Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey

StJ December 11, 2017

This month’s Sustaining the Journey looks at some new research that supports the work of Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coachingsm

The second week looks at ways to fine-tune your emotional intelligence by expanding your vocabulary!

The Acknowledging Paraphrase captures the content and emotion of a speaker’s message. In particular, the first paraphrase of the PACE in the Problem Re-Solving Map is an empathy paraphrase that mirrors the speaker’s emotion, or part of the existing state. During the Cognitive Coachingsm Foundation Seminar participants complete an emotion word bank to help pinpoint the emotion by matter of degree. Seven emotions – anger, fear, disgust, happiness, surprise, contempt, sadness — are articulated with words that capture a weak, moderate, or strong emotion. The identification of those seven emotions comes from Paul Ekman’s research (2003).

Eric Barker writes about some new research in his article, “New Neuroscience Reveals Three Secrets That Will Make You Emotionally Intelligent” (Observer, 09/01/17). His article cites Lisa Feldman Barrett’s new book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, which refutes some many long-standing beliefs about emotions and the brain.

Barker writes that new research reveals that those seven emotions that we believed were hard wired and universal is a myth and that some cultures do not have language for an emotion like sadness. Other cultures have words for emotions that we did not know we had!

Barker writes that the “secret to emotional intelligence might just be the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” One key to emotional intelligence is to granulate or finely tune your ability to talk about emotions. Being able to differentiate between being “put out,” “agitated,” and “furious” is very important. He quotes Lisa Feldman Barrett’s new book,

You’ve probably never thought about learning words as a path to greater emotional health, but it follows directly from the neuroscience of construction. Words seed your concepts, concepts drive your predictions, predictions regulate your body budget, and your body budget determines how you feel. Therefore, the more finely grained your vocabulary, the more precisely your predicting brain can calibrate your budget to your body’s needs. In fact, people who exhibit higher emotional granularity go to the doctor less frequently, use medication less frequently, and spend fewer days hospitalized for illness.

So, how might you offer a paraphrase to an individual or in a group to capture the emotion at hand? How might you fine-tune your own emotional intelligence by expanding your emotion word bank?

Please enjoy your winter break! We will be back in January!

StJ December 4, 2017

This month’s Sustaining the Journey looks at some new research that supports the work of Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coachingsm

The first week takes a look at the article, “Really? Really. How Our Brains Figure Out What Words Mean Based On How They’re Said,” by Jon Hamilton (Mindshift, August 25, 2017).

Hamilton begins the article with the simple: “It’s not just what you say that matters. It’s how you say it.” The author reports that scientists have identified specific brain cells that monitor changes in voice pitch that help us ascertain what is the real meaning of a speaker’s message. One of the lead scientists in the research, Dr. Eddie Chang (University of California, San Francisco) says that these brain cells “allow the brain to detect ‘the melody of speech’ or intonation.”

In our seminars, participants study the importance of intonation, credibility, and approachability. In PAG/PAU, for example, the directions are first delivered with a credible voice and then understanding of those directions are reinforced by the presenter/facilitator using approachable voice. In the PACE, the coach must match the speaker’s tone, otherwise the coaching may come off as patronizing. In both AS and CC, questions are asked with approachability. The speaker’s intonation goes up at the end of the question thus inviting thinking and response.

How might you be more mindful of not just the words that you say but also on the way that you say them?

StJ November 27th, 2017

In October, Sustaining the Journey addressed some typical first questions asked as participants learn the power of Cognitive CoachingSM. This month, we address a few of the typical questions that are asked as participants begin to understand and embrace the principles and tenets of Adaptive Schools.

How do I bring new members into a group that Is constantly turning over?

This is a challenge in most organizations and requires us to think about our work developmentally. We must first be clear about the Focusing Questions of Adaptive Schools, “Who are we?”, “Why are we doing this?”, and “Why are we doing this, this way?” When our group is clear about those, it is also clear about what new members need to understand in order to be integrated.

One important strategy is to take time with a new member to orient him/her to the group’s purpose and ways of working. Assigning a person to mentor and orient the new person(s) is helpful in saving group time. Norms of collaboration should be shared prior to the first meeting and revisited at the first meeting as a whole group. History of the group can also be provided along with current goals and strategies, both short and long term. It may be useful to consider input from both a team member and an administrator who supervises the new person(s).

Depending on the level of turnover, group development activities may be needed. These might include revisiting mission and core values, exploring individual needs such as history, personal styles, background, etc. With high turnover and rapid change, going slow to go fast will pay off. Relationships drive good work and should not be ignored.

Frequent checks with new members and existing members provide data for how the team is doing. Simple feedback questions at the ends of meetings provide informal formative data, e.g., “How are we doing as a new team?” More formal assessments can be done in writing or through interviews.

Integration of new members into a group s is a key issue which is often ignored by members who have history and experience with a group. New members need attention and understanding in order to be successfully integrated into a group if that group is to function at its best.

StJ November 20th, 2017

In October, Sustaining the Journey addressed some typical first questions asked as participants learn the power of Cognitive CoachingSM. This month, we address a few of the typical questions that are asked as participants begin to understand and embrace the principles and tenets of Adaptive Schools.

How do I encourage fearful group members to speak up?

One of the structures for successful meetings in Adaptive Schools is to develop standards, including balancing participation. In our training, we teach a variety of strategies for balancing participation. Some of those are Stir the Classroom, Think-Pair-Share, and Grounding. There are many others listed on the Thinking Collaborative website under Strategies.

Engaged participants and a group’s facilitator should be intentionally monitoring participation. Balanced participation does not mean everyone speaks equally; instead it means everyone has an equal opportunity to speak. If a person is silent, anyone can invite participation from that member. It might be as simple as saying, “I’d like to hear from ______ about this issue because we haven’t heard from him/her. A facilitator might say, “We’ve heard from 4 of the 5 of you (notice the offering of non-judgmental data). I would like to invite the thoughts from ________.” Any group member can also offer data in a debrief about levels of participation.

Some groups actually collect data about how often each member talks. This data can be offered at the end of a meeting for reflection on how the group is balancing participation.

StJ November 13th, 2017

In October, Sustaining the Journey addressed some typical first questions asked as participants learn the power of Cognitive CoachingSM. This month, we address a few of the typical questions that are asked as participants begin to understand and embrace the principles and tenets of Adaptive Schools.

What do I do about an overbearing group member?

A guiding principle for working with others is always to presume positive intent. This requires us to try to set aside our reactions to the group member and move to assessing, nonjudgmentally, what might be going on for the group member. It is often helpful to ask oneself the question, “What might cause me to behave this way in a group?” When we can look inward, we can usually recall a time when we may have behaved in such a way for a variety of reasons, e.g., unmet needs, high emotion, feeling unheard, having a personal concern, etc.

Once we take a “high road,” it frees us to let go of emotional negativity and to move to inquiry with the person. A direct communication with the person with an intention to understand is a resourceful approach. Sometimes we suggest, “Don’t get furious, get curious”. An open-ended question that seeks to understand is an effective approach. Examples include, “What are your thoughts and feelings about our work,” What are some of your noticings about our group,” or, “How might we work together to increase our group’s effectiveness?” Following the response, the most effective way to build trust is to paraphrase with an intention to truly honor the person’s thoughts and to try to understand.

StJ November 6th, 2017

In October, Sustaining the Journey addressed some typical first questions asked as participants learn the power of Cognitive CoachingSM. This month, we address a few of the typical questions that are asked as participants begin to understand and embrace the principles and tenets of Adaptive Schools.

The first and at frequent question is:

What do I do about a group that is disrespectful to each other?

This question is related to safety concerns described by Maslow on his hierarchy of needs and as a personal concern on the Concerns Based Adoption Model. If not addressed, the group will stall in its development and perhaps fail.

In the early stages of teaming or in small PLCs, there is often no designated facilitator who is charged with managing process. A facilitator can set up processes and address norms and behaviors in a group that is not yet developed to the point of being self- managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying.

Any member of the group may suggest developing working agreements and norms of collaboration. This is best done early in the group’s work, but if it is not established, the issue can be raised at any time. A group that takes a few minutes at the end of a meeting to discuss how their meeting went will be more likely to grow in process.

Another strategy is for a member of the group or a facilitator to talk to the person about his behavior and the effect on the group. It is important not to make judgments, but to offer data, e.g., “Today you said, “I think you are out of line with that idea,” ‘You are wrong about that,” or, “That idea was rejected years ago and is not going to work here.” Data should be followed by a question such as, “What are your ideas about how that is affecting our group.” An authentic request for help can also be useful. It might sound like, “I really need your help in monitoring your comments that may feel hurtful to others.”

The Recalcitrant Coachee

How might one might deal with the recalcitrant coachee? How does one manage coaching with a person who exhibits directly or indirectly behavior that suggests that he or she does not want to engage in this type of conversation. There is probably not a single, “right” answer to those questions. However, some notions that you might take into consideration include:

• Relationship: Concentrate on securing a trusting relationship with the person. Relationship first, thinking second.
• Beliefs and identity: Consider what beliefs or identity issues might be affecting the person’s attitude towards a coaching relationship.
• States of Mind: Analyze the individual’s States of Mind to determine which state of mind might be low and interfering with his/her openness to working collaboratively.
• Be inclusive: Utilize the experience, talent, and expertise of the resistant individual in the work that you are doing, providing them with leadership opportunities.
• Be patient: If a coaching relationship is new, it may take some time to achieve a workable level of mutual understanding. Maintain a positive attitude towards the individual and assume positive intentionality on his/her part.
• Be persistent: Don’t give up!
• Be proactive: Search for personal initiatives that will contribute to working successfully with the individual.
• Preservation: Don’t wear yourself out fighting resistance. Spend 80% of your time working with those who are positive, appreciative, and benefiting from your efforts.

This week ask yourself how you respond to difficult people. Which strategies might be useful in your thoughts?

Talking and Writing by the Coach

Last week’s Sustaining the Thinking Collaborative Journey considered writing by the coach during a conversation. So what about writing by the coachee? David Sibbet, author of Visual Meetings, reminds us that gestures are the basis of all graphic representations. So as a person gestures, there is a graphic representation being offered. By matching gestures, a coach offers a mirror of the graphic representation the person is creating during the conversation. Often that is the visual cue to the person that organizes the thinking. Adding a visual metaphor in a paraphrase can also enhance the understanding of the coachee regarding his/her thinking.

Usually, we’ve found, it is unnecessary for a coachee to write. The very act of constructing one’s own thinking through conversation creates new neuronal connections in the brain that didn’t exist before. However, some people have the need to put ideas down for sustained memory. If a person starts to write or asks to write, the request should, of course, be honored. Some coaches have found it can enhance thinking for the person by offering some time to write at the end of the conversation. We believe writing is a thinking process, so there are no absolutes about how a person might need to use graphic representation of thinking as s/he speaks. The skilled coach will be consciously flexible in responding to the needs of the coachee.

What are you noticing about writing as part of your coaching conversations? What have you learned about use of graphics in coaching conversations?

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?