Most of us became coaches because we were great teachers and sometimes it can be a little bit surprising to recognize that adults learn a little bit differently. Today’s post is all about the ways that teaching adults is a little bit different than teaching students. There are some really important elements that are worth knowing as an instructional coach.

6 Ways Working with Adults is Different than Working with Students

I’ve organized this post into six things about teaching adults that are different than working with students. You might find a bit of overlap here in terms of the ideal environment you want to create for students, but these are solid expectations for working with teachers. It’s important to remember that although lots of the parallels are here between the way we wish student learning happened, this is the way we really need adult learning to happen. All of this is based on the adult learning theory, andragogy.

1:: Adults Need to Know the WHY

Adults have a need to know why each part of this learning is important to their overall goal. Usually adults are learning by choice and usually they have a goal in mind. So it’s important for them to know how all the different pieces fit together, as opposed to being perhaps more subject based as you might see in school or more prescribed based on the curriculum. This helps them understand how everything fits together.

2:: Adults Bring Prior Experience

The second important thing to know is that adults bring a lot of prior experience to their own professional growth and professional learning. They have much more life experience to draw from as compared to students who are really just kind of eyes wide, open learning everything as they go. You can tap into that prior experience of adults and use it to help further their own learning.

3:: Adults Need to Be Self-Directed

Adults need to be involved in the choices that they make, involved in the planning, and the evaluation and how that learning works. They already know how to learn. They’re not younger children who need to learn how to learn. They know how to do that already. So the goal would be to strive for autonomy, as opposed to the teacher kind of primarily directing what’s learned in the classroom. The adults can be much more self-directed. So this is really important for coaches to help teachers feel like they’re moving towards their own goal on their own path, with their own initiative and motivation and self direction.

4:: Adults Have a Readiness to Learn

Usually adult learning is focused on practice, application and purpose. They’re in charge of the direction of their learning and they know the time is right for them to learn. That’s how they form that relationship with their coach, because they’re ready to take that next step versus younger learners, which are usually just of trusting the process of the teacher. Adults already know what they know, they’re independent self-directed they have that prior experience. They know what the next step is for them. So they’re actually ready to learn.

5:: Adults Need Learning to Be Experiential (Rather Than Content Oriented)

In many cases, this is exactly how we want to teach in the classroom, but we really want to make this a very authentic experience for adults where we facilitate learning rather than having direct instruction. We talk about this in coaching conversations all the time about asking probing questions and looking for the answer within the teacher, as opposed to just telling them the solution. The same applies for when you’re designing professional development to find, create, and facilitate diverse opportunities to learn the same content, as opposed to just telling the adult what it is that they should know. Instead of being teacher directed, you’re very student focused. This is probably a key similarity between the way we want students to be learning and the way we want adults to be learning. Generally speaking, we need to be really mindful of that in our adult learning opportunities, we need to really emphasize the learner directed nature of this experience.

6:: Adults are Intrinsically Motivated to Learn

Adults have a personal or professional choice and chance to grow, they know when they want to get better. That’s something, as coaches, we should remember all the time, because even sometimes when teachers are struggling or they’re not necessarily ready to take that next step with you, they do always want to be better as teachers, as learners, as professionals. They have that intrinsic motivation versus sometimes our students, the motivation is just to finish this course or finish this school year or their parents are motivating them, or they want to pass a test. This is that intrinsic motivation of trying to get better at the practice and craft that is teaching that they are so passionate about.

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Level Up Your Coaching with The Coach Microcredential

Better understanding how to work with adults is key to success as an instructional coach. If you are ready to commit to your professional growth, please join us for our next cohort of The Coach Microcredential. Registration opens only once a year, and we would love to have you in our next cohort.

After a very unusual year, now is the time to invest in yourself, to build up your professional learning network of educators around the world and connect with a community that inspires you! Plus, you’ll have a mentor who is an outside sounding board who will help you get outside of the group think or tunnel vision you might be stuck in, in your school context.

Since the program is sustained over an entire academic year, you are growing with your coach over that time, helping deepen your learning throughout the course of the program. The regular meetings with your mentor will help you reflect on the coaching challenges and opportunities that you find yourself presented with.

The Coach follows all of these adult learning principals, and is totally customized to you. We have standard content that we share with everyone, but then each time you meet with your mentor, every conversation is tailored exactly to your needs, including regular check-ins that will help provide you with customized resources that you need to help you keep growing in your role.

If you are ready to make a bigger impact in your school context, The Coach is for you! Learn more here!