Beans & Rice for the Soul

teaching, learning and living around the world

Correspondence with a Kindred Spirit

The first time Anga came home from a lesson with Vicky Kuo, I asked him how it went.

He said, “Wow, Sara. Wow. Just… whoa. You’re going to love her. Wow.”

Then he enthusiastically walked me through a series of diagrams she’d drawn and gushed about how she made everything so clear.

He had me at wow. But the gushing about clarity?
I had a feeling this could be one of the great ones.

A few weeks later we went down to Providence to meet with her to make a long term plan for the remainder of Anga’s pilot training. Afterwards, when we walked back to the car I just kept saying ‘wow’ over and over.

She is undoubtedly one of the greats.

A thank you note was in order.

Dear Vicky,
I was incredibly impressed with the way that you could so concretely describe Anga’s skills and application ability.  I also deeply appreciate your tone- filled with high expectations for becoming a safe pilot, respect for Anga and optimism that with hard, focused work he will be able to get to the finish line! It was the first time in a long time that I’ve witnessed such excellent instruction. I can literally count on one hand the number of teachers on this earth that I rave about- and now you’re one of them!
On many occasions I’ve looked to other disciplines- flying airplanes, playing music- to better understand how to break down a complex craft into training.  It was music to my ears to hear you talking about mastery as the combination of skill automaticity and knowledge application.  The goal of my entire career is to bring that same level of clarity and focus to way more teachers and way more teacher training programs all over the world.
Thank you for all you do.
A little while later
she replied-

Dear Sara,

I am so happy that we were able to meet. As I told Anga tonight, I think had we worked in the same circles, we would have been great friends. Thank you for your kind words. I know what it feels like to help students – to listen to their needs and their concerns and to come up with a plan that caters to their strengths. But to have someone appreciate the effort that is required to be creative and consistent with that plan is rare, so thank you for your email. It means a lot to me.


Perhaps sharing a little bit of my background will help you understand where I have come from – and maybe there is something to share about teaching. I love teaching and it really comes from a background of teaching just from my passion of a variety of hobbies and sports.

I had four very different children, who are all now full grown. But before them, I taught music (piano) to help pay for tuition which showed me where meaningful repetition mattered and the difference between deliberate and blocked practice.

I also taught swimming over the summers (growing up as a competitive swimmer) – having success with the most timid in the water to develop full confidence at any depth. I found a way to gain the trust of my students and show them adventures they didn’t dream possible. It was using creative tactics – not really studied, but thoughtful of each student’s needs. I learned what motivated them.

I taught fencing because I couldn’t afford to leave college to pursue a dream to make it to the Olympics! But that gave me as much satisfaction as becoming an accomplished fencer, because it taught me how to teach strategy and planning ahead to survive!

I taught medical students surgery and histology as well as microscopy, which helped me teach others where precision mattered, and that you had to have a plan B and C when things don’t go as you hoped.

Then of course, I had four children… a musician, a problem solver, an artist and a curious child who could create and destroy things in the most unusual ways.

It wasn’t until I started my aviation career that I took a course on how to teach effectively. Hmmm – it was interesting to read about things that I had done, thought about and tried – and that there were terminologies for everything!

I thought this might give you a little insight to who I am and perhaps give you a sense of my varied background of experience that I draw from. I think as teachers, we are always learning from people around us and our students on how we can improve our own teaching skills.

Have a great weekend and I hope to stay in touch!

The journey alone is inspiring!
Even more so for me though was each lesson learned about teaching.
The importance of understanding
  • where meaningful repetition matters and the difference between deliberate and blocked practice.
  • how to use creative tactics to gain the trust of students and show them adventures they didn’t dream possible.
  • what motivates them and being thoughtful of each student’s needs
  • how to teach strategy and planning ahead to survive
  • how to teach others where precision matters, and that you have to have a plan B and C when things don’t go as you hoped.

Alas, I’ve found a kindred spirit in Vicky Kuo.


3 comments on “Correspondence with a Kindred Spirit

  1. Sally
    April 7, 2016

    Great story and glad Anga has such an inspiring instructor now.

  2. Lonnie Rich
    April 8, 2016

    Wonderful to discover great teachers. They all like people, different people. What is the difference between deliberate and blocked practice?

    • Sara Rich
      April 10, 2016

      Good question! There are different ways to practice deliberately but in general it means highly organized, repeated practice that drives toward a specific skill. In basketball for example, if you want to get good at layups you’d do 50 layups on the right side of the hoop and then 50 layups on the left side of the hoop everyday. Deliberately practicing layups.

      Blocked practice means getting to a certain level of mastery on one thing before moving onto the next. In basketball for example, you could do something like require every player on your team to reach a 75% success rate on free-throws before they can move on to start practicing three pointers.

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This entry was posted on April 7, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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