Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Little Cognitive Dissonance Can Be a Good Thing

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting Cris Tovani for a PD day at my school.  She spent the morning meeting with our seventh and eighth grade teams, discussing ways to engage and motivate students.  In the afternoon, she met with our building literacy coaches, and we talked about ways to engage and motivate the teachers we work with in the PD we offer, not just coaching cycles, but also book studies and workshops.

One of the things I do for myself as a professional, something I have always found to be an essential part of my professional life, is to participate in professional development opportunities with an attitude of "I will learn as much as I can."  This session with Cris was no different.

We talked about the PD opportunities we provide for teachers.  We talked about how many of the teachers in our buildings take advantage of those opportunities. We talked about the cultures of the buildings in terms of teachers being learners as well.  We talked about whether or not it is ok for teachers to "opt out" of professional learning.

In one of our buildings, every core academic teacher is expected to engage in coaching, either individually or with their grade level teams.  I knew this was the expectation in this particular building, as we've talked in our coaching team about the different ways this coach makes this happen. Thinking about implementing this in my building makes my head hurt.  I am one person.  I don't know how I would physically coach roughly 40 people every year.

Cognitive dissonance.

This doesn't mean I shouldn't think about possibilities.  This doesn't mean I shouldn't consider whether or not this approach is the right one for my building.  This doesn't mean I shouldn't engage in conversation around this topic with my principal.

Cris also suggested that the learning targets our teachers use to communicate goals and expectations to students would improve the effectiveness of our PD sessions and coaching cycles.  That engaging teachers in conversation around possible targets for their coaching might increase motivation and engagement in coaching.

Cognitive dissonance.

Why wouldn't I use a technique used across the building with students, one that I've seen to be highly effective in keeping teachers focused on keeping mini-lessons short and to the point, in my coaching?  It is just as important that I keep my observations and coaching conversations to the point.

Cognitive dissonance can be uncomfortable.  It makes my brain hurt.  It makes me wonder if I really know what I'm doing at ALL.  When I am feeling this, I KNOW this means my brain is working to take in new information and fit it in to what I already know.  I KNOW that when I give myself time to process (preferably verbally with others), I can make sense of the tough questions I've been asked, and I can incorporate new ideas into my work, which ultimately makes me a better teacher and coach.

Writing this makes me wonder if I am asking the teachers I coach the questions that will provoke cognitive dissonance.  I wonder if I am offering PD workshops and book studies that will push teachers to consider their practice in new and different ways.

Am I providing opportunities that will lead to real growth?  I think this will be the big question I pursue as I reflect on my work this year.


  1. What a thoughtful post. It brought back memories of seeing Cris Tovani years ago! So glad you had the opportunity to learn from her.

    Cognitive dissonance is important in the learning process - and yes, at times makes our brain hurt! I love the questions you posed for yourself as you continue working with teachers. It is important for all learners to push ourselves, rather than just relearn/reconfirm things that are comfortable. Creating cognitive dissonance can come both in our professional and personal lives.

    Thanks for bringing this to all of us to ponder!


  2. I so appreciated this post! As a teacher educator and literacy coach, my job is to create 'intellectual unrest' as a colleague of my says within our students and teachers. It is the only way to move forward. It might be easier to step back, go through the motions and talk/work on a surface level, but unless we dig deep, learning does not occur. This was a wonderful reminder of that! @AffinitoLit

  3. This post was thought provoking and motivating. We can never be reminded too many times that we have a choice to challenge ourselves and others each day. It reminds me of what I recently read in an article..."Growth cannot be found in our comfort zone."

  4. I loved this, Mindi. The question you pose at the end... am I asking the provocative questions is one I'll take with me into my work tomorrow and, I hope, for the rest of the year!! Thank you!