Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey

Talking and Writing by the Coach

Our trainers are often asked about a coach writing during a conversation. We offer some thoughts on this issue for this week’s reflections. Rapport is primarily nonverbal and it signals human connection by mirroring another person, that is, aligning with them physically in postures and gestures and in breathing. When the coach writes, the alignment ceases and attention moves from the person to the writing tools. In addition, the very act of writing separates one’s thought process from the person’s communication to the coach and focuses the coach on his/her own thoughts. The connection is broken.

An additional impact on the relationship is created by the coachee’s thoughts in relation to the writing being done. S/he might think, “What is the person writing? Why are they writing? Am I being clear in my words, thoughts? The effect is to distract the coachee from his/her own content and create thoughts about the writing. This can trigger a stressed reaction and move the brain to a loss of cognitive capacity.

So generally, writing by the coach during a conversation is counterproductive. If the coach has some strong need to write, it should be made clear before the conversation what is the purpose of the writing and permission should be requested before deciding to record.

How do these thoughts align with your experiences and your thinking about the coach writing during the conversation?

Moving to Automaticity

In his intriguing autobiography, Code Talker, Chester Nez speaks about the unbreakable code developed by 29 Navajos during World War II. This code turned the U.S. war effort in the South Pacific from sure defeat to sure victory because the Japanese were no longer able to decode the messages being sent. Only those who learned the code could translate it. How did this code become so effective in changing the outcome of the war? The Code Talkers became so automatic with the code that they could transmit it quickly under the direst conditions of war. They achieved that capacity by internalizing the code through ongoing practice, making the process so innate they did not have to think about it and could stay focused even when their lives were threatened. The lesson for all of us is to think about how to move our coaching skills to the level of automaticity achieved by these men. Obviously ongoing rehearsal was what was required of these men, yet they mastered the code in a matter of weeks because of their efforts to do so.

What might be some ways you could master the practices of Cognitive CoachingSM so that it becomes something you do without thinking about it? Here are a few ideas to move you toward unconscious competence:

• Have coaching conversations with yourself when you are driving or just sitting and having some coffee.
• Schedule a time every day to have a 10-minute coaching conversation with another person. You will both benefit.
• In meetings, think about a mediative question or paraphrase you might offer before advocating for your own ideas.
• As you are reading a novel or watching a television show, think about what kinds of coaching conversations you might have with one of the characters.
• Before you make an important decision, write down three coaching questions you might ask yourself.
• Start each day as you drive to work thinking about opportunities to coach others during the day.

How do I get started?

As practicing Cognitive Coaches, we are often asked the question, “So how do I get started?” Each situation is unique, and yet there are some general suggestions that Costa and Garmston offer based on their work with a wide variety of educators:

1. Take time to practice. Enhancing your own skill level will help you develop the efficacy to be more public in time.
2. Begin with a colleague with whom you feel safe and with whom you already have a trusting relationship.
3. Video yourself in conversations. Use the videos to self-assess yourself using the rubric at the back of your Learning Guide.
4. Schedule formal times to coach. What gets scheduled gets done.
5. Use electronic aids such as the Cognitive CoachingSM app at and videos at

In addition, you may find some of the following tips helpful:

1. If you are a new coach and have served in a different capacity in the past, tell your coachees up front that this is going to look different, feel different, and sound different. Nothing fosters mistrust faster that misunderstood intentions.
2. Ask for volunteers to be coached. Tell them you are learning a new skill and would like to practice. Most teachers love to assist someone that needs help. After all, that is why they went into teaching in the first place.
3. Practice silently before going “public.” For instance, craft paraphrases on a notepad during staff meetings. Craft questions on sticky notes when you are in a team meeting.
4. Practice isolated skills. Don’t try to tackle them all at once.
5. Trust yourself. You know more than the people you are coaching. No one knows if you forgot some of the elements in a meditative question. No one knows if you forgot to try a summarize and organize paraphrase.

Above all, just get started! One thing we know for sure, you can’t begin helping others on that journey of self-directedness unless you take the first steps!

Costa, A, & Garmston, R. (2016). Cognitive coaching: Developing self-directed leaders and learners. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

September 25, 2017

A third type of paraphrase is the abstracting paraphrase. These types of paraphrases “shift focus to a higher or lower logical level. Paraphrases move to a higher logical level when they name concepts, goals, values, beliefs, identity and assumptions…Paraphrases move to a lower logical level when abstractions and concepts require operational definitions…” (p 48).

The non-linguistic symbol of the abstracting paraphrase is the ladder, coming from S.I. Hayakawa’s ladder of abstraction (Language in Thought and Action,1939). The ladder is used to show how language can move from the concrete to the abstract.

For example:





Coaching books

Cognitive Coaching books

Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-directed Leaders and Learners

My copy of Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-directed Leaders and Learners, 3rd edition

The abstracting paraphrase takes the thinking to a whole different level of thought. It can help to deliver insight, open up solutions for the thinker(s), enable them see the bigger picture (or the needed details). When we offer abstracting paraphrases “we move beyond organizing thoughts around a specific moment or context, but broaden and open thinking beyond the current” (StJ).

Here are some abstracting up “categories” to consider:
• Values – It is important to you that…
• Beliefs – A belief you hold is…
• Concept Label – What you are hoping to achieve is rigor and joy in the classroom. The speaker has never used those exact words but has spoken concretely about more concrete evidence that he or she would see.
• Goal – So a major goal for this group is…

How might you help shift the thinking of individuals and groups with whom you are working? Who might you need to be to offer abstracting paraphrases in a group?

If you would like to see the power of an abstracting paraphrase, follow this link to the Thinking Collaborative website:

September 18, 2017

A second type is the Organizing paraphrase. The non-linguistic representation for this paraphrase is luggage. Ideas are literally put into containers and are “organized.” The thinker or the group may have so many ideas that are floating around that it is difficult for them to see patterns, themes, relationships, or categories. The skilled coach or facilitator can hear these multiple thoughts and can organize and relate them to each other for the coachee or for the group. Imagine standing with your nose to a white board filled with writing that captures the thoughts of the group or the coachee. It is hard to make sense of what is “written there.” An organizing paraphrase helps the thinkers take several steps back, gain perspective and distance on the jumbled thoughts, and allow them to see their ideas more cogently and coherently.

Examples of organizing paraphrases might include:
“There are three issues that you are dealing with as a team: budgets, time constraints, and adequate staff development.”

“First you hope to resolve the issue with budgets and then you can move forward with adequate staff development.”

Remember to use organizing paraphrases with individuals and groups to help mediate and refine thinking. How might you look for ways to offer organizing paraphrases? Who do you need to be in order to paraphrase a group?

September 11, 2017

In the 3rd edition Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-directed Leaders and Learners, by Arthur L. Costa and Robert J. Garmston, paraphrasing is described this way: “Paraphrasing is one of the most valuable and least-used tools in human interaction. A well-crafted paraphrase communicates: “I am trying to understand you and therefore I value what you have to say” (p 48). The coach or facilitator must select one of three logical levels to begin paraphrasing.

Acknowledging paraphrases are one type. The non-linguistic representation of this type of paraphrase is the mirror. The coach or facilitator reflects the essence of content and emotion back to the speaker or captures “group think.” In group dialogue or coaching, the acknowledging paraphrase helps to refine and mediate thinking. If the paraphrase is not quite accurate, the speaker has the opportunity to further refine the language of the paraphrase. Examples of acknowledging paraphrases might be:

“So you are excited about this new class.”

“This team is concerned about the reading initiative.”

What might be some ways that you can increase your use of acknowledging paraphrases to mediate thinking, “align the parties, and create a safe environment for thinking?” (Costa and Garmston, p 48)

The Power of Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is a fundamental skill of mediation. The paraphrase develops relationship and understanding, enhancing the nonverbal skills of rapport. When a question is not preceded by a paraphrase, it can seem intrusive and pointed.

How can one become a better paraphraser? First, discipline yourself to turn off the noise in your head. Your own thoughts about what the person is saying can cause you to stop listening. The brain finds itself infinitely more interesting than what is going on in the outside world. Intentionally mirror the speaker and use rapport to tune in to the coachee and tune out the distractions that interfere with authentic listening. Listen with the intention to understand and not to speak. Consciously set aside autobiographical, solution, and inquisitive listening.

Listen first for emotion and content. Paraphrasing of both enhances understanding—we are both feeling and thinking beings. Listen, too, for identity, values, beliefs, and assumptions. These are at the core of our actions and often are communicated but are not conscious. The paraphrase brings the person’s inner self to the external and allows it to be consciously examined. Remember not to use the pronoun “I”. Costa and Garmston maintain that ‘the pronoun “I” signals that the speaker’s thoughts no longer matter and that the paraphraser is now going to insert his own ideas into the conversation” (p 48).

There are three broad categories of paraphrasing to explore and a coach/facilitator choose one type or another depending on the intention in the moment.

How can you be more conscious of your paraphrases this week? What might you do to sustain your journey as a cognitive coach or a facilitator of groups?

Using the Calibrating Conversation with the Other Support Functions

During August, Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey will explore the Calibrating Conversation. Thinking Collaborative provides a one-day training in this unique conversation map for those who have completed the Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®.

Although the Calibrating Conversation is grounded in the Cognitive CoachingSM support function, it can also be used in each of the other support functions.

The Calibrating Conversation can be used in the collaborating support function when two people share data to develop mutual understanding/meaning. In such a conversation, it is important that both parties contribute to the conversation in a balanced manner.

In the consulting support function, the coach has expertise about the standard. In this case, the coach would be providing information to explain aspects of the document with the intention to increase understanding of the document.

In the evaluating support function, the evaluator might ask the person to complete the evaluation document and the evaluator would also complete the document. The focus of the conversation would then be on comparing the two assessments and understanding each person’s point of view.

What might be some applications of this conversation that would support your work?

Envisioning Success in the Calibrating Conversation

During August, Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey will explore the Calibrating Conversation. Thinking Collaborative provides a one-day training in this unique conversation map for those who have completed the Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®.

There are two regions of the Calibrating Conversation that provide a vision for action for the coachee:
• Establish behavioral indicators for new placement on the rubric or level of performance.
• Describe support needed to get to a higher level of performance and commit to action.

The coach invites clear vision by posing questions for specificity about the behavioral indicators. The teacher creates an image of success for him/herself. Additionally, the coach invites exploration of the kinds of resources (human and other types) that will be necessary to ensure success with the behavioral indicators.

Consider your own coaching conversations as you begin this school year and reflect on why these two regions are so critical to success with this conversation.

Calibrating Conversations Support Self-Directed Learning

During August, Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey will explore the Calibrating Conversation. Thinking Collaborative provides a one-day training in this unique conversation map for those who have completed the Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®.

The hallmarks of self-directed people are those that are self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying. The Calibrating Conversation aligns with those goals by putting the teacher or other employee in the driver’s seat regarding their own growth. By choosing a focus of one’s own, intrinsic motivation and a growth mindset are enhanced.

The third region of the Calibrating Conversation not only identifies a desired goal or placement on the rubric, but grounds the choice in the deep structure of the person by exploring how the goal aligns with the values, beliefs and identity of the coachee. The coach might ask, “What is most important to you about your choice?” or “How does this focus match the teacher you want to become?” By bringing the values, beliefs and identity of the teacher to consciousness, the coach invites a commitment to goals that align with the teacher’s deepest intentions.

This week, consider ways in which you invite commitment and congruence as part of your annual goal setting.

Using a Third Point in a Calibrating Conversation

During August, Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey will explore the Calibrating Conversation. Thinking Collaborative provides a one-day training in this unique conversation map for those who have completed the Cognitive Coaching Foundation Seminar®.

A conversation between two people is a two-point conversation. When data are added to a coaching conversation, it becomes the third point. In a Calibrating Conversation, the third point is a rubric or some mutually agreed upon instrument such as a Configuration Map. The third point is neutral, providing a psychologically safe place to reference information and depersonalize ideas.

To use a third point in a Calibrating Conversation, the coach would ask the coachee to select a focus and then identify the existing placement on the rubric. Supporting evidence would be elicited before asking the coachee about his/her desired placement. This process provides the opportunity for self-assessment and self-directed goal setting. When used with an evaluation process, these two regions of the map set the stage for a long-term growth plan.

How might you consider using a third point in a Calibrating Conversation as you begin a new school year?

Managing Change by Managing Transitions—Mediating Your Thinking around Transition

According to William Bridges, Managing Transitions, organizations and individuals go through three transitional phases when lasting change occurs:
1. Endings (losing, letting go)
2. The neutral zone
3. New beginnings

As a member of the ever-changing world of education, you need support. Where might you find that support for yourself? What resources are available to you? Where might you gather feedback on the progress of the transition? In moments of uncertainty, what might it feel like when the transition is complete? Your vision will guide you through ambiguity and doubt.

Consider change as a series of photographs, with transition providing the captions. If you were to take a snapshot of this time in your life, what might the caption be? And… what is the caption for your next phase?

Managing Change by Managing Transitions—New Beginnings

According to William Bridges, Managing Transitions, organizations and individuals go through three transitional phases when lasting change occurs:
1. Endings (losing, letting go)
2. The neutral zone
3. New beginnings

Last week, we studied the second phase, the neutral zone. This week we’ll explore the third phase, new beginnings.

New beginnings require courage to embrace the change and to launch forward into a new situation. In a new beginning lives hope, growth, development, and possibilities.

To support yourself in new beginnings, set clear objectives based on your own purpose, your vision of success, and your career plan. Seek out the knowledge and skills that you need. Practice your new skills in low risk settings. Recognize your successes…and FIND A COACH!

As a leader, help your colleagues to grow the skills and knowledge they will need to move forward with efficacy and craftsmanship. Give people roles to play in the plan. Create focus groups to regularly review the plan and to provide feedback about communications before they are released. Celebrate your journey and your collective success. Reflect on the experience and create a vivid picture of how the new beginning will look and feel.

Next week…mediating your thinking around transition!

Managing Change by Managing Transitions—The Neutral Zone

According to William Bridges, Managing Transitions, organizations and individuals go through three transitional phases when lasting change occurs:
1. Endings (losing, letting go)
2. The neutral zone
3. New beginnings

Last week, we studied the first phase, endings. This week we’ll explore the second phase, the neutral zone.

Bridges describes the neutral zone as the suffering that occurs through the confusing nowhere between two somewheres. Ambiguity is strong in this phase and the tendency to retreat to the known past is seductive. People can be fearful and burdened with low morale.

The neutral zone, though, can provide a natural process of reorientation and an opportunity for a deepened sense of purpose. It is in this stage that you are being transformed into who you need to be for your new beginning.

To support yourself in the neutral zone, find a regular time and place to be alone to provide sanctuary for yourself. Journal neutral zone experiences. Put your thoughts into words to make sense of the “shapes” that are starting to emerge. In this time, you are discovering what you really want and who you need to become for the next stage.

Next week…new beginnings!

Managing Change by Managing Transitions—Endings

According to William Bridges, Managing Transitions, organizations and individuals go through three transitional phases when change occurs:
1. Endings (losing, letting go)
2. The neutral zone
3. New beginnings

Transitions begin with endings. Endings can be difficult because the current state is comfortable and provides certainty. To become something else and to do something new, individuals must change who they currently are and start doing things in unfamiliar ways. People experience endings in very different ways. Some people move rapidly into the neutral zone. Others grieve and cling to the present.

To support yourself in transition, it is helpful to understand your own patterns of dealing with endings. Start by reflecting on your history of endings from childhood through adulthood. What you bring with you to a transitional situation is the style you have crafted over time. Is your style abrupt or gradual? Active or passive? Tentative or courageous?

To support others with endings, clearly explain the change and why it is needed. Recognize that endings are difficult and confusing. Avoid wasting energy trying to make people feel comfortable and happy. Instead help them to succeed despite their discomfort. Conduct open conversations about what people are experiencing using Bridges’ transition framework to structure the dialogue. Mark losses with rituals and ceremonies. Provide time to grieve. Take time to create safe, stable structures. Listen, listen, and listen some more.

Next week…the neutral zone!