Cognitive Coaching

Cognitive Coaching: What is it?

Cognitive coaching, a concept developed by Art Costa and Robert Garmston, is a method of instruction that recognizes the strength of metacognition— thinking about thinking—and its role in fostering independent learning.

Novice teachers are not just involved in teaching as they begin their careers, they are also involved on the job learning about many of the techniques and strategies that it takes to be a good teacher. Mentors who help foster independent learning by promoting metacognitive thinking are helping provide their protégés with tools to take them forward as professionals.

The stages of metacognition include self-reflection and self-regulation before, during, and after an action:

  • Developing a plan of action (e.g. "What should I do first?");
  • Maintaining and monitoring action (e.g."How am I doing?");
  • Evaluating action (e.g. "How well did I do?");

Cognitive coaching is widely used in adult learning and professional development as it emphasizes thinking, problem-solving, decision making, and use of personal resources.

Coaches act as mediators, using questioning strategies to assist the person being coached to work through ideas through planning, reflecting and problem-solving.

Dialogue is a key to cognitive coaching. The coach is not the expert providing solutions. Coaches use dialogue to lead teachers through planning, reflection and decision making, helping teachers to become aware of their insights and learning.

In addition to this module, TIPS for Mentors can assist you with some basic ideas for working with your protégé. Mentor Development can give you more comprehensive guidance about areas that can help you work with your protégé.

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What is Involved in Serving as a "Cognitive Coach"?

Cognitive coaching can be applied to specific areas of teacher professional development through three phases of interaction with teacher-learners:

  • A Planning Conference
  • Lesson Observation
  • A Reflection Conference

Costa and Garmson (pp. 18-22) helped to lay out steps for coaches during these phases. These steps were designed to be applied in a face-to-face setting. The steps have been modified (*) to apply to an online, telementoring setting.

During the Planning Conference, telementors should help teachers think through their planned lessons carefully, helping them to anticipate what might happen during the lesson (both good things and problematic things), and helping them to plan a way to document or keep track of what goes on in the lesson so that they can share it with you.

The Lesson Observation isn't possible for telementoring teams. In lieu of a lesson observation,protégés need to be sure to keep notes about what happened during the lesson so that this information can be shared with his/her telementor.

During the Reflecting Conference, telementor teams should discuss the lesson, with the protégé sharing information that was collected, and the telementor encouraging the protégé to reflect on what happened and consider ways to apply what the protégé has learned through teaching the lesson.

The table below outlines the cognitive coaching phases for telementor teams.

Planning Conference I. Planning: Coaches mediate by helping the teacher:
  • Clarify lesson goals and objectives
  • Anticipate teaching strategies and decisions
  • Determine evidence of student achievement
  • *Identify how the teacher will document the lesson and procedures used in the lesson, as well as students' responses
Lesson II. Teaching:* Teachers gather information to share with the coach in the Reflecting Conference by observing and taking note of:
  • Evidence of student achievement
  • Their own strategies and decisions
Reflection Conference III. Reflecting: Coaches mediate by helping the teacher:
  • Summarize impressions and assessments of the lesson
  • Recall data supporting those impressions and assessments
  • Compare planned with performed teaching decisions, and student learning
  • Infer relationships between student achievement and teacher decsions/behavior
IV. Applying: Coaches mediate by helping the teacher:
  • Synthesize learning and consider ways the learning might be applied
  • Reflect on the coaching process and recommend refinements

During the Planning Conference, the coach can focus attention on the teacher's goals and help the teacher mentally rehearse the planned lesson. The Planning Conference also helps to set up the parameters for the Reflecting Conference and promotes self-coaching in the form of a cognitive map (a mental "script" or "guide" that teachers can refer to in similar situations). The cognitive map is like the bag of tricks that seasoned teachers call on during situations they face. You could also consider is calling up past experiences and applying techniques learned to new, similar situations (e.g. "Last time I had this problem getting ideas across, it helped to have the main points up on the overhead for students to see. Maybe that would work now." ). Helping your protégé practice the type of planning, self-reflection, and self-regulation that seasoned teachers go through on a daily basis.

Because telementors cannot directly observe lessons as they take place, plans for collecting and recording information (including teacher documentation of students' non-verbal behavior) need to be made during the Planning Conference with results being shared during the Reflecting Conference.

During the Reflecting Conference, the coach should plan questions based on the given information and the teacher's current level of professional development. These questions should

  • help scaffold and promote teacher reflection by asking questions that will promote teacher reflection (e.g. "What made you think to do that?"; "How did it work?"; "Why do you think that happened?");
  • help the teacher to consider how the application of the new insights might apply to future lessons.
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It's a Matter of Trust

Before a teacher begins to share ideas, speculate on possibilities, or consider changes that need to be made, the coach must establish a trusting relationship so that the teacher can feel comfortable sharing her perceptions.

A trusting interpersonal relationship will not be developed if the coach is perceived as being aloof or manipulative--acting like an expert whose job it is to fix the teacher.

To avoid appearing aloof or manipulative, coaches should work to develop an open and caring rapport with their protégés. The following suggestions may be helpful in doing just that.

  • Make an effort to find out about the teacher outside of the classroom setting. What are her personal interests? What is her background and experience?
  • Be clear about your expectations. Clearly defining your intent helps protégés feel more comfortable.

    For example, instead of listing solutions to a problem, a good coach might start by saying,. Let's explore some alternatives together" (Costa & Garmson, 1994, p. 42).

  • Be aware of the tone of your messages. As the coach, you set the tone of the discussion. If your messages are brief and stilted, your protégé will probably write brief, stilted messages in return. If your messages are warm and open, your protégé will probably write warm, open messages in return.
  • Use nonjudgmental, accepting responses often. Limit use of criticism and praise. Overuse of criticism can lead to poor self-concept. Overuse of praise can limit experimentation and self-discovery. Criticism and praise also signal evaluation rather than coaching.

    More powerful ways to give acknowledgement are paraphrasing, translating, and summarizing what the teacher has said. Demonstrating empathy and actively attempting to reach understanding help to build trust.

    For example, if a teacher has shared that he is tired of homework coming in late, the coach might say, "It sounds like you're frustrated because the students aren't turning in their homework on time."

  • Probe and ask for clarification to gather more information. Probing and clarifying help the coach to understand the teacher's ideas and feelings. It contributes to trust building by showing your interest and consideration.

    For example, a coach might ask something like "Could you tell me more about how you responded to that student who misbehaved?" to help get a clearer picture of the dynamics of a situation. A coach might also ask something like "How did you feel when that student responded to you that way?"

In a trusting relationship, the coach works to help the teacher to feel safe about thinking critically about her teaching, learning through self-reflection.

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Tools for Coaches

There are times when a coach needs to reach into his bag of tricks and pull out something to help his protégé.

Costa and Garmston (1994) have developed tools that coaches can use to help them get into coach mode.

Mediating Tools: Roadmaps for Coaches

Coaches can take advantages of moments to prompt their protégé's thoughts by t actively considering the possible mediating they be able to use at different times. The table below suggest moments to consider, giving you a roadmap that you might follow during your discussions with your protégé.

During planning, coaches mediate by helping their protégés:
  • Clarify lesson goals and objectives;
  • Determine evidence of student achievement;
  • Describe the lesson's relationship to the actual and/or hypothetical curriculum;
  • Anticipate teaching strategies and decisions;
  • Anticipate any concerns;
  • Identify the coach's data-gathering focus and procedures.
During reflecting, coaches mediate by helping their protégés:
  • Summarize their impressions and assessments of the lesson;
  • Recall data supporting those impressions and assessments;
  • Compare planned with performed teaching decisions, and student learning;
  • Infer relationships between student achievement and teacher decisions/behavior;
  • Synthesize new learning and prescribe applications;
  • Reflect on the coaching process; recommend refinements.

(Costa & Garmston, 1994, pp. 108 & 109)

Verbal Strategy Tools:

Like the mediating tools above, mentors can try different verbal strategies to help protégés during situations they are experience. The table below gives examples of different types of situations protégés might face and different verbal strategies that mentors might employ.

Situation the Novice is Experiencing: Verbal Strategy Suggestions for Coaches:

Teacher feels stuck/powerless(e.g. "I just can't get anywhere with this student's parents! They don't see the problem.").

Self-Prescribing Strategy: Shifts responsibility from others to self, getting the teacher to consider ways she can influence the outcome of a problematic situation (e.g. "You've told me how the parent responded. What did you do or say after they responded to you? Could you tell me how you first told them about the problem? Could you have told them about it any differently or responded differently?").

Teacher has run out of ideas (e.g. )"I've tried everything I can think of to get them to....". Choice Making Strategy: Opens up a brainstorming session. Should only be used if the teacher has reached a dead end. Discuss a list of possibilities, with the coach sharing her idea suggestions, then ask the teacher to choose the idea that might be most appropriate for the given situation (e.g. "What have you tried so far? Were any of the things you tried somewhat effective? Let's see if we can come up with some other ideas and weigh them for their effectiveness.").
Teacher attributes situation to fate or luck (e.g."I lucked out to have things go so well during the observation!"). Correcting Fate Control: Shifts focus onto personal contributions the teacher made to the success or failure (e.g. "What do you think you did to help make things go so well? Could you use any of those strategies again sometime?").
Teacher feels frustrated with situation (e.g. "I'm getting so tired of the way that group of kids behaves during group time!"). Drawing from Past Experience Strategy: Encourages the teacher to pause and reflect on possible successes in similar situations in the past and evaluating their effectiveness in handling the current problem (e.g. "Have the always behaved that way during group time? What's been going on those times when they do behave in group?").

Teacher's responses are vague (e.g. "The week went OK...").

Communicating with Specificity Strategy: Prompts teachers to elaborate through use of probing questions and clarifying questions (e.g. "Last time we talked, you expressed some concern about the upcoming math lesson on double-digit multiplication. How did that go?").
Teacher's request for help is vague (e.g."I don't understand how to get them to write well..."). Eliciting Specific Criteria Strategy: Requires teaches to be more specific about indicators and criteria they are considering. (e.g. "What do you mean by 'write well'? Does this include grammar and punctuation? Can you give me an example of what you consider good writing and an example of what you're seeing that concerns you?").
Teacher demonstrates temporal vagueness (e.g. "I always run out of time getting the ideas across, and the kids don't have time to do any guided practice during social studies."). Managing Time Strategy: Encourages the teacher to give more consideration to time management: sequencing; duration; simultaneity — dealing with students who have mastered content already (e.g. "Let's look at you next social studies lesson and see how we can work on ways to help you manage your time to get in that practice.").
Teacher's conscious decisions are not apparent (e.g."I'm going to have them do a seek-and-find for science." ). Metacognition Strategies: Leads the teacher to consider internal values, goals, thoughts and feelings about external events (e.g. "Why did you choose that activity?. Is that the best way to get the students to show you their understanding of the topic?").


Mental Rehearsal Strategy: Leads the teacher to envision and mentally enact the planned activity (e.g. "How do you plan to introduce that lesson? What will you say? Will you use any props?").

Teacher negative about actions of others (e.g. "It really upsets me when my teammate criticizes my lessons."). Considering Intention Strategy: Encourages teacher to consider possible positive intentions of another's action, looking at the issue from multiple perspectives. (e.g. "Let's try looking at it from his point of view, what reasons might he have for doing that? Have you ever thought that he might be trying to help you?").
Teacher sees situation from only one point of view (e.g. "The girls are always lined up on time when I pick them up from lunch." ). Style Check Strategy: Encourages awareness of others' styles, beliefs, values, and behaviors (e.g. "What do the girls do during lunch? What are the boys doing? Could this have some effect on the time it takes them to line up?").
Teacher in a conflict situation (e.g. "We're having problems getting along with one of the other team members, she doesn't want to plan with the team."). Values Search Strategy: Focuses on values espoused by the different points of view. (e.g. "Let's look at why your team wants to plan together. How does that benefit them? How does your teammate's absence effect them? Why do you think your teammate choose not to take part in team planning? How does this benefit her?").
Teacher negative about group behavior (e.g. ). Talent Search Strategy: Encourages teacher to consider potential capacities of the group as a whole and individual members of the group, focusing on strengths (e.g. "Are there any individuals in the group that you can work with well? Have there been any times when they've been successful as a group? Why do you think they were successful then?").
Teacher feels isolated, at a loss (e.g."I just don't know where to go to get help working with these parents!" ).

Resource Banking Strategy: Encourages teacher to consider ways to seek help and assistance, ways others might deal with a similar problem (e.g. "Have you talked to some of the teachers the kids had last year? Maybe they can give you some pointers. You might also want to ask the counselor for some tips for working with those parents.").


Group Support Strategy: Encourages teacher to make others on team aware of the problem, raising it to a team awareness level for problem-solving (e.g. "Have you brought this up at your team meeting? Your teammates might have some clues to working with those parents.").

(Costa & Garmston, 1994, pp. 226-229)
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Asking the Right Questions: The Mark of a Good Coach

Effective coaches recognize the need to use questioning strategies that help guide their protégés through metacognitive thinking that will help enhance their teaching and self-reflection in the future.

Costa and Garmston (1994, pp. 222-224) outline suggested questions for desired thought processes. These questions are only meant as examples to assist coaches as they consider their own questioning strategies.

If the desired thought process in the teacher is to: Then the coach might ask:
(Describe) State the purpose of the lesson "What is your lesson going to be about...?"
(Translate) Translate the purposes of the lesson into descriptions of desirable and observable student behaviors. "As you see the lesson unfolding, what will students be doing?"
(Predict) Envision teaching strategies and behaviors to facilitate student's performance of desired behaviors. "As you envision this lesson, what do you see yourself doing to produce those student outcomes?"
(Sequence) Describe the sequence in which the lesson will occur. "What will you be doing first? Next? Last? How will you close the lesson?
(Estimate) Anticipate the duration of activities. "As you envision the opening of the lesson, how long do you anticipate that will take?"
(Operationalize criteria) Formulate procedures for assessing outcomes (envision, operationally define, and set criteria). "What will you see students doing or hear them saying that will indicate to you that your lesson is successful?"
(Metacogitate) Monitor their own behavior during the lesson. "What will you look for in students' reactions to know if your directions are understood?"
(Describe) Describe the role of the "coach". "What will you want me to look for and give you feedback about...?"
During Reflecting:
If the desired thought process in the teacher is to: Then the coach might ask:
(Assess) Express feelings about the lesson. "As you reflect back on the lesson, how do you feel it went?"
(Recall and Relate) Recall student behaviors observed during the lesson to support those feelings. "What did you see students doing (or hear them saying) that made you feel that way?"
(Recall) Recall their own behavior during the lesson. "What do you recall about your own behavior during the lesson?"
(Compare) Compare student behavior performed with student behavior desired. "How did what you observe compare with what you planned?"
(Compare) Compare teacher behavior performed with teach behavior planned. "How did what you planned compare with what you did?
(Infer) Make inferences about the achievement of the purposes of the lesson. "As you reflect on the goals for this lesson, what can you say bout your students' achievement of them?"
(Metacogitate) Become aware and monitor one's own thinking during the lesson. What were you think when you decided to change the design of the lesson?"
What were you aware of that students were doing that signaled you to change the format of the lesson?
(Analyze) Analyze why the student behaviors were or were not achieved. "What hunches do you have to explain why some students performed as you had hoped while others did not?"
(Cause-effect) Draw causal relationships. "What did you do (or didn't do) to produce the results you wanted?"
(Synthesize) Synthesize meaning from analysis of this lesson. "As you reflect on this discussion, what big ideas or insights are you discovering?"
(Self-prescription) Prescribe alternative teaching strategies, behaviors or conditions. "As you plan future lesson, what ideas have you developed that might be carried forth to the next lesson or other lessons?"
(Evaluate) Give feedback about the effects of this coaching session and the coach's conferencing skills. "As you think back over our conversation, what has this coaching session done for you? What is it that I did (or didn't do)? What assisted you? What could I do differently in future coaching sessions?
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Assessing Your Effectiveness as a Coach

As we recommend that you encourage your protégé to employ self-reflection and self-evaluation of her teaching strategies, we also recommend that you periodically take a moment to reflect upon your effectiveness as a coach.

Look back over the messages you've been sending to your protégé and the discussions you've been having.

  • Do you notice any particular patterns arising?
    • Are you playing the role of expert too often and trying to solve problems, rather than guiding your protégé to solve his own problems?
    • Are you limiting what you communicate to your protégé to one particular type of message?
  • Do you challenge your protégé to reflect upon her teaching and make future plans?
  • Do you schedule both planning discussions and reflection discussions?
  • Do you make plans for ways to guide your protégé?
  • Do you keep up communication with your protégé without regular prompting from your facilitator?

Periodically assessing your effectiveness as a coach will help you fine-tune your role as a telementor for ENDAPT. Taking the time to self-evaluate regularly will also help you build a stronger, more mutually beneficial and enjoyable relationship with your protégé. return to the top

More on Cognitive Coaching

You can find out more about cognitive coaching online.

You can also find out more about cognitive coaching from Costa and Garmston's book:

  • Costa, A. L. & Garmston R. J. (1994). Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools. Norwood, MA., Christopher-Cordon Publishers, Inc.
    The new edition was released in March 2002.
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