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