Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Basketball Full of Character

Teaching in a school of third thru eight graders, we rarely have presenters who can catch the attention of every age group. Yesterday we were lucky enough to have a guest speaker who held all 660 students and every member of staff in the palm of one hand while spinning a basketball in the other!
I have never seen Jim Basketball Jones present before so I was a little unsure of what to expect but what a treat. As nearly 700 people streamed into the gym from every possible direction, far from being intimidated Jim immediately took command, organizing the seating the way he wanted and teaching us about his audience expectations .He asked for us to be patient listeners, responding carefully and thoughtfully to his words and to bring forth our best efforts to participate with purpose. The ground rules established, he began to juggle and spin several basketballs and I can honestly say my jaw dropped! His skills were mesmerizing and our students were enthralled as he pulled up volunteers to spin basketballs on their fingers, their faces, on top of pens they were holding…it was a joy to behold. But this was not just an amazing spectacle, it was an hour loaded with character education.
In between tricks and stunts Jim told stories, evocative stories about children and adults he had encountered in the past who had taught him much about life and how to live it. His first tale was about a teacher at a previous presentation who had volunteered to take a shot at the hoop in the hopes of winning a basketball. She wanted to win so that she could be remembered at the school, but the consequence for missing was to do ten push-ups. When she did in fact miss, and it was obvious she was unable to complete the consequence, he asked for the other teachers to volunteer in her place. When nobody offered, the hand of a kindergartener popped up and a little boy gladly offered to take her place because he wanted to be there for his teacher, just as she was always there for him. The little boy had cerebral palsy and to everybody’s amazement the child completed the task. From that point on he was always known as “Champ” by his peers and teachers.
One tale after another conveyed moving messages about kindness, perseverance, honesty and integrity. It was thrilling to see the entire audience turn to their neighbor and declare that they were each important, that they mattered, that nothing would stand in the way of their goals. Even a game of Simple Simon provided an opportunity to demonstrate key concepts such as leadership, striving for excellence and supporting and helping each other. Jim’s concluding tale about his personal struggle with learning disabilities and eventual success left much for us to ponder and there were several misty eyes in the room.
This was a fantastic assembly for our whole school to enjoy upon our return from mid-winter break. For me, it was a compelling reminder of the power of a story well told. As a child, teachers asked Jim why he spent so much time and effort learning how to spin basketballs as it served no real purpose. His response: because it makes me happy. Maybe the most effective way to teach character education is to simply support and encourage our students to pursue their passions with courage, determination, and dedication.

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