Becoming Their Best: Personalized Coaching For Lifelong Learning
In a now-famous New Yorker piece, Atul Gawande, a surgeon and avid tennis player, recalls the realization he made watching a tennis match on TV. “The camera flashed to his coach, and the obvious struck me as interesting: even Rafael Nadal has a coach. Nearly every élite tennis player in the world does. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be. But doctors don’t.”
What Gawande captures in his writing is not just the realization that he had plateaued as a surgeon, but also that a coach could help him further excel. “The concept of a coach is slippery,” he says. “Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. [...] Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide.”
At META Learning, we believe our students are equally entitled to personal instructors who can observe, judge, and guide them along the way. Like Gawande, we question why learners of every age don’t have coaches to ensure they become their best selves, whatever ‘best’ may mean to them. And if the recent upsurge in coaching of all kinds has taught us anything at all, it’s that there is inherent value in learning to learn better.
Nowadays, most people are trained in a variety of disciplines and skillsets at school, where they come to value arbitrary metrics more than learning for its own sake. Eventually, they graduate and leave and are left to continue developing on their own, often without any real guidance. The result? They lose their teachers, and the learning framework they’ve been taught to need.
At META, we know coaching is really about letting your child become the best they can possibly be — and that means developing the ability to grow autonomously. We believe coaching can only unleash students’ potential because it provides them with the individualized feedback, differentiated learning, and process mastery they need to excel.
In GRIT, psychology Professor Angela Duckworth argues for the value of deliberate practice: a continuous cycle of persistent effort followed by personalized feedback. Reflecting on the constructive criticism they receive, she says, allows learners to reassess what works and what doesn’t, and then refine their practice as needed. Duckworth believes that high-quality practice — not just practice alone — will determine whether someone continues to improve. You can easily plateau, she emphasizes, “if you’re not practicing like experts do.”
Mentors at META coach students the same way a professional athlete or talented singer might be coached. Students receive personalized, constructive feedback on a variety of metrics throughout their time with us. If it’s a public speaking project, for instance, learners get regular comments on their speaking abilities, from their voice projection to their use of filler words, to the clarity of their ideas. Individualized coaching allows us to make feedback frequent and fulfilling, as opposed to the typical classroom setting, where a teacher might talk to a group of 30 and hope that those 30 all find their way.
At META Learning, we also invite technical experts to join our educational panels. They act as mentors to our students, teaching them the steps to accomplishing a certain task, or how to work through industry problems. Moreover, our technical experts help guide our students with real-world feedback: constructive criticism that’s both crucial and sometimes hard to receive. If our learners miss their mark, we think they need to hear it from their mentors. Receiving constructive critique could ultimately be one of the most powerful learning experiences your child will ever have.
In traditional schools, teachers rarely have the bandwidth to support every learner on an individual basis. Simply put, a student-teacher ratio of 35 to 1 makes it extremely difficult for instructors to help each child do their best. In contrast, META’s 3-to-1 student-teacher ratio means we can take a holistic approach to differentiated learning.
At META, we think a great coach develops a deep intuition for what each learner needs to thrive on their own. For instance, the legendary Juilliard violin instructor, Dorothy Delay, focused on teaching her virtuosos “to try new and difficult things, to perform without fear. She expanded their sense of possibility.” According to Barbara Lourie Sand, her biographer, Delay was “basically in the business of teaching her pupils how to think, and to trust their ability to do so effectively.”
This is what our talent coaches aim to replicate at META. When our students get a better sense of what invigorates them and in what they’d like to excel in, we select the right coach for each child based on these interests. These mentors then get to know each student on a personal basis to help them grow in skill and maturity.
In addition to personal coaching, we use a tool called the Map Test to gauge student learning at META. This framework is a great way to evaluate each student’s skill set and check for potential gaps in what they’re learning. For example, if we notice a student is showing signs of dyslexia, we can immediately change how we work with that learner specifically. With the Map test and differentiated learning, we can ensure a personalized response to any roadblocks in a student’s development along the way.
One of the first things John Wooden did when he first met the UCLA Bruins players was to teach them how to put on their socks. As ridiculous as this may sound, Wooden had very good reasons for what he did, and he told his players so. Not wearing socks properly, or tying your shoes well, he explained, would lead to blisters. And who can be at the top of their game when their feet are aching? Wooden would go on to see ten victories at the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in his 12 years with the UCLA Bruins.
What Wooden emphasized was the importance of paying attention to the nuances of success. He wanted to get the socks right because even footwear can help create success. “It’s the little details that are vital,” he’d say. “Little things make big things happen.”
At META, we want to make the little things right for our students, too. That’s why we work with the nuances of their creation process, project management, or public speaking to fast-track them to success. In this sense, we pay attention to the learning process as much as we do to the learning outcomes, if not more. Our mentors, talent coaches, and guest experts work closely with our learners to ensure that they have every bit of knowledge and advice they could need to excel in their own goals. We don’t let little things — habits, assumptions, details — hold a student back.
Why Alternative Education?
Whether it’s through constructive feedback, personalized learning, or an eye for the little things, we give each learner at META the support network they need to thrive. We ensure they have access to coaches who truly know them: coaches who believe in their strengths, respect their weaknesses, and are there to support them at all times. Coaching also helps our students develop their transformative competencies, from adding value and developing new ideas to reconciling tensions and taking responsibility.
Ultimately, our approach to coaching is geared towards personal development; we help students flourish as human beings and as contributors to society. After all, one of the issues with standardized learning is that it’s standardized, right? At META, we know that every student learns differently, and we refuse to teach them all the same way. We ensure we get to know our students through coaching because we know the future of learning is personalized.