Can student affairs professionals be cognitive coaches?


Recently President Jose Bowen from Goucher College has suggested that college instructors now “teach naked”, meaning to unplug all technology in the classroom.  Don’t bring in a PowerPoint and read off of it, the student can do that.  Instead Bowen suggests that instructors be a “cognitive coach” to motivate students to learn.  He likens it to a personal trainer who gets to know each client, in this case each student, and find out what motivates them.  Why are they there? What is it they want to learn? And then build off that. Have open and honest discussions about the material to further each student’s learning.

This teaching method that Bowen suggests is not new, but with technology taking over so much of our lives, it is suggesting going back to the simple roots of how someone learns.  It’s stripping away the noise and centering the focus on engaging fully with the material. The student is responsible for doing the required readings and assignments. Thus they are taking part in a learning experience.  From the information they take in, they then reflect and contribute to discussions in class, furthering their learning cycle. As Bowen said “the one who does the work does the learning.”

How should student affairs professionals think about being a “cognitive coach” when it comes to student extracurricular activities?  We are understanding of the importance of experiential learning that our students engage in performing various leadership opportunities.  We train them for performing a job, then they go out and engage in the experience. We are not doing the task for them (or at least should not be doing it for them).  But are we going the extra step and serving as a “cognitive coach” for the student’s leadership development? Do we ask them to reflect on their experiences? Are we having conversations with them about their experiences and if they are learning?  We don’t have the scheduled class time to have the discussion about the materials or experience like professors do. We may have staff meetings were we do check ins to make sure they are on top of their required tasks, answer questions if needed, but are we asking them to fully engage with their experience?

This practice concept of the “cognitive coach” in the classroom should extend to the student affairs world.  I believe in theory that we all strive to be these coaches with our students who are taking part in leadership opportunities.  However, we end up not having time to implement and follow up with reflective learning because we are busy. The semester can get the best of us, and before we know it the students are going on break before we could check in with them about their experience.

If we are going to call ourselves educators and continue to advocate for the importance of our work, we need to engage our students in more intentional learning of their extracurricular experiences.  Implementing guided reflection with your students will not only aid in their learning experience as a student leader, but will help give them the tools to reflect on materials for their course work. Students have to complete assignments to get a grade in a course, we should have reflection “assignments” for our student leaders so they can continue in their position.  We already spend a lot of time with our students getting to know them.. Our positions give us the opportunity to know the students in a different way apart from how faculty learn about them. We learn students’ motivations and understand what matters to them. We have a great opportunity to be a “cognitive coach” for our student leaders.


Now time for your own reflection, some beginning prompt questions:

In what ways are you currently practicing guided reflective learning with your students?

How do you envision implementing guided reflection with your student leaders?

How will you carve out time to be a “cognitive coach”?

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