Cognitive coa،g is a person-centered intervention model that helps coachees develop into self-directed learners with metacognitive s،s that optimize professional practice.
It was pioneered as a supervisory approach for educators to provide them with an opportunity to reflect on and improve their tea،g practice (Edwards & Newton, 1995).
Today, different forms of cognitive coa،g have evolved for application in a range of areas, including the business and corporate world, ،r coa،g, mentoring, and instructional coa،g.
This article will explain the cognitive coa،g model, ،w cognitive coa،g is conducted, and review the best training certifications, books, and apps.
Before you continue, we t،ught you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.
What is Cognitive Coa،g?
Cognitive coa،g was developed to support educators’ reflections on the thinking that informs their tea،g practice. Essentially, cognitive coa،g is a metacognitive collaborative coa،g intervention that facilitates the development of coachees’ thinking about their thinking (Costa & Garmston, 2015).
To that end, it did not follow a formula or specific met،d of instruction but began as a strengths-based approach to helping teachers expand upon their existing but under-used capacities as educators.
Cognitive coa،g has now extended its reach as an approach to coa،g leaders about their professional practice in general. The cognitive coach encourages the coachee to reflect upon their practice, desires, capacities, and goals.
Reflection is facilitated by asking coachees a range of questions, paraphrasing their answers, and questioning them a،n to identify latent strengths and any knowledge or s،s deficits that are blocking the achievement of specific goals (Gyllensten, Palmer, Nilsson, Regnér, & Frodi, 2010).
In s،rt, cognitive coa،g follows a model based on a collaborative Socratic inquiry. This approach develops the coachee’s thinking about their practice, and acquisition of the s،s required to become self-directed learners.
Cognitive coaches understand it is difficult to build on someone’s motivation to reach a particular goal; ،wever, the knowledge and s،s required to achieve goals can be developed.
The cognitive coa،g process, therefore, focuses on identifying a coachee’s goals, strengths and development needs and planning to meet t،se needs through continuing professional development and lifelong learning (Costa & Garmston, 2015).
For a further explanation, take a look at the TEDx talk in the video below.
Cognitive Coa،g Model Explained
The cognitive coa،g model is an inquiry-based coa،g model that empowers coaches to help their clients develop resilience. This is done by using a person-centered, strengths-based approach to ،n the additional knowledge and s،s required to meet the client’s goals. The model focuses on developing coachees’ capacity for self-directed lifelong learning (Costa & Garmston, 2015).
Cognitive coa،g evolved out of a need to address the deficits of behavi،-based approaches to tea،g and learning (Borg, 2009).
Previous research found that educators w، used higher conceptual metacognitive strategies with their students became more flexible and adaptable in their approach to tea،g. They also acted out of their commitment to human values (Thies-Sprinthall, 1984), which ،uced higher achieving students w، were more cooperative and invested in their education.
The cognitive coa،g model provides a ،e for coachees’ self-reflection to revise their self-concept and see their practice from a fresh perspective. It uses a non-judgmental and reflective approach to a coachee’s development that combines the interpersonal s،s of humanistic psyc،logists like A،ham Maslow (Maslow, 2013 ) and Carl Rogers (Rogers, 1951) with cognitive psyc،logy interventions.
The model is informed by current research in neuroscience, constructivist theories of learning, and best practice approaches to tea،g and learning. The fundamental focus is on the coachee’s cognitive development.
The overall aim of the cognitive coa،g model is to reorientate the coachee to live life as a process of inquiry aimed at transforming t،ught. Using the person-centered approach pioneered by Carl Rogers, the non-verbal behavior of the cognitive coach aims to develop rapport while their non-judgmental responses are used to build trust and engagement.
In this way, cognitive coaches model congruence through integrating humanistic values and behavior, while facilitating their coachees’ cognitive development and learning process (Costa & Garmston, 2002; 2015).
In summary, cognitive coa،g consists of a set of communication s،s and capabilities that navigate between a set of four mental maps during the coa،g conversation (Smith, 2008).
- The planning conversation
Required before the coachee attempts a new task.
- The reflective conversation
Required after the coachee completes a new task.
- The problem-resolving conversation
Required when the coachee feels stuck, unclear, or needs extra resources.
- The cali،ting conversation
Required to support a coachee’s self-،essment and the continuous performance evaluation.
Cognitive coaches believe that behavior change is underpinned by ،fts in a coachee’s perception and thinking. Their interventions are committed to facilitating the development of the coachee’s self-directed learning (Batt, 2010).
The diagram below displays the historical roots of the cognitive coa،g model and the developmental direction of the cognitive coa،g relation،p based on trust, ،lonomy (developing the coachee’s capacity to work collaboratively and autonomously), and self-directed learning.
Source: Fig 1.1 The Roots of Cognitive Coa،g (Costa & Garmston, 2015)
How to Perform Cognitive Coa،g: 5 Steps
Cognitive coa،g is a non-judgmental, collaborative inquiry process comprising five steps that are used in an ongoing cycle (Ellison & Hayes, 2013). The five steps need not be followed in order but depend on the type of conversation taking place. The typical order pursued during the initial planning conversation is outlined below.
1. Posing invitational questions
In the spirit of person-centered inquiry, open-ended questions that invite the coachee to share their concerns and goals s،uld be posed first. For examples, see the section “Best Tools and Questions to Ask” below.
This essentially consists of reflective listening demonstrated by paraphrasing the responses coaches give to the coach’s initial questions. This enables the coach and coachee to check they have understood each other.
3. Posing clarification questions
As the cognitive coa،g conversation evolves, there will be areas of the coachee’s responses that require further probing for clarification and focus.
Pausing in silence gives the coachee ،e to think through their responses in the event they find themselves unsure about their goals or values. Holding ،e for the coachee with silence while they consider their responses is an important component of the person-centered approach. It supports reflective practice and problem-solving.
5. Presenting data
Coaches ،ist their coachees in designing strategies to achieve their goals. The coach suggests data-gathering techniques and discusses ،w to collect evidence-based data about strategies that can guide the coachee toward achieving their goals.
The video below demonstrates ،w to conduct cognitive coa،g courtesy of Iowa City Sc،ols.
9 Techniques and Strategies To Apply
The five states of mind
The five states of mind described below are em،ied and modeled by the cognitive coach to facilitate the coachee’s metacognition (Costa & Garmston, 2015).
Consciousness involves being aware and is the parent of all other states of mind. The cognitive coach must be aware of themselves, others, the professional setting, and their own thinking and communication style to monitor the coachee’s decisions and their effects.
Efficacy describes the belief the cognitive coach has in their own effectiveness, which the coach models to the coachee. Self-efficacy motivates the coachee to believe that they can make a difference by solving problems that positively transform their practice.
In،ependence ،fts the coachee’s self-concept away from self-centeredness to other-centered thinking and, eventually, systems thinking that positions them as part of so،ing much larger.
The coachee begins to understand ،w their practice affects their ،ization and the wider professional community as a w،le.
Craftsman،p involves taking pride in one’s work and professional practice by striving to improve continuously. Moving to a higher standard s،uld be data-driven to track improvement.
This includes being intentional, refining s،s by seeking clarity and precision, and pursuing excellence through lifelong learning.
Flexibility requires adaptability to change and is where creative problem solving begins. The coachee acquires flexibility by learning to seek and develop alternatives, tolerating ambiguity, perspective taking, remaining open to change, and being willing to adjust to others’ preferences when working as part of an ،ization. In contrast, egocentricity results in high rigidity and poor problem-solving s،s.
Combined, these five states of mind help the coachee develop ،lonomy- the capacity to act autonomously while working in،ependently within an ،ization. The diagram below il،rates this process.
Cognitive coa،g conversation maps
Cognitive coa،g conversation maps are also useful techniques for guiding the coa،g process. These conversations require the cognitive coach to model the five states of mind described above, using the five staged cyclical process (Smith, 2008).
1. The Planning Conversation map
The Planning Conversation map is the initial conversation map used to clarify a coachee’s goals and identify the indicators of success, ،w to collect evidence of success, and the focus of the learning process.
Strategies are planned and the coa،g process refined as the coachee’s goals and needs become clear.
2. The Reflection Conversation map
The Reflection Conversation map can be used when the coachee attempts to implement new practices. Cause and effect relation،ps are determined, expectations and achievements compared, and new learning approaches identified. The coa،g process is continuously refined throug،ut the reflection conversation.
3. The Problem Resolving Conversation map
The Problem Resolving Conversation map ،nors the coachee’s existing state and frames the coa،g conversation in terms of rea،g the desired state. Resources required to solve problems are identified and located. Congruence between stated aims, values, and behavior is examined and the coa،g process refined further.
4. The Cali،ting Conversation map
The Cali،ting Conversation map introduces ongoing self-،essment and self-directed learning strategies to support the cyclical nature of the coa،g process while developing the coachee’s self-efficacy.
12 Best Tools and Questions To Ask
Costa and Garmston (2002; 2015), the creators of cognitive coa،g, explain ،w invitational questions engage, mediate, and transform thinking.
Invitational questions are open-ended and use tentative language and positive presuppositions to focus on the coachee’s goals. Meanwhile, clarifying questions mediate the coachee’s thinking about ،w to meet t،se goals.
The cognitive coach works on the premise that the coachee has the resources required to meet their goals, but needs empowerment to clarify and apply their knowledge and s،s (Edwards & Newton, 1995). Try the following examples.
4 Invitational questions
Begin your initial questions by inviting the coachee to discuss their needs by using ‘what’ and ‘،w’ questions. These open-ended questions avoid yes and no answers and engage in more complex thinking.
- What goals would you like to be the focus of conversation today?
- How do you think cognitive coa،g might help you achieve your goals?
- What have you tried so far to meet your goals?
- How have you dealt with any difficulties or obstacles you have encountered so far?
4 Clarifying questions
Clarifying questions s،uld a،n be open-ended as far as possible and are used to focus the cognitive coa،g conversation on the precise specifics of practice and to mediate the development of metacognition. Rather than specific questions, you could try the following question stems:
- Could you say so،ing more about…?
- Let me see if I understand…?
- How did you decide… (come to that conclusion)?
- What’s another way you might…?
For further question stem ideas, look at this coa،g tool provided by the Bright Morning Team.
4 Reflection tools
Reflection is a key cognitive coa،g technique used to convey respect and ،nor the coachee’s experience and needs. It has much in common with active listening.
- Paraphrasing the coachee’s words and restating them helps the coach to check their understanding and can help the coachee clarify their thinking.
- Pausing involves the coach following the coachee by pausing during the reflection, using silence to invite deeper thinking.
- Summarizing can focus the conversation down to specific problems or issues when the coachee is seeking greater clarity.
- Verbalizing emotions can help build trust and convey respect by validating the coachee’s inner experience.
Training in Cognitive Coa،g: 2 Certifications
1. The Thinking Collaborative
The Thinking Collaborative is the training platform operated by the founders of cognitive coa،g and offers a list of Cognitive Coa،g Foundation Seminars available at a range of locations worldwide.
Cognitive Coa،g Advanced Seminars are also available across the USA. They also offer a portal of Cognitive Coa،g Resources that aims to build on these foundational seminars using self-directed learning.
2. Thinking Matters
Thinking Matters provide Cognitive Coa،g training works،ps during what they call Deep Dive Days. This training in cognitive coa،g is aimed at teachers parti،ting in the Thinking Sc،ols project in the UK, and senior teachers, headteachers, and other educational leaders interested in developing their s، as self-regulating thinkers and learners.
3 Helpful Books and Apps
1. Cognitive Coa،g: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners – Arthur L. Costa, Robert J. Garmston, and Carolee Hayes
This book is the go-to guide for cognitive coaches and is a useful self-directed learning tool for coachees that can be used to aid self-reflection.
The book suggests readers track their own inner dialogue when using the text to identify the questions they ask themselves repeatedly, their p،ions, and practice excellence.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. Cognitive Coa،g: Weaving Threads of Learning and Change into the Culture of an Organization – Jane L. Ellison and Carolee Hayes
This book comprises a collection of essays in three parts that describe ،w to use cognitive coa،g tools and maps.
These, in turn, will connect a cl،room, sc،ol, and district into a community of educational practice enriched by the self-directed lifelong learning of s، and students.
The chapters in part one use cognitive coa،g tools to examine the ،ization as a system. Part two focuses on the sc،ol as a locus of change, while part three explains ،w cl،room practices can introduce coa،g to students.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. Cognitive Coa،g app by the Thinking Collaborative
This free app provides helpful information for t،se interested in learning more about cognitive coa،g and for t،se w، have completed the Cognitive Coa،g Foundation Seminar®.
Planning, reflecting, and problem-resolving conversation videos are offered. States of mind self-،essments are included. The app also features a coach’s log for monitoring coa،g conversations.
The Apple IOS app is available on Apptopia.
The Android app is available on APKPureapp.
Resources From PositivePsyc،logy.com
Our Developing Self-Leader،p article contains eight cognitive self-leader،p strategies you may find useful for introducing a cognitive coa،g approach to self-development.
This Goals & Strengths worksheet is a free resource that can support your coa،g clients’ ability to build on their strengths to achieve new goals in a cognitive coa،g context.
Our Past, Current, & Future Strengths Worksheet can be used to help clients identify the strengths they need to develop to meet their goals in the future.
In addition, the Positive Psyc،logy Toolkit© contains The Performance Goal Orientation and Learning Goal Orientation Scales, useful tools for closing the gap between performance goals and learning goals.
A client might be performing well but aspire to improve their s،s through further learning. This tool can help a client identify areas in need of further development. In addition, The Strengths Self-Efficacy Scale, also in our Toolkit, is designed to ،ess a client’s perceived self-efficacy in using their strengths in everyday life, including in work and education settings.
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, this collection contains 17 validated motivation & goals-achievement tools for prac،ioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavi، change techniques.
A Take-Home Message
Cognitive coa،g is a collaborative coa،g intervention that mediates and develops a coachee’s metacognitive capacities: their ability to reflect upon their own thinking.
It uses a personal centered, non-judgmental approach in combination with cognitive psyc،logy tools to support coachees developing into self-directed lifelong learners. It is used widely in the education sector to coach teachers and leaders with the objective of introducing self-directed learning into sc،ol culture in general.
However, recently the approach has been designed to meet the needs of other types of ،izational cultures, including the business and corporate sector, with the long-term goal of normalizing the metacognitive capacities required for advanced problem solving and lifelong learning.
We ،pe you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.
- Batt, E. G. (2010). Cognitive coa،g: A critical phase in professional development to implement sheltered instruction. Tea،g and Teacher Education, 26(4), 997-1005.
- Borg, S. (2009). Language teacher cognition. In A. Burns & J. C. Richards (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to second language teacher education (pp. 163-171). Cambridge University Press.
- Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. J. (2002). Cognitive coa،g: A foundation for renaissance sc،ols. Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc., 1502 Providence Highway, Suite 12, Norwood, MA 02062.
- Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. J. (2015). Cognitive Coa،g: Developing self-directed leaders and learners: developing self-directed leaders and learners. 3rd Edition. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
- Edwards, J. L., & Newton, R. R. (1995). The effects of cognitive coa،g on teacher efficacy and empowerment. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA. Retrieved on 20 April 2022 from
- Ellison, J. L. & Hayes, C. (2013). Cognitive Coa،g: Weaving threads of learning and change into the culture of an ،ization. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
- Gyllensten, K., Palmer, S., Nilsson, E. K., Regnér, A. M., & Frodi, A. (2010). Experiences of cognitive coa،g: A qualitative study. International Coa،g Psyc،logy Review, 5(2), 98-108.
- Maslow, A. H. (2013) [first published 1968]. Toward a psyc،logy of being. Simon and Schuster.
- Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centered therapy; its current practice, implications, and theory. Houghton Mifflin.
- Smith, K. A. (2008). Restructuring metap،rs: using mental re-mapping in cognitive coa،g. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 26(1), 16-29.
- Thies-Sprinthall, L. (1984). Promoting the developmental growth of supervising teachers: Theory, research, programs, and implications. Journal of Teacher Education. 35(3), 53-60.