All blocks in the Pyramid of Success rest upon the blocks below, so a review of the cornerstones of the first two rows is an appropriate beginning to a discussion of the middle three blocks. Start with just a reminder of what those blocks are: Industriousness and Enthusiasm, and Self-Control and Intentness. As you discuss the middle three blocks. students will clearly see how important all four cornerstones are in supporting the acquisition of Condition, Skill, and Team Spirit.
From the perspective of an athlete, it is easy to see the need for conditioning. TV sports commentators are constantly talking about the importance of conditioning in the fourth quarter of a game. Better conditioned teams often win games at the end although they had trailed through most of the contest. Ask students if there is such a thing as academic conditioning. Discuss some of the patterns of thinking that accompany academic conditioning. That would include valuing the work and not laughing with buddies about not doing homework. Ask them also how a person acquires academic conditioning. The answer is that academic conditioning is produced the same way that athletic conditioning is. If a couch potato decides to run a marathon, he or she does not just go out and run a 26-mile course. The runner may have to start with just a run down the block and continue that for a week before adding another block.
Likewise, some students have seldom studied. At first, setting aside just 10 or 15 minutes each night may be an appropriate beginning. The new learner may also need support or a “running buddy.” I am not talking about someone for conversation. A running buddy is more like the coach who rides behind the runner on a bicycle making sure that a discipline is established. For a learner, that might be a parent who establishes a study place where distractions can be minimized and work can be verified. Once that good pattern is established, it can then be lengthened at appropriate intervals.
Take a moment to glance down at the four cornerstones and ask students which ones are the most important in helping a student grow in the area of academic conditioning. Clearly all four play a vital role. Industriousness or work and the repetition of it is exactly how conditioning is created. Without Enthusiasm for the goal, it will be difficult to maintain the effort. Of course, there will be temptations and distractions from sticking to the program. Self-control will be essential when distractions threaten to break the creation of a new habit of work. Focus or Intentness on the goal will be vital. By the way, that means keeping one’s eye on the end result and not the present pain. In this case, we are talking about a life-changing goal of transforming a student into someone who has the strength or potency to take control of life and begin taking an active role in shaping his or her own life. I don’t know about you, but this is exciting to me!
Skill is at the very heart of the Pyramid. Success is not possible without skill, and every student knows that skill is attained through practice and that practice is basically hard work. The long road to achieving complex skills will require Self-control, Intentness, Industriousness and Enthusiasm.
Some students will recognize the value of Team Sprit on an athletic team, but ignore its importance in academics. As a matter of fact, academic excellence is often seen as an individual accomplishment, and the world of academics can be so competitive that the benefit of Team Spirit is completely lost.
Team Spirit, however, can have a very beneficial impact on academic achievement. Many years ago, I was asked to be the adviser of the school newspaper. It was a mess. The staff members were students who really did not want to even be in the class. The first order of business was to create a culture of excellence. Of course, that took time and a major commitment of effort, but once the spirit was established, it changed everything. Within a few years, the newspaper was winning national awards. I have seen that pattern repeated many times by other teachers and coaches who took over failing programs and transformed them into championship ones. Students who believe in excellence begin to want to be a part of such a program, and as they bring their attitudes and skills to the organization, other students begin to rise to that standard.
The implications for the classroom are clear. As teachers, we have to create a classroom culture that creates a Team Spirit that encourages students to take pride in their accomplishments. Part of that is creating a spirit of celebration where students applaud the achievements of their classmates. Team Spirit does cause students who are problems on one teacher’s class to become assets in other classes. I think that the reason some teachers find their classes falling apart and sometimes even turning on them is really a failure to create a positive team spirit in the classroom.