Educational Leadership and Principles of Cognitive Psychology


Educational Leaders can benefit greatly from the principles of Cognitive Psychology. It is a valid, quantifiable field that is able to help us understand a wide range of issues as they pertain to Education and Learning.

The research behind Cognition has been focussed on how we think and the way we learn, and more specifically on the systematic biases in of the schemas that we hold about the ways the world works. The theory behind our Cognition basically posits that our cognitions (thoughts, beliefs and assumptions), will trigger our affect, behaviour and our motivation. In other words, how we feel will affect how we behave, and they will in turn have profound effects on our motivation to learn.

Basically, biases and distortions are often the barriers to an effective education, and therefore, we need to address them within our education system.  Once we begin to recognized what those barriers are, we can engage in discussion, assessment, and appropriate intervention strategies. Intervention strategies can include effective ways for educators to begin to disrupt the thought patterns that lead to ineffective learning behaviours. This is essential to help students and Teachers alike to create positive change in the education system.

 All humans have the ability to engage in metacognition, and evaluate our own thoughts, it is those thoughts which in turn elicit behaviours. Thoughts certainly affect personality. Therefore, Educators and Leaders can use this premise in order to help students and employees to identify and change any dysfunctional or maladaptive thoughts, in order to improve behaviour and increase achievement and success.

Three cornerstones of Cognitive Psychology in Education Leadership includes:

a) The necessity to recognize the ability for students to self-monitor their own thoughts and behaviour,

b) The ability for Educator(s) and students to collaboratively engage in appropriate activities and schedules, and

c) Continually and actively challenging and what you think you already know about learning and education.

Self-monitoring is an excellent tool that teachers can use with students, to encourage more reflection, and metacognition skills (thinking about the way we think). Once students develop an increased awareness of their thoughts, then educators can help students engage in appropriate activity scheduling to help students actively dispute maladaptive thoughts, which will in turn affect maladaptive functioning and behaviours in the classroom.

Ineffective behaviours usually arise due to ineffective thought systems and reflexive responses. However, we as humans have the power to be active agents in our own development. Therefore, educational leaders can help students and stakeholders to engage in  activities that include strategies to invoke explicit and deliberate thinking, goal setting, problem solving, and long term planning. With careful questioning and activities such as personalized homework assignments, Educators can help students learn to use conscious control of their thoughts in order to recognize and override unsuccessful behaviour patterns and ineffective choices.

Other specific activity scheduling strategies can include (but not limited to)

  • Role Playing
  • Social Skills training
  • Assertiveness Training, and
  • Talking Circles.

In addition, embedding Character Education, Community building, and a Culture of Caring within our schools is also extremely important to restoring public confidence in the education system, in addition to improving transitions from elementary to high school, and high school to higher education.

It is important for Educators to use active questioning strategies to bring about new learning by:

1) Working with Students and Colleagues to clarifying and defining problem areas

2) Assisting in the identification of thoughts, images and assumptions

3) Examining the meanings of events for a student

4) Assessing the consequences of maintaining maladaptive thoughts and behaviours

5) Actively challenging those thoughts, images, and assumptions via appropriate educational intervention strategies.

Educators have the ability to impact the ‘whole’ student, and also using these Cognitive Psychology principles to understand how we learn, in addition to other dimensions of a student’s personality, including anxiety and depression in our students. An increasing variable that we as educators are facing when educating each cohort. Cognitive Theory posits that people suffering from depression and anxiety are not consciously seeking failure in their lives, but distorting their own reality by adopting negative views of themselves, and of their potential for happiness. Another key assumption is that negative automatic thoughts are developed through everyday experiences that are perceived as negative. To manage these variables, Educators can engage in Activity Scheduling interventions are excellent ways to actively dispute negative thoughts and behaviours!

In terms of applying principles of Cognitive Psychology, we as educators can use these thoughts to serve as hypotheses and subject them to validation. Examples  of validating our hypotheses of our students may include the use of homework tasks and assignments where students  actually test their own understanding and hypotheses about themselves and their own learning. This essentially builds excellent metacognition skills. Examples include helping students  and can make personal observations to refute (or confirm) their hypotheses of their own thoughts and behaviours. Therefore, Educational Leadership is always about allowing others to be active participants in developing their own metacognitive and reflection skills!

D. McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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