Powerful Lessons From John Wooden To Apply in Today’s Classroom

2 min


Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden inspired generations of athletes, business people, and teachers everywhere. Most know him as Coach Wooden, however he was once an English teacher, and teaching was the role he most prided himself in.

We don’t revere Coach Wooden today because of his unmatched feat of winning 10 championships in 12 years. We revere him because the lessons he shared were timeless. Here are three of those valuable lessons that are still applicable for educators today.

1. It’s okay to be a slow learner.

Our unlimited access to technology and information in this hyperfast world tends to make us feel like we’re always racing against our peers. We constantly worry about falling behind or missing out. We need to realize that it’s ok to slow down.

It was in Wooden’s 16th year of coaching for UCLA when the Bruins finally won their first of 10 championships. He credits being a slow learner to the subsequent success. Coach Wooden’s famous words, “Be quick, but don’t hurry,” is advice we should all follow, especially as we dive deep into the world of EdTech.

2. The tiny details matter.

You might have heard about Coach Wooden’s obsession with how his players wore their shoes. Every player had to follow exact instructions for putting on their socks and shoes. This was for two reasons: to prevent blisters, and to prepare players to execute the game plan in a routine manner.

Wooden cared more about perfecting tiny details like this, and about proper preparation, than winning titles. It didn’t matter if you were Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), or the last guy on the bench. Habits like these create and reinforce culture.

Obsession to detail can be an equally potent habit in today’s classroom. Consider this radical idea from Dr. Justin Tarte:

Imagine the impact a simple habit such as this can have on classroom culture.

In the famous words that accompany Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, “Little things make big things happen.”

[For more stories on Coach Wooden’s habits, check out his biography, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court.]

3.  Pay attention to your surroundings.

One of the building blocks on Coach Wooden’s pyramid of success is, “Alertness: constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team.”

In the midst of the constant changes in both technology and education – the growth of online courses, digital tools, and learning strategies – it’s important that educators remain aware about the effectiveness of their use of EdTech.

It’s important to ask a lot of questions and remain focused on true improvement, efficiency, and impact. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but mindfulness is the key.

Bonus tip: Read. Read. Read.

“Drink deeply from good books,” Coach Wooden said. Look for new ways to instill good reading habits in your classroom.

Consider this chart showing four phases of independent reading shared by NYC Schools. Promoting reading in different settings requires different strategies.

Image credit: NYC Department of Education

Coach Wooden strongly believed in learning from others and he always recommended his students read, whether it was the Bible, Abraham Lincoln, or Shakespeare. He consumed countless books, extracted relevant lessons, and applied them in his lectures.

His being a passionate reader rubbed off on everyone around him. To inspire reading, especially in this age of distraction, teachers must walk the talk, and be passionate readers themselves.

Each of these lessons still resonates in 2018 with teachers and students, even those who never had the chance to follow Coach Wooden in his prime. Which of these tips inspired you the most? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Jessica Dais is a Content Marketing Specialist at TakeLessons Live, a business that offers online group classes led by live instructors in subjects like music and foreign languages.

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