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Teaching John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success - Introduction and the First Four Blocks

John Wooden describes success as the Peace of Mind that comes from the Self-Satisfaction in knowing that you did the best that you are capable of doing. Anyone can find success according to that definition and the journey through the Pyramid of Success can change everything in a student’s life.

I teach the blocks in small chunks. The first are the cornerstones of the whole Pyramid: Industriousness and Enthusiasm. It is appropriate that Enthusiasm be taught first because the whole Pyramid must be taught and learned with an enthusiasm that grows out of the idea that the students are actually learning the steps to transform their lives.

First, the term Industriousness needs to be defined. Once students understand that it is about work, they all recognize that work is necessary for success. Then ask students if they can change their attitude toward a class and bring more enthusiasm toward the subject. They will agree that they can if they want to do so. Point out to students that if they adopt just these two blocks, their lives and their grades would improve dramatically. Please remember to check John Wooden’s website at for how he views each of the blocks of his Pyramid.

After each “chunk” of the Pyramid, I give a quiz. The first quiz requires the students to draw a pyramid with five blocks on the bottom row, four blocks on the row above, three on the row above that, and so on. The only blocks they have to fill in at this point are the cornerstones: Industriousness and Enthusiasm.

While you are teaching the blocks, be looking for other ways to relate student’s lives to the specific blocks of the Pyramid. For example, if you are choosing Students of the Week, you could try choosing them based on the blocks you are teaching. Choose a student one week who is a hard worker and put his or her picture on the Industriousness block on the classroom Pyramid of Success. Do the same the next week for a student chosen as Student of the Week for an enthusiastic attitude. On our Freshmen Team, we also give proclamations to students who are recognized as examples of the blocks in the Pyramid. At the end of the year, there are cash prizes for the students who are chosen as examples of the blocks.

The second chunk that I teach is the cornerstones of the second row: Self-Control and Intentness. I once saw a Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens video that had a good object lesson for teaching about Self-Control. The presenter asked students to imagine two students who both overslept on a weekday morning. The presenter began shaking a Coke bottle in one hand and a water bottle in the other. He continued describing the hard time that the students got from their parents only to arrive at school to be given a hard time by the school attendance personnel. All the while the presenter is continuing to shake the bottles. He continues the story as the two students enter separate classrooms where they both encounter more trouble from their teachers as they enter the class late. The presenter then asks a student, “Which of these bottles do you think I should open?” Students usually suggest that the presenter open the Coke bottle. The presenter then hands the Coke to the student and says, “Okay, go ahead and open it.” Finally, the presenter points out that each student represented by the bottles went through the same thing, but one is ready to explode and the other is not.

Self-Control is a quality with an easy supply of examples. If your students study Romeo and Juliet, they can see the destructive nature of a lack of self-control. Students see its role in the lives of their friends and in their own lives. Discussion of this topic should be easy and lively. You may want to include one of my students’ favorite quotes into the discussion: “The reason that most people fail instead of succeed is that they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.” Students really like that quote because they can easily see how they give up the lives they really want when they fail to use self-control.

Intentness is a word that students do not naturally understand. I use the term focus to explain it and often talk about the idea of “keeping your eye on the ball.” One of the most important quotes our Freshman Team uses provides a good explanation. “Someone once asked Socrates, ‘What is the best way to reach Mt. Olympus?’ He answered, ‘Make sure you take every step in that direction.’ “ Therefore, I tell students that the Intentness block is the “Mt. Olympus block.”

As you do with the first two blocks, continue to find examples of people in your subject matter who had the characteristics of Self-Control and Intentness and take a moment to discuss how those qualities impacted the lives of those people.

It is now time for a second quiz. Again, the students are to draw all the blocks of the Pyramid, but they only need to name the cornerstones of the first and second rows. You could ask them to write about different people in their lives who represent each of the four blocks of the Pyramid of Success.

Next: The top three – Competitive Greatness, Poise, and Confidence

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Comment by Vicki Dye on February 27, 2013 at 4:53pm

Thank  you Scott--

Comment by Scott Habeeb on February 27, 2013 at 4:38pm

Vicki - not aware if it's for sale anywhere.  You might check out  However, I know that John Wooden gave it away so you might consider making your own.  Lots of teachers at our school have done that.  We also use student planners from Premier Agendas that incorporate the blocks of the pyramid in them.  Premier gave us some posters of the pyramid.

Comment by Vicki Dye on February 27, 2013 at 4:29pm

Is there a place to purchase a poster of the pyramid?  We would love to have it in our classrooms?

Comment by Scott Habeeb on August 26, 2009 at 8:56pm
Sounds good - that sort of training is right up Ray's and my alley.
Comment by Guy Skrobul on August 26, 2009 at 8:51pm

Currently we do not have a website for the Academy, but the idea has come up in our weekly team meetings. Once we create one, I would love for you to post a link to it.

One thing that is in the works is a move to a freshman center in about two years when the new middle school is completed. At that time we plan on totally adopting the teaming concept with two groups of four teachers. I have secured grant money to assist in the training of the teachers. I will be in touch as to how we can best coordinate the training.

Have a great school year as well and I look forward to our discussions!

Comment by Scott Habeeb on August 24, 2009 at 12:21pm
Have a great school year, Guy. If you guys have any successes or ideas to post from Indiana be sure to share them with the network. Does your Freshman Academy have a good website I should post a link to?
Comment by Guy Skrobul on August 24, 2009 at 9:19am

Thanks for your excellent ideas on utilizing the 'Pyramid of Success' in classrooms. I especially like the comparison of the Coke and water bottles and want to use it soon. We have copies of the Pyramid in our Freshman Academy rooms and hallways and were going to begin looking for ways to incorporate them into our classes. You have given us a great start. Thanks again and I look forward to reading about the next three blocks!


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