What Educators Can Learn From John Wooden


Following up on my post about Steve Jobs, and given the death of the great John Wooden I thought it was timely to write another post about what we can learn by listening to great thinkers. I never knew a lot about John Wooden when I was young. My dad was always a football guy so that was what we watched. But when I moved to Syracuse about twelve years ago to begin my career I became quite a big college basketball fan, and began through conversations about the game to learn about the great coaches including John Wooden. Take a look at this TED talk he gave in 2001 (when he was 91 years old).


Here are some of the important lessons I pull from this speech:

  • “And that’s not right. The good lord in his infinite wisdom didn’t create us all equal as far as intelligence is concerned, any more than we’re equal for size, appearance. Not everybody could earn an A or a B, and I didn’t like that way of judging it.” – This seemingly simple statement has profound implications for me as a teacher and as a person who is interested in education reform. How would the educational landscape change if this philosophy were adopted everywhere?
  • “Never try to be better than someone else, always learn from others.” – More than anything this is a character lesson that we have the responsibility of conveying to our students and it seems to be a perfect companion to the point above. It is also absolutely essential in this era we are living in. It is a lesson I have learned this year through the interactions with my PLN, we should encourage all of our students to form their own PLNs. Students need to learn who they can learn from.
  • “Never cease trying to be the best you can be — that’s under your control. If you get too engrossed and involved and concerned in regard to the things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.” – This is one that is easily forgotten. Nothing causes us more stress than spending valuable and finite energy worrying about things over which we have no control. This energy can be redirected to things that we actually can control.
  • Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable. –This is his famous definition of success. There is an image of his pyramid of success above.
  • I think it’s like character and reputation. Your reputation is what you are perceived to be; your character is what you really are. And I think that character is much more important than what you are perceived to be. You’d hope they’d both be good. But they won’t necessarily be the same. – This is simply one of the most profound things I have ever heard. Of course it is something we have always known but rarely considered. In the age of digital literacy this lesson is as important as ever. As students build online reputations are they losing sight of who they truly are?
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2 thoughts on “What Educators Can Learn From John Wooden

  1. ktenkely says:

    Chris, thank you for sharing this video, I hadn’t seen it. One of the best I have seen on TED (and that is saying something!). I can only hope that I am so cohesive and well spoken at 91!
    This is a video that every teacher in every school should watch. There are a lot of basic, fundamental keys for education, learning, and life. You are right, they seem like common sense, and yet, it is becoming more and more absent in our society.

  2. Sparky says:

    Enjoyed this thought-provoking article. A quote from a similar background that I think is excellent is:

    “The country is full of good coaches. What it takes to win is a bunch of interested players.”
    Don Coryell (ex-coach, San Diego Chargers)

    It’s up to us to get them interested.

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