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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Serving Staff and Students with Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching - Littleton Public Schools

Authored By:

Carolee Hayes


February 11, 2024

For 2024, STJ is taking a new focus.  Moving away from research and theory, instead each month will focus on a school or system making impact through Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools practices.  If you would like to nominate a school or organization to be featured, please contact Carolee Hayes at

This month we peek in to the work with both Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching in Littleton Public Schools through an interview held with Mandy Leensvaart, Director of Learning and Teaching.  Mandy is an agency trainer for both AS and CC.  Littleton is located in Littleton Colorado and has three high schools, 4 middle schools, and 10 elementary schools. 


Mandy has been leading this work since 2019 and takes pride in the value it adds to the culture of educational practice in LPS.  If one were to walk around in LPS, it would be evident the work is present. Some examples are:

  • Monthly administrative meetings always begin with inclusion along a theme of belonging. 

  • The processes and content of AS are visible in meetings across the district in grade levels, work groups, and leadership teams

  • Dialogue and discussion are valued and labeled on many agendas.

  • Teachers are using AS strategies with students and reporting with pride on the impact.  • Reflection is highly valued and evident in multiple practices. 

  • Principals are pacing students and using CC skills with behavioral issues. 

  • The third track of applying strategies with students is integrated into the district’s equity work, contributing to both teacher and student efficacy.

  • Videos have made of district staff in coaching conversations across all roles and positions so that staff will have local, authentic examples of how coaching lives in their everyday work.

I was curious to learn more from Mandy about how a district could infuse the work of Thinking Collaborative into a system so deeply in such a short time.  She has led the work thoughtfully, first researching a variety of models and then pursuing her own deep learning before bringing others along.  She made certain the work aligned with the values of LPS and brought leadership to the table from the very beginning.  Together, a commitment was made to make both a financial and time commitment, knowing this was long term work.  Investment was made in early adopters with plans to include newcomers for the future.  Trainers were developed to build internal capacity and key players attended Advanced.  The first AS training had teams from over half the schools and others were required to attend a second training. With that level of saturation, Mandy feels this training has reached the identity and beliefs levels of Dilts for many in the system.  Because LPS is smaller than some local districts, there were already strong relationships and high trust, creating readiness.  The work has become transformational for many leaders.

Mandy expressed gratitude for the quality of professional development she received in being mentored as a trainer.  The process, while rigorous, solidified her values while helping her access the gifts she brings. She believes AS and CC teach the skills, knowledge, and dispositions of leadership that are missing in most formal preparation programs.


It is important to Mandy and LPS that Thinking Collaborative address the polarity between content fidelity and adaptivity.  Current research might assist in alignment to what we know in 2024.  Equity needs to be addressed in both AS and CC work.  Mandy expressed her gratitude for the high quality of professional development she has received from Thinking Collaborative and advocated for continued attention to the kind of work that has developed her knowledge, skills, attitudes, and identity.


I was struck by how much some of the findings were similar to those of my last interview in Rangon, even though the organizations are strikingly different:

  • Leaders should approach AS  and CC as culture building and commit to long term work. Building culture focuses on shared values.

  • The leaders must live the AS/CC work and model it daily. Applying it to difficult work gives it authenticity and meaning.

  • The entire school community must be included and engaged.

  • Continued reiteration of the what, why, and how matters.

Thank you, Mandy


Mandy Leensvaart

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