Agentic Engagement for Adults | Toby Elmore | 4 Min Read

Those of you familiar with my blog will know my borderline obsession with the construct of agentic engagement. In the past I have posted regarding what it might mean to have agentic engagement as an overarching pedagogical and curricular goal as well as the ways that my thinking around agentic engagement has shifted as I have dug deeper into the literature. To this point, most of my research and work around agentic engagement has been focused on the relationship between classroom environments and students’ perceived agentic engagement. 

However, I have come to realize that agentic engagement can (and should) also be considered within the context of hierarchical supervisorial and coaching relationships. Several questions must be addressed in order to unpack the relationship between agentic engagement and adult professional relationships. First, what does agentic engagement mean and look like in the context of a supervisory, coaching, or collegial relationship? Second, what practices can be undertaken on the part of a supervisor, coach, or colleague to facilitate professional agentic engagement? And third, what strategies can be employed to measure the degree to which the supervisor achieves their desired outcomes? 

As with the learner/instructor classroom context, the control and autonomy dichotomy is critical to fostering healthy relationships. As Ryan and Deci (2000) posit in their articulation of Self-Determination theory, all humans have three basic psychological needs that need to be met to foster a healthy and constructive intrinsic motivation: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Autonomy is not just for kids in school, we adults need it as well. Like, we really need it to be healthy in our respective work environments. While it might be easy for us to list off traits of controlling supervisors or colleagues with whom we have worked, it is helpful to take stock of what the literature says regarding how the continuum of autonomy and control plays out in the professional context. Let’s start with control. 

As Reeve (2015) writes, “Interpersonal control is the exertion of psychological and behavioral pressure to coerce someone to change the way they think, feel, or behave.” This can be particularly prevalent in hierarchical relationships where one person is deemed the “expert” or “veteran” or supervisor. This type of autonomy-suppressive behavior often uses damaging strategies such as shaming and guilt-induction (Barber, 1996). Perhaps most damaging is the conditional regard that often accompanies such behavior. As I wrote about some time ago, conditional negative and…

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Toby Elmore

Toby Elmore is studying at the University of San Francisco School of Education.