Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Becoming a Better Thinker

Last week I completed an 8-day professional development series on Cognitive Coaching(SM). Though I have been involved in many professional conferences and workshops that have improved my practice, none will have the far-reaching effects of this. I have learned how to help my colleagues the people in my life mediate their thinking: to be better at planning, to be reflective, and to use their own internal resources to resolve problems in their professional and personal lives. Through this learning, I have been able to be more aware of my own thinking. But that doesn't mean that a cognitive coach doesn't need a coach sometimes.

On the last day of training, our trainer, Carolee Hayes, asked me to have a problem resolving conversation with her. I was excited about the opportunity because, while this was designed as a model coaching conversation as part of our training, I knew the benefit to me as someone with a problem (something I was "stuck" on) would be immeasurable.

I had begun this school year with a professional goal to "develop a backbone." I didn't really have a better way to say it to myself. But I knew that I needed somehow to be more influential in my position. While I feel like I have made some progress towards my goal, I knew it would be hard. I hate confrontation. I avoid situations where there might be any kind of discomfort. And in "getting a backbone" my vision of myself was "getting in the face" of people I felt needed to hear certain messages. I knew I was not going to be very successful at that for several reasons: 1) the aforementioned aversion to confrontation, 2) my lack of any kind of power to force change, and 3) my philosophy that (even if I had the power to demand) I can't force people to change by demanding it.

My problem was that I had been encouraging staff members to attend workshops offered by our ISD on Argumentative Writing. I know this is instruction our students need, but very few teachers are yet registered for the sessions. I tried to presume positive intentions...I know teachers don't like to be out of the classroom. But this is one of the biggest (in my view) changes in curriculum with the new Common Core State Standards.

Through the coaching conversation, I came to the realization that what I really meant by "developing a back bone" was that I had to have the difficult conversations about student success and academic achievement, but I had to have them in an impersonal way. I realized that if I want my staff members to take part in professional development sessions that are going to help change practice that is good for kids, I have to show them why they should do it. I have to create cognitive dissonance without personal confrontation. I need to show them the data that our kids need this instruction and they aren't getting it right now. And I feel capable and empowered to do that because Carolee was able to change my thinking. What I had seen as a third party problem I came to see as MY problem. I was able to think through what I can do to get my desired result.  I also came to the realization that if I do all that, and they still choose not to attend the sessions, I have to be OK with that. My cognitive shift was huge.

And now I am excited to help my staff have these same shifts in thinking; to be more efficient planners, to be reflective practitioners, and to find the internal resources to resolve the issues they face.

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