“Always Compete: Using Pete’s Pyramid to Evaluate Your School Culture

As a tried and true Eagles’ fan I am not one to shine a light on another NFL program, but Pete Carroll’s vision and system for the Seattle Seahawks is impossible to deny. I just began reading Angela Duckworth’s “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” and researching her work with Carroll and the Seahawks.  I truly believe his philosophy is one we should carry over in education to help develop our school vision and culture.

Carroll has coined his philosophy as “Win Forever” and “Always Compete.” It is all about competing, maximizing your abilities and making the most of the opportunities in front of you. He wants each player to become the best he can be so the team can achieve its fullest potential.“Of course we want to win every game, but winning forever is more about realizing your potential and making yourself as good as you can be…” Each practice takes on utmost importance. Each strength and conditioning workout carries significant weight. They’re all monumental, yet none more valuable than another.

It is also important to note that, to Carroll, competition doesn’t really mean beating an opponent or a teammate, instead, competition involves the constant (the “always” part of the expression) pursuit, characterized by scrapping and clawing, to get better and eventually to reach one’s highest potential.

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We can use Carroll’s pyramid to improve our foundation and vision which will lead to an enhance environment and improved performance from teachers and students. Let’s start from the top!


Everyone needs to believe in your school and its vision. Without all roles embracing (not just buying into your vision), you will only see moments of excellence and innovation. You will see more teachers embracing you as a school leader when you show you have the confidence in your staff to fulfill your vision. You trust your teachers because you know their strengths, and you actively highlight them.  An administrator’s “performance” must  also exemplify and model his/her vision.Carroll’s team sees that he gives his all in every practice, conditioning session and game, and they do the same because they respect his vision but more importantly because he carries it out himself. Principals remember: you set the tone for your school community. Build relationships first and then the rest will follow.


We should be looking at our Professional Development sessions with a new lens. You could start approaching PD as strength and conditioning for your teachers. They should be designed not as busy work but to serve an important purpose- to build confidence and foster teacher strengths. We should be using PD to celebrate uniqueness and teacher individuality. Try experimenting with different styles for how you run your trainings.  For example you can change your format to that of an Edcamp.  This would enable teachers to “act with the team, but they can do it in a way that illuminates who they are.”  If you are looking to follow an EdCamp style for PD, the sessions would develop from the interests and expertise of the participants!


The ALWAYS COMPETE mindset is the Seattle Seahawks’ language. It is what makes them different. We should not only embrace Carroll’s always-compete mindset but make it our own.  If we fully embrace this mindset, it can help teachers and students focus on what they can control. Carroll believes it’s counter- productive to focus on results. “We don’t talk about championships,” he says. “We talk about performing at our best. And we’ve learned that gets us what we want. As soon as we focus on something outside ourselves, it becomes a distraction and can keep us from what we have at hand.” This should be the rule for schools with state and standardized testing. By obsessing over these tests and student scores, we are distracted by what is really important, our learners and their development. Like Carroll states, the focus should be on how we can help teachers and students be their best!

Carroll also has done a lot of work with Angela Duckworth on grit. Duckworth has visited a few of their practices and witnessed the culture. After seeing what Carroll has created  she stated “I want to create in places other than the Seahawks what Pete Carroll has created. I want that to be for all the kids who don’t have Pete Carroll as a dad or a coach…. If you end up in a culture where other people are gritty, the leader is gritty, the leader is incredibly demanding and yet, at the same time, incredibly supportive, you’re going to be grittier than you would be in a place that didn’t have those features.” Carroll’s team does not see themselves as just football players but as Seahawks. Staff in your school should not just think of themselves as teachers, but as an integral part of your school team and say with pride that they are the [insert school mascot].


Carroll has incorporated innovations as well as more conventional ideas in his philosophy and approach. He credits John Wooden’s A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court with helping him form his vision. At the same time, while many other coaches may share the same values and adhere to the same principles, not many have that same commitment. What sets Carroll apart and what is at the foundation of his program and vision  is his quest for excellence (always competing) becoming more important than winning. At our foundation, we are on the same quest as educators. Making our students the best possible versions of themselves and ensuring that EVERYONE is always learning. 

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