Over the span of my career in education, I have had the opportunity to experience two distinct coaching models - Cognitive Coaching and RELAY. As I reflect on my experience as an educator and coach, I find myself comparing the two models and exploring why I strongly prefer one approach to the other. Before I continue with my comparison, it is important to note that I have only attended training for Cognitive Coaching. My experience with RELAY is limited to a quick introduction to the model in a general coaching course, my experience being coached with the model as a teacher, and my experience rating coaching candidates as a member of my school's personnel committee.
My previous blog post on Cognitive Coaching primarily discussed the strengths of the training itself in terms of how well it exemplifies best practices for adult learners. It's been almost three years since I wrote this post. During that time I have been able to implement the coaching techniques presented, especially in my current role as a Digital Coach. I believe there are distinct characteristics of Cognitive Coaching that make it an excellent fit for my strengths and has contributed to my success as an instructional coach. Before I dive more deeply into those characteristics, let me first provide an overview of the two models through a concrete example.
To prepare for this hypothetical coaching conversation, I created documents to prepare for the coaching conversation, one using the RELAY framework and one using Cognitive Coaching. While preparing these documents, I was able to make a comparison of the two models.
Based on this experience, I find that Cognitive Coaching is more consistent with my coaching philosophy. Below are the values and beliefs that guide my coaching practice:
Cognitive Coaching also utilizes my strength in asking deep questions to facilitate teacher thinking. The model starts with the premise that all teachers are capable of determining meaningful next steps to improve their instruction. For those teachers who get stuck, Cognitive Coaching also allows the coach to step into a more directive, consulting role with the permission of the teacher. This simple act of asking permission allows the model to maintain a partnership atmosphere and leads to a more positive experience. The flexibility this provides also makes it easy to adjust the conversation to the needs of the teacher - whether they simply need a thought partner or they need someone to make recommendations for their classroom.
In contrast, when preparing a conversation with RELAY, I did not feel like I was able to ask enough questions to elicit deep reflection. I felt pressure to force a teacher to accept the next steps I deemed right for them, instead of taking ownership of determining next steps for themselves. The practice opportunity felt too much like a performance task and I did not get the feedback I wanted as a coach to make sure that our coaching conversations were meeting the teacher's needs. As a teacher, I dreaded coaching conversations that used RELAY, knowing that I would be asked to work on instructional goals that may not interest me in order to appease my evaluator. Overall, the approach feels inconsistent with my coaching philosophy and does not use my personal strengths.
What coaching models do you prefer and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Mattea Garcia is a passionate creative educator dedicated to improving the student experience. This blog is dedicated to reflections on educational technology tools, instructional coaching, and educational equity.