore enhance student learning. In doing so, this enables teachers to become self-sufficient leaders in the educational environment, achieving professional goals as well as personal aspirations.


Hayes, C., Noble, P., Simmons, L., & Stranahan, R. (2011, June 28). What we are learning. Center for Cognitive Coaching. Retrieved from

Knight, J. (2008). Coaching: Approaches and perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.