An introduction to Cognitive Coaching
By Gavin Grift
Coaching is different for everybody, and people are drawn to it for a variety of reasons.
Building your capacity as a coach enhances your own personal effectiveness, and your ability to work smarter, not harder. It also leads to greater reflexivity and professional growth, and who doesn’t want that?
But of course, it’s not all about us and what we, as coaches, might get out of coaching. Our most important role as coaches is to help others discover these strengths too.
As coaches, we guide others in the direction they choose so that they can develop techniques for constructively challenging potential unhelpful behaviours, such as negativity and limiting beliefs.
We can help release educators at all levels of responsibility and experience from unhelpful ways of thinking that inhibit their potential.
We want to help them find more energy and job satisfaction and improve their problem-solving skills.
There are many reasons coaching can be so powerful. For example, it:
- Develops more self-directedness
- Internalises the identity of a thoughtful, reflective practitioner
- Reduces people’s dependence on the coach
- Can help build confidence.
For example, I once coached a primary school principal who favoured an open-door approach, and wanted people to feel as if they could come and see him about anything.
But while he was approachable, he had lost all sense of his day, as well as any boundaries around the work he had to do.
One of his ‘a-ha’ moments was the realisation that he hadn’t actually been building his own capacity to coach others in either formal or informal situations. This meant that he had not reduced his people’s dependence or reliance on him. Indeed, he was perpetuating it!
Change didn’t happen overnight. However once he began to consciously apply coaching principles in his interactions with his people, and build these into his leadership identity, he was able to establish more effective boundaries.
What is Cognitive Coaching?
Rather than being behaviourist based like many models of coaching, Cognitive Coaching instead focus on the coachee’s ‘thinking’.
As a coach, we convey a valued person from where they are, to where they want to be.
If your intention is to coach, you need to help take people to where they want to be – not to where you think they ought to be.
Believing others have the capacity for excellence
A big part of encouraging self-directedness is believing that those we coach have the cognitive capacity for excellence.
If we don’t actually believe that others have the capacity to develop self-directedness, it’s very hard to coach anyone with any real integrity.
Instead, what we end up doing is playing a role or using our coaching skills – and our efforts fall flat.
Why are we doing this?
In short, because we want people to be successful.
We know that when those we coach build their own success, it also contributes to our success. And really, when you think about a school, it’s an organisation that ideally takes collective responsibility for the learning within the organisation – both for students and staff.
If we can take greater collective responsibility for doing that, we enhance the performance of many.