Understanding Adults Webinar, led by Michelle Harris

June 23, 2020
Written by
Matthew Kelly

Understanding Adults Webinar, led by Michelle Harris

July 24, 2023
June 23, 2020
Written by
Matthew Kelly

Over the past few months, we’ve focused on adapting to the new, virtual normal. We have made a series of free webinars available on the virtual coaching section of our website which cover the key concepts of coaching, such as our coaching process, The Impact Cycle, as well as helpful tools like an Instructional Playbook. But one of the most critical challenges in any helping situation is the complexity of helping adults. ICG senior consultant Michelle Harris leads us through a free webinar on navigating the complexities of working with adults.

As coaches, we want to lead to long-term change in both students and teachers. We have to make sure we are helping in a way that leads to commitment on the teachers’ part. Remember what it’s like teaching full-time in the classroom. Remember what it’s like to be a beginner. We must be patient and kind in our approach and think about the complexities of helping adults. Helping is complicated! Teachers are living, breathing, complicated professionals working with living, breathing, complicated, young human beings. We must honor the following complexities of providing support within professional relationships.


In the book Changing for Good, authors Prochaska, Norcross, DiClemente, and Crawley discuss a change cycle that helps describe how we make changes.

  • Precontemplation
  • In this stage, we don’t even notice that a change needs to happen.
  • Contemplation
  • This stage is where we notice the change we need to make, and we think about it.
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Termination

In order to truly change for good, we must first address precontemplation and help teachers move past this stage. If teachers don’t know a change needs to happen, they are not likely to believe it needs to happen. Using video helps tremendously with these first steps. Once a teacher watches a video of themselves teaching, they are no longer in the precontemplation stage because they are able to see the changes that need to happen. 


Our understanding of how competent or good we are is frequently tied to our success or failure in our work. For many of us, the stories we create about ourselves can be biased slightly in our favor. In our minds, we are more often the hero than the villain. Teachers do the same thing: develop stories that explain why they may not be achieving their goals. Through these stories and our experiences, we create our identity. If someone comes in and tells us that we’re not doing what we think we are, that can feel like a failure.

Coaches often have to speak the “hard truth,” and keeping the following in mind can address the challenges to their identity that teachers may feel:

  • It is not going to get accepted if the teacher does not see it in their mind.
  • Coaching cannot be seen as a deficit model. Instead, a culture of “we can all improve” must be cultivated through coaching.
  • If teachers think that coaches only work with teachers who are struggling, they are less likely to ask for coaching.
  • People often take it very personally when we talk about their practice.


In education, resistance often looks like compliance. Educators may agree to do something, but then revert to doing what they were doing before. This is because we all need autonomy. If someone else does all of the thinking for them, people will resist. Jim Knight’s recent article in Educational Leadership about the importance of teacher autonomy shows how the power to think and choose for oneself can lead to real and meaningful growth.


Helping situations are intrinsically unbalanced. The helper is often placed “above” the person being helped. If people feel “one down,” they will resist help. Instead, make sure that both are equals.

When coaching, there are many ways to foster this equal status:

  • Working shoulder to shoulder instead of across a table.
  • Lean in and listen more than you speak.
  • Acknowledge what they are saying.
  • Be a witness to the good when they have epiphanies or when they are talking about something that is new learning for them.


“Goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others…can sometimes have dangerous side effects.” – Daniel Pink

People aren’t motivated by other people’s goals. Sometimes, we are motivated by other people’s successes, but we need to have thought and autonomy around our own masterable goals. Not all of us learn at the same rate, so we need the freedom to choose our own goals and how to achieve them. It can be tempting to try to motivate through rewards, but rewards decrease intrinsic motivation by implying that the task is undesirable. Because most teachers are motivated by what students can and cannot do, coaches need to make sure goals are student-focused.

Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are a central part of what goes into setting a goal through ICG’s coaching process, the Impact Cycle.



The real question is how can we help in a way that impacts but also acknowledges all of these complexities? We want teachers to understand the value of coaching and to move out of a place of compliance and into a place of commitment. ICG’s Partnership Principles are a great place to start in any helping situation, and using a partnership approach can address many of the complexities of working with adults. Working within a partnership creates a deeper foundation for improvement and gives life to people’s innate love of learning.

Watch the complete webinar and let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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We love hearing how instructional coaching is impacting the life, work, and relationships of people all over the world. Leave a comment below to share your story.

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We love hearing how instructional coaching is impacting the life, work, and relationships of people all over the world. Share your story with us today.