Wooden Wednesdays: Overlooked Habits 1

Note: this is the sixteenth of a series of posts investigating the leadership style of John Wooden and its applicability to choral music education.

We have reviewed the fifteen traits John Wooden included in his Pyramid of SuccessThroughout, I felt there was a universality to his selected traits as applicable to all disciplines, despite his developing them as a basketball coach.

That said, I think there are at least a few overlooked character habits that he missed along the way. Perhaps it’s just that he was limited by the dimensions of the pyramid, and perhaps it’s because the habits I’m thinking of are more frequently considered in the arts and sciences than in athletics.


The first trait I want to address is CURIOSITY.

It seems clear to me that curiosity is a habit, and one that needs to be fostered in all humans. Active curiosity is the source for much work ethic. Richard Feynman described “the pleasure of finding things out” – and feeling this pleasure is a powerful motivator for anyone in any discipline.

Without curiosity, all motivation must be extrinsic – you are not compelled to discover new information. With a deep well of curiosity, intrinsic motivation is guaranteed – the discovery is what drives you.

How do we teach curiosity? As ever, it’s a mixture of my four E-words: Explain, Exemplify, Expect, Empower.

Explaining curiosity is not a particularly effective teacher.

We exemplify our own curiosity by acting it out in real time. We show our students how we react to curiosity and the rewards we get for acting on it.

Expecting curiosity is vital. We must save time to welcome curiosity, and honor the truly curious, even (especially) when they wander from the topic being discussed. Prioritize questions from students, respect and answer the questions asked – and if you don’t know the answer, refer back to exemplifying curiosity.

Finally, empower curiosity. In our narrow boxes of lockstep education, it’s easy to dismiss curious souls. If a student asks a question and we say, “That’s not part of what we’re covering,” we have just disempowered their creativity. Instead, we must find the free space, both mental and temporal, to empower and encourage the curious. “That’s not on the syllabus but let’s look at it for a couple of minutes.” “I don’t actually know the answer to that, but if you want, you can research it on your own instead of ___.”

Worries about chaos in the classroom will fade away as we establish a strong center of curiosity in the room. When students (or players) actually want to discover what is being taught, classroom management can be solved by the individuals, rather than a top-down hierarchy. Particularly when curiosity is being encouraged alongside the other habits that Wooden advocates in his Pyramid of Success.

Curiosity, to me, is a habit fundamental to any form of success. Not prioritizing it in yourself or your students is an oversight with tremendous long-term consequences. This is a skill that can begin to be built as early as preschool, and should be maintained and enhanced throughout education and in extracurriculars, whether musical, athletic, academic, or anything else. Wherever we are having experiences, there is room for curiosity. And wherever there is room for curiosity, we should follow it.