Rise Up | Wisdom from the Middle School Gym: One Heartedness

BY JIMMY HANNIGAN | April 8th, 2024
Today’s readings

Names used in this reflection have been changed to protect student confidentiality.

Today’s reading from Acts captures the community the early apostles created: “The community…was of one heart…great favor was accorded them all…there was no needy person among them.” Incredible! But…how?  

I am a middle school physical education teacher. It is an adventure with the goal of building community. 

11-13 year olds are growing rapidly and have the remarkable capacity to demonstrate disconnection of heart (picture a kid yelling “you stink” -true colorful language redacted-  at another kid after they drop a pass). They also demonstrate one-heartedness (picture 10 students huddling up to improve their capture the flag strategy).  What my students teach me about this journey to one-heartness is this: show up, let it be mucky, prioritize fun. 

One of my classes last year continuously struggled. I was a new teacher. The students were coming out of a pandemic. No matter how I structured the class, trying to get them to play a game of tag devolved into arguments over who did or didn’t get tagged and who tagged who too hard. Most painful were the harsh words they spewed at each other. 


And yet, we showed up every week. It was messy. 

We made adjustments. Things slowly improved at the end of last year. 

We kept showing up. It was uncomfortable.

Incremental ebbs and flows. I asked for feedback. The students want more fun activities, more games. We adjusted.

We kept showing up. It was mucky. 


Then, last Friday. Floor hockey unit. The whole class played, their smiles intermixing with furrowed brows of focus as they followed the puck. Amos– whose kind heart hides underneath an obnoxious exterior he clumsily expresses in his lanky, growing frame– passes the puck. Fatima– an English language learner new to American sports– receives the puck and slaps it into the net. I had never seen them speak. Amos, ecstatic, runs over to Fatima and extends his hand for a high five. She’s concerned about COVID exposure, politely declines, yet they both nod and smile at each other.


One heart. 

When my students have one-heartness, it is, as Acts states, powerful.

Keep showing up. 

Let it be mucky. 

Make it fun. 


Where in your life do you feel inspired to co-create one-heartness?

1 reply
  1. Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight
    Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight says:

    As a retired University Professor what Jimmy Hannigan relates applie to many groups. It is a great notice of the Acts of the Apostles and the struggles they had to live a true life of surrender to God and working with each other. It is amazing to see the transformation that took place in the group as they went through the messy parts with perserverence and fun! They were the apostles I want to help create in all the groups I am in.without loosing that sense of fun or joy!


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