Fair and Equitable: When the wrong lesson was taught.

One of the significant conflicts in school and in our homes is the balance of being fair and equitable. I have often heard over the years that a student’s punishment is not enough or it was not fair. I am a firm believer that each situation is different, and we cannot always apply rules and discipline universally. Consistency is important in disciplining, but empathy plays a role too. In order for students to learn they need to understand the value in what we are teaching them or in this case why they are being disciplined; The goal is to positively change behavior it is not always about enforcing a rule.

What is fair and equitable?

What is the goal of disciplining a student or a child?

What is the outcome?

What will the impact be?

Will it change behavior?

What caused this behavior?

Is what I am seeing caused by trauma?

These are some of the questions I would ask myself when handling discipline issues. Some could not be answered or the outcome was not always predictable. Often times when the student felt safe enough to tell their story, the answers came.

It was a warm June night; the wind just started to blow. The seniors were excited. The year was 2000, and it was graduation night. I was one of the class advisors for the Class of 2000 and many of these students I had known for four years. Walking across the basketball courts, I smiled at the students, high fived and got and gave hugs. The energy was building as we prepared to walk out to the field. Tears were already starting for some. Graduation! Such a surreal and traditional event. Years of school, classes, projects, all coming together in one night. The year 2000 made it that much more special.

I was talking to a group of boys, laughing, giving exuberant hugs. Doug, a muscular “wakeboarding” senior, had just set me down from a hug, he was emotional and trying not to show it. His friend had just died recently from a tragic accident out of state. It was an endearing moment from a young man who was a mix of emotions.  “Doug, come here,” I heard as I turned to look as I was walking away. The interim principal had walked up and wanted to talk to Doug about his cap. She proceeded to tell him to take off the symbol he had attached to it. The rule was caps and gowns could not be “decorated.” I had no time to react. Doug started yelling, he was swearing, he was mad. I quickly stood between him and the principal, and I asked him to breathe and assured him “it will be okay.” At that point, she proceeds to tell him he had a choice to follow the rules and remove the cap or not walk. Doug tried to explain it was his friend’s symbol, his brand, it represented everything about him. I began to negotiate, but my efforts fell on deaf ears. She pulled me away and told me it was a “teaching moment.” That it was necessary to enforce the rules. Doug pointed to every student whose cap was decorated. I looked at her and repeated what Doug had said. “Are you going to have all of them change their caps?” She repeated it was a “teaching moment” and that I needed to support the rules. I simply said, “all you taught Doug was you don’t care and rules are more important than his loss.” She said something else and my frustrations filled my ears instead. I then said, “I don’t know what your goal is here, but you have other students to talk to,” as I pointed at some student body officers with decorated caps.
   Doug, still upset, got back in line, and we walked to the field. Speeches were given, and diplomas were handed out. Later that night he came over to me hugged me and thanked me for not letting him punch the principal. I apologized to him and told him that I was sorry. What else could I say or do? It was an ethical dilemma for me. This person was my boss, and I thought the rule was pointless. I valued Doug, and I agreed with him. I also think he put his friend’s symbol back on his cap when she couldn’t see him or get to him.

“Stop being a critic and be a light; don’t be a judge, be a model. I think we are far too critical. I think the best way to correct behavior is to accentuate and affirm positive behavior and to ignore negative behavior. Generally speaking, there is a time to correct, of course; but my biggest advice would be,  Affirm your child.”  Sean Covey

Sean Covey is right, there is a time for correction. Graduation tonight was not that night. Doug’s pain needed to be affirmed, and consoled. Honoring someone’s feeling and showing empathy, not apathy, that’s what Doug needed that night. Sometimes you have to ask why do we have this rule? Why is it in place, who is it supporting? If it is not keeping kids safe or supporting their academics, then why do we have it? Is it equitable or is it targeting someone, not something? These are questions I find myself repeating in my current role. What behavior were we trying to change?

There was a teaching moment, but it was missed. Doug wanted to honor his friend. What he was taught was only some are allowed to break a rule. He learned those in power can exercise their power over someone else. Nothing on the cap was indecent, rude, or derogatory. At that moment I was reminded of stopping and listening to hear both sides of the story. I often told students in my office as a principal, “I will always hear you out.” An assumption was made that night that Doug was breaking a rule simply to be breaking it. That night I saw what he was doing as connecting a significant event in his life with a friendship that meant a great deal to him. I saw Doug recently, he is a police officer; he picked me up and gave me a giant hug as we reunited (I had just set off the alarm to my school). I find great irony in the fact that Doug is a police officer today enforcing rules and the interim principal today…. I have no idea. 🙂

With something to think about…..

Your Friend Chris

Can you teach Maturity? — It’s Elementary my dear Watson or is it?

Maturity: Being able to stick with a job until it is finished. Be able to bear an injustice without having to get even. Be able to carry money without spending it. Do your duty without being supervised.”

—Ann Landers

I have had the honor of being taught by some fantastic children. You read it right. They taught me. Students can teach valuable lessons. They come from different perspectives and experiences. At times I met children who showed a maturity that is beyond their years.

It is difficult to teach maturity directly. We can support its growth in and out of the classroom; however, maturity has to be modeled by others — at home, in schools, the basketball court, friend groups, at church, and on playgrounds— in order to be successfully duplicated. Some strategies can be used to improve maturity and compliment modeling maturity such as giving children regular jobs to do or taking care of a pet. Letting a child make mistakes and learn from them and then reflecting on those mistakes helps a child to problem solve and learn.

Teaching responsibility is closely tied to developing maturity. Giving children tasks that teach responsibility aids in the development of maturity. In addition, we can directly teach emotional regulation, such as what to do when angry, hurt, or rejected and how to control those feelings and not let them take over. Like maturity, emotional regulation can be modeled. Reflecting with a child or role-playing reinforces this concept. Emotional regulation is a critical factor in living a happier life.

A British study found the following: “So-called non-cognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence, and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier”. —The New York Times Magazine September 11th, 2013.

New York Times Magazine Article https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/magazine/can-emotional-intelligence-be-taught.html

Emotional regulation —the key to a happier more successful life? Not something we hear every day is it? One way to speed up maturity is to have children work and play with more mature children. The truth is that showing maturity is not always consistent in every aspect of a child’s day. A student showing maturity during one task may not be as mature doing something else, at least that is what I say to my wife when I am being immature. All you can do is model maturity. Children need to see it in action so they can then emulate it. I am not saying immature children come from immature parents, well not always anyway. With maturity comes responsibility and vice versa; they go hand in hand. Empathy and compassion also teach maturity and come from being mature. It’s a circle.

When I saw two boys with maturity and compassion beyond their years, I took notice. Girls typically mature earlier than boys emotionally, socially and intellectually. The Watson brothers came to school so full of compassion for others; it was beautiful to see it played out every day. Justin’s and Jesse’s daily routine was to check in with me, their teachers, and friends. On any given day they asked me —“how was your day?” —“how was your morning?” —“how was your drive to work?” They were always genuinely interested. They offered to help with whatever a staff member was doing. They helped others around the school; finding a lost item, helping a hurt friend up to the office. They cared. They showed gratitude to those around them and even thanked others for allowing them to help. Gratitude is a sign of maturity. It was not attention seeking at all; they truly cared. Albeit to some, Justin’s and Jesse’s offers seemed awkward at times; in their heart, they just wanted to help.

The Watson family

After meeting the boy’s parents, it was clear where the foundation had been laid. Mom and Dad had high expectations of their boys, but they had also fostered caring traits, which in turn promoted maturity beyond their years. Justin and Jesse also had a strong character, instilled by their parents and played out daily. That is where their genuine concern and care for others came from. The boys saw maturity, compassion and caring modeled every day for them and in turn, they showed it to others.

The Watson brothers and I at back to school night.

I don’t recall the boys ever getting into trouble at school. I am sure they made mistakes as all kids do! I can remember one time on the playground where Jesse was physically upset. With a ball in his hand, he ran over to get me. Someone accused him of not sharing the ball. Upon further questioning, that was not really the case. Jesse held onto the ball because the accuser was not letting someone else play. The accuser had told Jesse’s friend he was out of the four square game for missing the ball.

Jesse was indignant that his friend was being treated unfairly,  the person was not out, and they had the right to play. So when Jesse could not resolve the conflict with words, he just held onto the ball which turned into a sort of keep away. I tried not to smile as the students revealed what happened. Jesse’s firm moral conviction would not allow his friend to be tossed to the wayside of the playground. Jesse was upset and he felt it was unfair, but his maturity showed when he merely took the ball and went to find help. He did not have the skills yet to solve the problem alone entirely. He knew enough to seek help and show self-restraint. Jesse’s decision was based on his character; he had a strong sense of right and wrong. He was also passionate enough about the issue to not cave. He stood his ground.

We resolved the conflict, no one got hurt. The game started back up. Fairness won. Jesse went home that day, still bothered by the incident. He talked to his parents about it. Justin, his big brother, gave him advice and encouraged him. Justin was always looking out for his brother. Justin often put others first, another sign of maturity. He reassured him he would keep an eye on them. Justin in his own words pointed out to his brother that conflicts will happen, and that people treat each other that way because they were treated that way. Jesse’s second-grade world changed that day.

The blog is about maturity, but sometimes you have to take a goofy picture with students!

These two boys have touched many lives with their acts of caring. What struck me the most was Jesse was thinking of others. Second graders are usually self-centered and in time they mature and grow. Jesse was showing humanity and care for someone else. Justin and Jesse modeled maturity to those around them; they modeled it for me, too.

Maturity comes from more than time and age alone. When parents ask me about retaining their child to keep them in the same grade because of a lack of maturity may sound sensible the reality is that they will not have the role models to encourage maturity. In fact, classmates are often six months to a year younger. I have seen retention slow the maturity process and revert a child’s social and emotional growth. Maturity is modeled by peers and adults, and it cannot be taught in isolation. For the Watson brothers, maturity was modeled for them by educators and their parents. Justin’s and Jesse’s key to maturity growth was due to — high expectations, actively teaching them responsibility, self-restraint, persistence, self-awareness, and caring for others — together this created an environment for growth.

Justin’s high school graduation

With something to think about…

your friend Chris

For more on maturity check out—Tim Elmore’s article on “The Marks of Maturity.” This is an excellent article on teaching children maturity. He also discusses children today are exposed to more sooner without the maturity to handle it.


Students with anxiety or something more?

Students have stories, all of them do. They come through our doors with experiences that sometimes we cannot imagine. Some hide their anxiety and tough situations behind smiles and humor while in others we can see their anger, frustration or apathy. We never know what students walk into our classroom doors holding onto in their hearts. I always wanted to be supportive, but I did not always have the best tools.

For the sake of this blog, I changed the young man’s name. David was a kind, funny, and hard-working student. David seemed to miss social cues sometime, didn’t care, or maybe he simply ignored them. Sometimes his mind was elsewhere. Like most 16-year-old boys he was not always organized and had a tough time staying on top of the workload. Maybe you know a teenage boy that walks out of the room only to step back in again to grab his backpack or a book? That was David. Yet there was a tenacity about him that I admired. He continued working and did not quit, no matter how tough the work got. For many of his friends, the work was challenging, but it came more naturally for them. They got A’s; David got B’s and C’s. I liked David; he beat to his own drum most of the time.

David would hang out sometimes in my room after the bell rang. We would chat as he packed up. Sometimes I just listened, sometimes I asked questions. I enjoyed talking to David. He was witty, but sometimes he turned his humor on himself in a way that was more than self-deprecating. It felt damaging.

One day in our conversation David confided that he struggled at times with being positive and that he was not happy like other students. We talked, and I tried to ask questions to get to the root of the issue. I muddled through it. I was afraid to mention suicide. I held to the myth that I could be planting a seed. David said he didn’t “know why he was here.” My mind raced to give him an answer to give him hope. I don’t remember my exact words. I suggested, “your story still needs to be written, and you are writing it.” I thought that when you get someone talking about the future, then you give them hope. While that is true for some, for a person who is questioning suicide that may not be true.

At this point, I did not know if David was suicidal, depressed or maybe just unhappy. I asked if he shared how he was feeling with his parents. He said, “I told my mom.”  He dropped his eyes and mentioned seeing a counselor. I was glad to hear that and encouraged him to do so. I did my best to support him. I was scared to say too much.

The author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” said it best when he wrote Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increase the burden: It is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” — C.S. Lewis

I told him I was going to buy him a book called Being Happy. That being happy is a choice. I did not understand depression; I did not recognize what I could have been potentially been dealing with in David. I  focused on his self-talk, which is important, but the situation might have been worse, and I did not ask the right questions to find out. He said he was willing to read it. He thanked me, and I asked him if we could talk more. He smiled and agreed. His desire to please others overshadowed his need to share his feelings more.

I got the book and gave it to him. A few weeks went by, and he seemed to be in a better place. I encouraged him, and we continued with our chats. When the opportunity presented itself, I asked if he read the book. He said he looked at it. I don’t think he had, but I did not want to press him. I don’t remember how long it took but eventually, he gave me the book back. He thanked me and told me he read parts. We talked about what he had learned, he assured me he was doing better.
One of the quotes we discussed was — “One person sees the beautiful view and the other sees the dirty window” — Andrew Matthews, Being Happy!

I told him he could keep the book. I don’t remember if he gave it back or not, but I have a feeling he did. Throughout the year, we continued to chat. As I look back, I wonder if some of his friend group were teasing him or even bullying him. I had the opportunity to talk to his mom a few times. Although I don’t remember the exact words, I remember her saying he was doing much better and she thanked me for always encouraging him. As we talked, I realized even though she was grateful for my support, I should have talked to her sooner. Another fear we often hold as educators is a fear of what parents might say when we deliver unpleasant news. If he were my son, I would have wanted to know.

Today I would have handled that situation much differently. I would have asked more questions. I would have asked if he wanted to hurt himself. I would have called his parents. If there was an immediate need, I would have called for help! Afterward, I would have followed up.  Depending on his answer I might not have given him the book “Being Happy.” David walked away that day, and I had no idea if he was suicidal, depressed, or sad. A few more questions and I could have known.

I saw David a few years ago; he had to come out to my school. He is in the medical field helping others, which is perfect for him. He is married and has a family. His humor was still witty, and a little dry. When he talked about his children and his job he beamed. He seemed happy. It was great to see him.

  Supporting children and teens battling depression, anxiety or mood disorders takes skill but most of all it takes caring and a willingness to help. Below are the signs of suicide, how to prevent suicide and National Suicide help phone numbers. It is so important that we say something and that we seek help. Brain health is incredibly important, and yet we are afraid to talk about it.

With something to think about…

your friend, Chris.

Signs Of Suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, making a will

Two organizations with direct support when needed.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

24/7/365 Crisis Hotline

Available 24 hours every day

Call: 1 (800) 273-8255

Text: “ANSWER” to 839863

Second Chances – redefining yourself

I believe in second chances. I think every student deserves a chance to prove themselves and learn from their mistakes.  Sometimes the error may not have been intentional but had an impact nonetheless. Kids make poor choices at times; the frontal lobe is not firing, and they act out of impulse. My son and his friends have a saying that if one of them says “hey, watch this” it is probably a bad idea and so they tell each other “don’t do it.” They have learned from their mistakes. We all make mistakes and making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. Creating an environment for students to learn from their mistakes is vital for their success and growth. When teenagers/ students make a big mistake, we need to guide them through the learning process and not bail them out.

Winston Churchill captured it this way One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision.”

Joe, as we called him, was the step-nephew of a friend of ours. His background story is one of persistence, resilience, and grace. I met Joe the day before my wedding; because his aunt was in the bridal party, Joe came over to help us. From the start, he was a respectful young man, hard working and out to prove himself. I immediately liked Joe; there was something different about him. Joe’s aunt told me his background and that he had got in trouble and was moving from southern California for a new opportunity.

When Joe walked into my room as a sophomore, I was excited to see him. After all, the kid had chased down a wind-blown pop-up that had been protecting our wedding, brought it back, and set it up again. That told me something about his work ethic. I had high expectations of Joe, and I wanted him to contribute to the class and grow from the experience. Joe and I were talking one day, and he began to tell the story of what happened in L.A. He had expressed how grateful he was to be here and to have his grandparents take him in. Being grateful is a powerful ally when overcoming obstacles in life.  Being grateful can give us hope, confidence, and a positive outlook. In the end, all of those qualities make us resilient.

As Joe and I developed a relationship based on trust, he confided about what had happened two years earlier. Joe felt targeted by a school official at his old school. He felt the man was out to get him and went out of his way to find something so that Joe would get in trouble. On the day that changed Joe’s life, he made a conscious and dangerous choice and brought a gun to school. He felt threatened by another student. He gave me a list of reasons why he did it and why he should not have done it. How he got the gun, although important, is not the focus of the story. Why he brought it to school is equally a powerful story, however, it is Joe’s story to tell. Ultimately, Joe was suspended, put up for expulsion and sent to community day school.
As Joe told me the story, I could see his disappointment and frustration. Joe took the punishment. His parents choose to move him away from the situation to start anew, not to run away from the issue but to start fresh and without the stigma after he served his time at community day school. I admired his courage and honesty for telling me, and I thanked him for it. He was faced with an ethical dilemma and he paid the price for it. Joe didn’t stop to think through his options. Not everyone faces what he faced that day; however, I would argue kids make impulsive choices all the time. That’s another blog. This story is about second chances and not about impulsive teenagers.

Joe as the new kid was sitting at his desk, trying not to be noticed. In time he began to share more and participate more. I would often ask a question and then ask for volunteers, when no one answered, I would say “thanks Mike for volunteering.” Joe was not immune. I would volunteer him too.  He would smile and say a long drawn out “oookay.” More often than not his answer was spot on. His confidence began to grow. He started to ask questions and participate more. You could see the transformation in Joe. Joe deserved a second chance. I watched Joe make friends, play sports, get involved in activities; he gained more confidence as he learned and grew. He was a young man of great wisdom, and it showed. Joe got his second chance. More importantly, he used it and learned from it. When Joe needed help, he came and asked. Joe connected with teachers and coaches. He learned to trust and seek help when he made mistakes. Many adults in his life encouraged him and supported him.
Joe made a dangerous mistake that day, but he did not allow it to define him. His family let him go through the struggle and let him learn from the consequence. There is a balance to find between over punishing and bailing a student out. In this case, Joe had to move away from his friends, and his home and start over. He also had to move past the mistake. Joe accomplished many things throughout high school,  and from my perspective he is still doing great today. He was given a second chance. Most importantly he gave himself a second chance. He allowed himself to start over. He played football, joined the mock trial team, worked in a student movement called Power of Unity. He raised his voice about showing respect to others and demonstrating self-respect. The struggle following the poor choice he made that day did not define him, but it did redefine him and the direction he was taking.

I talked to Joe tonight and I shared this story with him. It was important to me to have his blessing and ensure it was accurate. It was good to talk to him. He is a man of faith, a deep thinker, and profoundly humble.  He thanked me for sharing this story in hopes it impacts someone in a positive way. It is a blessing to know this man. What struck me the most about our conversation is that he is still learning from this event. He applies what he learned daily.

I will leave you with this ”Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave”. Mary Tyler Moore

Let kids struggle, let them make mistakes, let them pay the consequences, don’t rob them of their learning. In no way am I suggesting that bringing a gun to school is a common mistake or an acceptable one. When a student makes a mistake, large or small, let them take the punishment and struggle with it. They will grow from it,  learn gratitude, become resilient, and, like Joe, redefine themselves.

With something to think about…

your friend Chris.

A Dreamer

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Eleanor Roosevelt

Are you a dream builder or a dream stealer? We have all had dream stealers in our life. They take away from our ideas, our hopes, and our ….dreams.

Did you have a dream stealer in your life? Maybe they were a family member, a stranger, a trusted friend or a teacher. Sometimes we hold on to those thoughts. They hold us back. They become part of our self-talk. They can be replayed so easily in our mind. They sap us of our energy and hope. Sometimes just a casual teasing can steal someone of hope.

Hope is powerful. Leadership author John Maxwell says, “if there is no hope in the future there is no power in the present.”

Rarely in life have I seen someone intentionally steal someone’s dream. Criticism seems to come from everywhere so easily today. A quick look at social media, and there it is. With our children, we tend to laugh at their outlandish hopes in an effort not to set them up to fail. In doing so we might just be stealing something beautiful.

Ever met a child that is beyond her years in wisdom? Let me introduce you to Uma.  An intelligent, verbal, second-grade girl who is full of life. Uma was a dreamer! So when Uma came to me and said, “Mr. Calabrese, I think homeless kids need books. Homeless kids should have books to read. Books teach us things and help us to be better. I think we should collect books for homeless children.” Wow. I was looking at a second-grade student who understands that helping others makes for a better community and that showing empathy and caring are more important in life.  She was sharing a dream that would add value to others and create empathy in an entire school community. How could I stand in her way?

Uma’s letter to Shelters Inc in Concord, California

We booked a meeting to set up how we could do this. Yep, that’s what I said; A second-grade student booked a meeting with me to lay out a plan to collect books for homeless students. Uma stopped and thought about when she was free and said, “I can meet Thursday at recess.” Nothing was going to stop her, not even my schedule.

We met and we discussed her dream. A book exchange was started that year at Loma Vista Elementary School. For every 2 books students brought in, they got to “exchange” for one. Students got books new to them and all the extra books were to go to a homeless shelter. I then asked Uma to find a shelter to take the books to.

In a few weeks, Uma arranged another meeting. She had found a homeless shelter in Concord with her dad. Although a bit overwhelming at times, boxes of books came in. Uma’s dream came true. The book exchange was a success. Over the years it tweaked and changed but Uma saw her dream become a reality and helped others. I needed to get out of the way of her dream and help her create a plan of action.

Dreams have power. Uma’s dream impacted others. Don’t underestimate the power of a dream. I heard a speaker once say Martin Luther King Jr. did not say “I have a great plan.” he said, “I have a dream.” Isn’t that true? Dreams inspire us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. They ignite something within us as a community to make a difference.

 As I think about the outcome of the conversation that day, I can’t help but think about the kids in a homeless shelter looking at a book, a book that might give them hope or joy. An entire school community thought of others and not themselves. Imagine that!  I was reminded of why I become a principal: to impact kids’ lives. Truth be told my life was impacted. I learned that day that I can open doors. Uma learned that her ideas had hope, that she could help others, that she could make a difference.

Successful book exchange in 3rd grade.

Let your kids dream. Let them explore. Be realistic within reason if your son or daughter wants to give all their money to a shelter, guide them, and maybe together you can volunteer. Maybe your child can make a donation. Perhaps the dream is outlandish, but ask yourself  “is it possible?” If it is possible and beneficial, then why stop it? Maybe your daughter wants to stop to give her lunch to a homeless person. Although it might be a risk you are not comfortable with, find a way that is and do it. Be intentional. Develop their character. Think of your words before you crush a dream. Let them dream. Get out of the way of their dream! Dreams have power; they give hope; they change lives! Never underestimate the power and ideas of a child, especially a second-grade brown-eyed girl named Uma!  

4th Grade- Look at those boxes of books!

Here are 15 suggestions for encouraging kids:

Thank you for your kindness.
I appreciate how you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I like how you pursue new ideas!
I appreciate what a good listener you are.
I like how you use words to describe your feelings.
You’ve been a good friend to ………  because…
You showed enormous strength in handling this challenge.
Your optimism is contagious.
It’s great to see that you believe in yourself.
It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in.
I’m so glad you asked for your teacher’s help.
You analyzed the problem, then devised a great solution!
You achieved your goal with a lot of hard work.
I love your sense of humor!
Your imagination is awesome!
Keep dreaming!
Adapted from:  https://www.rootsofaction.com/

With something to think about…
your friend, Chris.

The journey begins

Do you enjoy a good story? I do. I love telling stories, and I love a good story — especially those that teach me; that have a moral or a universal truth, that inspire. I set out on this journey to share the experiences and stories that I have had the privilege of being a part of. For the past twenty-five years, I have been a high school teacher, vice principal, and an elementary school principal. The students who came through my classroom doors or walked the halls of the schools I served, taught me more than I could ever teach them.

My hope is you will find value in what you read. A life lesson a reminder that as parents and educators we are, and can make a difference.  These stories are about resiliency, leadership, compassion, friendship, kindness, struggle, hope, gratitude, and going the extra mile. Thank you to all my students for taking me on this journey. I have many stories from working with children, these are just a few who stand out.  Thank you, for going on this new adventure with me.

The story below is where it started for me as an educator. Did I know in 5th grade that I would become a teacher, a vice principal, eventually a principal? No, not at all. I was going to be an electrician. Along the way, my direction changed and I found myself in a classroom. Really, every teacher I had taught me how to care for kids. This story is where the journey began for me. It is where I learned relationship is more important than a lesson and caring for each other has a greater impact than a homework assignment.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Her favorite student

I learned that my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Groseclose passed away (I am writing this on October 26th, 2018). I can’t describe how much she meant to me. There are not enough words. She was a fantastic teacher!

Maya Angelou said it best when she said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Mrs. G always made me feel important. Whether I was standing in line when she said, “good morning Chris” , when I went up to her desk to ask for help, or when she put another sticker on my folder, I felt important. When she said, “Good Job, Chris,” it meant the world to me. She was kind, smart, firm, funny and creative. Most of all, she made us feel important because to her we were.
I don’t remember who the girl was, but she told me the smart kids go into Mrs. Groseclose’s class and the troublemakers go into Mrs. D’s class. I thought there must be a mistake. I am in Mrs. Grosecloses’s class. I am not a smart kid. I looked around the room, and there was Tara Clark, Kim Trebino, Welling Tom, Kjersti Sudweeks, and Nathan Gursky, confirmation I was in with the smart kids. Someone made a mistake, but I was not going to say anything.

I have told this part of the story a hundred times: I was not a good reader, and I struggled in school. Reading was not fun to me: it just did not make sense. I loved books and I loved stories, but I did not like to read. I walked into her room about a year below grade level in reading. Mrs. Groseclose spurred on my reading. She sent me home with books on tape and books at my level. I even snuck out a few books from her classroom library. I was embarrassed about my reading level and did not want my friends to know. Mrs. G understood and continued to praise me and encourage me. She made me feel like I could do it, and because of that, I did. Mrs. Groseclose loved books she read to us all the time, Super Fudge, Bunnicula, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Hobbit. Is there a book that when you read it, it reminds you of someone? For me, it’s The Hobbit, and the person is Wanda Groseclose. No surprise. I fell in love with reading that year. It transformed my life. I walked out of her classroom two years above grade level in reading.
   Mrs. G took us on the most amazing field trips; she was constantly exposing us to a world larger than little Brentwood California. The Lawrence Livermore Lab! Who takes 5th graders to the lab to talk about lasers, fusion, and fission energy with a nuclear physicist? Mrs. Groseclose did. She also took us to see “The Nutcracker” in San Francisco which was not my favorite field trip, but it gave a group of kids from Brentwood an experience with the dramatic arts. At the end of the year, the most memorable field trip was the trip to her house. Imagine 30 to 35 students with parent chaperones going to a teacher’s house! It was so symbolic of her; she opened her doors to us and her heart. Mrs. G used money to motivate us, and it worked. Fake money of course. We were given a checkbook earlier in the year, taught how to write a check, and how to reconcile a checkbook. Math lessons all revolved around this concept. What 5th grader doesn’t like money? I was listening. At the end-of-the-year party, we wrote out checks to go swimming, to play games, to buy food, candy, books or toys. We were encouraged to buy things for one another. I vividly remember both buying stuff for others and classmates purchasing things for me, mainly I remember writing the checks. The house inside and out was buzzing with laughter and conversation. It was awesome.

At her memorial service I reminisced, I cried, I laughed, but mostly I smiled. I learned she nearly died several times in her life. What would life be like without her? I don’t want to think about it. Afterward, several former students expressed how she always made them feel important.  Her sons teased, about which one of them was her favorite. I knew I was her favorite student. (I am sure many felt that way). I was important to her, and she was critical to my education. I was so blessed to be in her classroom, it was when I started my journey to be a smart kid. I learned that belief in someone, words of encouragement, and persistent high expectations can change a life. I hope to continue her legacy and treat others like she did. I challenge you to do the same for the children in your life. Remember, it is how you made them feel that will last.

With something to think about ….. your friend, Chris