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Professor Ronald Gallimore holding a personal note he received from Coach Wooden in 2003.

          Master Teacher

UCLA basketball legend John Wooden, the award-winning coach biographer Dwight Chapin called "The Wizard of Westwood," whose teams won ten NCAA championships, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1975, is now regarded as a "master teacher" throughout the sports world, thanks in large part to the work of two writers who celebrate the example Wooden set as a coach and a teacher in their enlightening book, You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden's Teaching Principles and Practices. Distinguished Professor Emeritus at UCLA Ronald Gallimore along with former UCLA player and co-author Swen Nater, explore their subject in depth, focusing on the teaching practices of Coach Wooden documented in an extensive research project conducted during the 1974-75 basketball season by Gallimore and his colleague Roland Tharp.

According to Gallimore, "At his retirement following the 1974-75 season, John Wooden was widely regarded as the greatest teacher of basketball. In 1976, we were confident that we had selected a master teacher to study. We still are. That view was reaffirmed when he was named the greatest college coach of the 20th century by ESPN's expert panel." 

As Swen Nater points out, Wooden was a master teacher first and foremost, not some sort of a "wizard" employing the latest pedagogical theories. "The philosophy and practice of Coach Wooden," Nater maintains, "accords with what many researchers now regard as the key to effective teaching--a laser-like focus on what students are learning or not learning." Gallimore also emphasizes this point. He and Tharp discovered that most of what Wooden said to his players was "just plain information about how to play basketball."  Wooden never lectured and rarely scolded or praised his players; instead he and his staff conveyed useful information and knowledge about errors observed in a process Wooden called "corrections," an approach to coaching which formed the essence of his "positive" information-rich teaching methodology. The overarching theme was always "continuous improvement," a strategy similar in spirit to the Japanese term Kaizen, meaning "change for the better." Throughout his coaching career, according to Professor Gallimore writing in Education Week, "John Wooden demonstrated that student learning and achievement are not the result of wizardry. They are the products of research, planning, continuous improvement, subject mastery, effective pedagogy, and the intangible example of a dedicated teacher." 

As the recipient of plenty of "corrections" from Coach Wooden, Nater writes, "It was 'information' I received in the form of correction that I needed most. Having received it I could then make the adjustments and changes needed. It was the information that promoted change." 

The same virtues documented in the studies of Wooden's work also apply to the production of Gallimore and Nater's wonderful little book, an information-rich resource that, like Wooden's teaching, has the power to change people's lives for the better. I had the good fortune to become friends with Professor Gallimore and learn a few things from the master himself so to speak. As he was autographing my copy of the book one December afternoon at the shop, Ron pointed out a passage that stressed the importance of repetition, one of Coach Wooden's essential laws of learning he believed are crucial to creativity and successful performance in competition. "Repetition is the key to learning. There is absolutely no substitute for repetition," the Coach often said. But the goal, Gallimore noted, isn't to drive players crazy with boredom and kill their interest in learning; the point is to learn so well that everything becomes automatic. As Swen Nater explains, "In coach Wooden's pedagogy, drill and repetition are intended to achieve an automaticity or mastery of fundamentals to create a foundation on which individual initiative and imagination can flourish . . . Coach Wooden emphasized repetition of fundamentals so that his players would be resourceful, imaginative, and creative, not because he wanted them to be robots mindlessly relying on rote memory . . . Not only is this an appealing approach to teaching basketball, it is a way to think about teaching all subjects--reading, literature, mathematics science, and social sciences."  

All these aspects taken together are what transform this book from an academic research project into a work of art. There's a section titled "Favorite Teachers" that I think penetrates right to the heart of what makes it so inspiring and such a joy to read. It begins with Swen Nater's account of his struggles learning to read English from scratch with the help of his fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Rudgers after he migrated to the US from the Netherlands as a child. It's a heart-warming story in which Nater describes the unwavering dedication and passionate caring of his teacher, merits that are also essential common practices of good teaching as part of Coach Wooden's program. Included among them is the virtue of passion for the material at hand, something Gallimore and Nater also share in abundance with their subject. 

"Teachers with a passion for their subject matter have minds that overflow with exciting information, " writes Nater, describing not only Coach Wooden, but in my view serving as a tribute to the authors themselves as well. The testament to their "passion for the material" is this masterful book, "overflowing" with life-enhancing information. As Coach Wooden famously said, "We are all teachers to someone," and Gallimore and Nater beautifully illustrate how to make that relationship fulfilling and enjoyable.