How HAPPY Teaches

A few months back, the staff at JAG Gym collaborated making a video in honor of International Day of Happiness to Pharrell’s “HAPPY.” It was a fun, off-the-cuff project that evolved organically and with no real purpose but to celebrate being happy. We sent to our community and posted on YouTube as well as our Facebook page, giving it little thought after.

Fast forward to about a month ago, when a 15 year-old girl from Saudi Arabia was visiting the United States for a few weeks and enrolled in a tumbling class at JAG. The young woman had no prior gymnastics experience whatsoever, unable to do so much as a simple straight jump from a springboard. Nevertheless, she worked hard and as did her coach Caslin and by the end of the month this teen was able to do cartwheels, handstands and even the beginnings of walkovers.

During her final class she revealed to her coach that while she was in Saudi Arabia she had come across our “HAPPY” video and implored her mother to find out where it was made so she too could be a part of our gym while she was on vacation. Any place that happy, she reasoned, had coaches who would welcome teaching a reluctant 15 year-old beginner. And she was right.

A seemingly inconsequential movie shot hastily and simply for fun on a couple of iPhones inspired a young woman half way across the world to try something out of her comfort zone.  As one of our staff members suscinctly put it, “How cool is that?”

In addition to feeling incredibly proud of the staff at JAG and pleased that this young woman both enjoyed and learned in her time with us, it underscored to me a larger message: the importance of atmosphere in learning.

The story is a wonderful reminder how confidence building a positive message can be for students as well as how critical a welcoming environment is for learning to flourish. It also underscores that compassionate teachers with a growth mindset who meet students where they are, working with them for whatever time they have together, can influence their students in significant ways.

From the student’s perspective, it took a great deal of bravery to come to a foreign country and try a sport in which most children who are beginners are a decade younger than is she. Yet, this young woman crossed that hurdle because she believed that the JAG atmosphere is one where “happy” rules.

From the coach’s perspective, it would have been easy to slide by not focusing on teaching this student very much as she was only going to be with us for a short period of time, therefore not much could be expected. Yet, this coach made the most of every moment trying to teach as much as she safely could in the short time they had together.

As so many teachers and kids head back to school in the coming weeks, it is a terrific inspiration for all of us to carry into the academic year: a supportive environment plus a caring, dedicated teacher equals learning.

Safe travels, Rahaf and thank you for making all of us at JAG HAPPY to have you with us this summer! And great job to Coach Caslin and the other 67 folks who I am lucky enough to call my work colleagues. We do good things for kids, and I am so proud of and thankful for each and everyone of you.