Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Using Cognitive Coaching to Build School Leadership Capacity: A Case Study in Alberta

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Using Cognitive Coaching to Build School Leadership Capacity: A Case Study in Alberta

Article excerpt


Principals, working with teachers, provide the vision for their schools and create a safe and nurturing learning environment (Gaziel, 2007; Supovitz, Sirinides, & May, 2010; Witziers, Bosker, & Kruger, 2003; Youngs & King, 2002). Importantly, principals foster high academic expectations for students (Leithwood & Jantzi, 1999, 2000a, 2000b; Nettles & Herrington, 2007). Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom (2004) concluded that school leadership "is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning" (p. 5). Later, Seashore Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, and Anderson (2010) indicated that there have been no cases of improvement in the level of student achievement without effective school leadership (see also Kaplan, Owings, & Nunnery, 2005; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2000a; Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005; Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012; Supovitz, et al., 2010).

In order to better prepare new principals to meet these expectations, their own learning needs to be properly addressed through professional development (Pedder, 2006). Individual and collaborative work should be combined to achieve this goal. The purpose of the present study was to conduct a program evaluation of the process of Cognitive CoachingSM (Costa & Garmston, 1994, 2002) included as part of the professional development Leader2Leader (L2L) Leadership Pilot Program for beginning principals in the province of Alberta, Canada.

Professional Development

Development of school leadership occurs as problems emerge and leaders acquire the ability to transfer knowledge from known solutions to new situations. Professional development designed to foster this expertise is most effective if it meets both immediate and long-term needs of school leaders. Time is needed to absorb, practice, discuss, and adapt knowledge to their working contexts (Garet, Porter, Andrew, & Desimone, 2001; Guskey, 2000). Effective professional development addresses the personal nature of learning, thus accounting for the individual needs of professionals (Clarke & Hollingsworth, 2002).

Spanneut, Tobin, and Ayers (2012) studied the professional development needs of 273 elementary, middle, and high school principals in the State of New York. Using a four-point Likert-type scale, participants rated their professional development needs with respect to 31 functions identified in the six Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards. They also rated the effectiveness of eight professional development delivery methods. Spanneut et al. reported that the principals strongly indicated that they wanted to identify their own professional development needs with respect to the 31 functions, a finding that led Spanneut et al. to conclude that principals should have "autonomy" in selecting professional development that aligns with their own plans. The most preferred delivery methods included workshops, mentoring/coaching, small study groups, and conferences. The least-preferred delivery methods were university coursework online, university course work on campus, and self-paced online learning.

A mentoring/coaching program operated by the Ontario Ministry of Education was based on a theoretical framework consistent with cognitive theory and adaptive expertise (Nanavati & Robinson, 2009). Both one-on-one coaching and group experiences positively influenced new principals' capacity in the areas identified in the Leadership Framework for Ontario. Nanavati and Robinson (2009) concluded that new principals improved their skills and their sense of confidence as new administrators by having the opportunity to network and meet other administrators in training sessions and group meetings to overcome the culture of isolation that often accompanies the first year of administration.

Cognitive Coaching[SM]

Initially developed to support teachers, Cognitive Coaching (Costa & Garmston, 1994, 2002, 2012) involves a non-judgmental and confidential relationship between a coach and teacher based on authenticity, honesty, respect, and empathy. …

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