Running a marathon is exhausting. Quite literally. I ran my first marathon in 2013 after years of injuries, false starts, and failed attempts. I ran too much, I ran too little. I ran too fast, and I ran too slow. I finally got it right, but that process was not without its challenges, and I required a significant amount of support in order to get there.

Have you ever run a marathon? Or a race of any kind? How did you do it? Did you practice? Did you train? Or did you just hop off the couch and head out there?

Running a marathon is a scaffolded process. We don’t expect people to jump off their couches and run marathons. In fact, we design training programs specifically to prevent people from doing this. If a non-runner hopped off the couch and skipped outside to run a marathon, would they be successful? Almost unequivocally they would not. Running a marathon requires skill, focus, determination, dedication, and, most of all…training.

Marathon training programs start with the basics…several miles of easy running. They include long runs, hill repeats, interval training, and rest days. They include diet recommendations, stretching regimens, and strength building exercises. It is a carefully curated process designed to build skill over time, providing individuals with specific steps to take in order to reach a goal. 

We should treat college like marathons. College success is a skill building process that happens over time, should be carefully curated, and needs to be tailored to each individual’s strengths, interests, and areas of need. Each new step of the process needs to be designed based on distance between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner, or what Lev Vygotsky calls the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

With the ZPD, Vygotsky introduces the idea of instructional scaffolding, that students need support to get from point A to point B. Again, you’d never expect someone to jump off the couch and run a marathon, right? In the same way, it is important to provide students with scaffolded steps and strategies to achieve their goals, and to recognize the achievement of these intermediate steps as successes in and of themselves. Change and growth and processes that take time, intention, and support.

We’re all about scaffolding at Virtual Hall

Our coaching model is specifically designed to meet students where they are, support them to identify areas in their life in which they want to build skill, and help them design a specific plan, full of scaffolded steps and supports, in order to get there. Much like scaffolds are removed from a building when it is ready to stand on its own, Virtual Hall scales back our supports when students have developed the skills necessary to be successful on their own. 

That’s the whole point, right?

Author:  Kyle Reardon

In addition to being a Virtual Hall Team Leader, Kyle is also a Ph.D. candidate in special education at the University of Oregon. Kyle’s scholarship emphasizes postsecondary accessibility for diverse learners and his work has been presented at numerous national and international conferences. He holds a B.A. in Music Education and an M.A. in Special Education, both from Northern Vermont University.