In our classrooms, we know that not all students are at the same place in their learning. Some have more background knowledge than others, maybe because they read regularly and read a variety of material. Some have more developed skills than other students, and each student has had more or less rehearsal of one or more skills. The classroom is a matrix of different learning trajectories, and as skillful teachers we must recognize where each student is and address each one’s learning accordingly.
Supporting adult learners is not unlike supporting young learners. Adults in any MYP are at different stages of understanding of programme elements and implementation. They come from a variety of teaching backgrounds and frameworks, they have different learning preferences, and they each have a different context and conception of their identity, of who they are as professional learners.
Because each learner comes with different strengths and needs, coaching as a support function is a way to value each learner’s existing knowledge and help him or her to find resources to set goals, achieve them, reflect on implementation of intentions, and solve problems encountered along the way.
Coaching as a differentiated support function
Coaching is allowing each individual learner to form a self-portrait of the self as learner in his or her own words. The narrative he or she provides through the coaching process is a “process of authentic self-presence, thinking and choosing as a way of discovering and knowing the nature and meaning of significant experiences in identity formation and selfhood” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 63). The coach functions as a mediator of this learning.
Feuerstein and colleagues (2000) suggest that this type of mediative learning includes being able to “experience that thing at deeper levels of cognitive, emotional attitudinal, energetic, and affective impact through the interposition of the mediator between the learner and the experienced object or event” (p. 275).
The coach is someone who conveys another person through their thinking from one state to another, more desirable state. Costa and colleagues (2013) use the metaphor of a stagecoach to represent coaching—a vehicle for taking a person from one place to another.
It’s about you…and it’s not about you at all
If you are the coach, the coaching is about you, but it is not about you at all. The role of the coach is to attend to the other’s thinking.
When I first trained to be a cognitive coach, I thought I was a good listener. As I learned about the quality of listening necessary to be other-centered as a coach, I realized I was wrong.
In fact, when I used to listen, I engaged in either one or more of these:
- Autobiographical listening – listening so I can connect to or chime in with something from experience
- Solution listening – listening so I could help the person solve the problem
- Curiosity listening – listening because I was curious
It is about you, the coach. The biggest change for coaching to become a successful support function is for the coach to struggle through the challenge of having to stop listening from these positions. We have to give up our own thinking and context to truly attend to the other person’s thinking.
Ways to listen thoroughly
The skills needed to adopt a coaching attitude necessitated a change in the coach’s own cognitive behavior. If a coach is to convey a person’s thinking from one state to another, the coach needs to listen so that he or she can do the following:
- Paraphrase the thinking to clarify it to the other person
- Pose questions to move thinking forward
We might notice that with these two behaviors, we do not need our own experience, we are not the problem solvers of the case, and we only need what we are listening to, nothing more. These behaviors eliminate the necessity for autobiographical listening, problem-solving listening, and curiosity.
To be effective coaches, we must let go of our own attitudinal predispositions and practice complete empathy.
The values of cognitive coaching
Teaching and learning occurs through three valuable stages: intention, action, and reflection. (These are familiar to us as the curriculum: plans, teaching, assessment. It is also a reflection of our inquiry cycle: inquire, take action, reflect.)
Coaching helps to clarify how action addresses intention, and supports reflection on how this relationship between intention and action might be strengthened (Costa and Garmston, 1994). This function of coaching helps people work toward their goals for teaching and learning.
It helps people solve their problems. Often when people are stressed by challenge, it means their skills and understanding necessitate a stretch toward crossing what Vygotsky calls the “zone of proximal development” or what we might recognize as an implementation dip. Coaching helps the person find cognitive resources to continue their work toward stretching, through learning, to meet the challenges they face. In a coaching conversation, the listening, paraphrasing helps to acknowledge the emotions, and posing mediative questions helps elevate the thinking to the cognitive level, where problem solving can occur.
Leading learning is ‘messy work’
Each learner is on a different trajectory toward understanding. As leaders of learning, we need to allow each learner to follow his or her own trajectory at his or her unique, optimum pace. We also have the privilege of helping them find their cognitive resources to support them along the way. If we continue to be the assessors of each one’s learning, how might we help learners become independent, self-directed learners?
Leading learning, whether in a classroom or in a programme, is messy work. If we are mindful of what each person needs to learn and help them help themselves through coaching, we can cultivate a culture of self-directed learning in our schools.
Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. J. (1994). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.
Costa, A., Garmston, R., Ellison, J., & Hayes, C. (2013). Cognitive Coaching Seminars foundation training: Learning guide (9th ed.). Highlands Ranch, CO: Thinking Collaborative.
Feuerstein, R., Feuerstein, R. S., & Falik, L. H. (2010). Beyond smarter: Mediated learning and the brain’s capacity for change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.