Michelle R. Chambers
Cherry Creek Elevation School
1) Lead with your Purpose and Values. My personal experiences of overcoming adversity, embracing education, and connecting to leadership have led to my calling of leading with my purpose and values to empower students, families, and staff to learn, believe, achieve, and succeed in all that they do. Overcoming adversity is something that I have faced since even prior to being born. From the moment my mother discovered that she was pregnant with me, she fled to the Denver Safe House in hopes of protecting her unborn child after losing my brother, David, and sister, Angela, shortly after their births due to domestic violence. As the premature child of a courageous and strong-willed single mother who is a survivor of domestic violence, I grew up learning the value of hard work, resilience, and perseverance.
My educational experience transformed from struggle and uncertainty, to hope, belief, and achievement. As a young child who was a struggling learner, I understand what it feels like to struggle and be told by a teacher that “You can’t do it.” As an International Baccalaureate graduate, I understand what it feels like to have one teacher believe in me ( despite what standardized test scores and data said about me) and what it feels like to push myself beyond anything I ever could have imagined and finally understand what it means to learn, believe, achieve, and succeed. This led me to becoming the first and only college graduate in my family. And, eventually becoming Dr. Michelle R. Chambers.
Being called to educational leadership is a true honor and began with my incredible mentors connecting me to leadership. It was one of my inspiring principals of color who encouraged me to consider a career in administration. My Executive Director of color nominated me to participate in the 2016-2017 CASE Leadership Diversity Development Program where I was able to learn about and explore the possibilities of aspiring to be an educational leader of color. These amazing leaders taught me about the importance of mentorship and lifting others as I rise. This concept reminds me of a quote that is based on the motto lifting as I rise, “I’m holding on to the escalera (ladder) with one hand, pero con la otra mano (but with the other hand), I’m trying to reach down and lift others with me as we climb” (Solorzano, & Y osso, 2001 ).
No matter what adversity that I have encountered, education has always remained my constant light. Education has continued to change the course of my life and led me to serving others in all that I do. All these experiences have led to my preconceived notion that ALL students can learn and achieve at high levels and it is the responsibility of educators and educational leaders to find ways to ensure that ALL students, learn, achieve, and succeed. My personal story and experiences are the reasons why I lead with my purpose and values in ALL that I do. As an educational leader, my purpose and values remain my anchor and guiding light.
2) Empower Others To Believe Through Action. While being nominated for this award is truly an honor, my completing this application is not about me, but rather an important message to others that great achievements are possible. Completing this application is for the students, families, and staff that I have had the privilege of serving, including those who find the courage to believe that overcoming adversity can lead to opportunities of service which can in tum give them the chance to ensure that the voices of others (including underrepresented populations) are heard by leaders who will truly listen.
As the only general education teacher of color in an elementary school building for seven years, I understand what it feels like to have teachers of other races respond differently to my voice,
struggles, and celebrations than they responded to my counterparts. As a parent, I understand what it feels like to seek the support and compassion from educators while also yearning for my voice to be heard and valued. Because of my experiences, I understand the importance of finding ways ensure that the voices of my community are heard while truly listening with my whole heart and soul.
As an educator and educational leader, I have dedicated my time toward facilitating and participating in committees that include the purpose of listening to diverse perspectives shared by the community. Building trust is a huge part of this process. One way that I build trust is by finding ways to inspire others by modeling vulnerability, empathy, and courage through the willingness to step in the arena with those I serve every single day.
Three questions that I continue to ask my staff and myself as an educational leader are: Do you believe in our goals? Do my actions support this belief? Are you willing to put in the hard work to achieve our goals? I do believe that all students can achieve at high levels. My mother’s courageous decision to leave a relationship filled with violence is the most generous gift that anyone could ever have possibly given to me. Her incredible decision completely changed the course of my life and ultimately led to me believing in myself, earning my doctoral degree, and becoming an educational leader dedicated toward empowers others to believe. While attending the 10th Annual CO-ALAS Leadership Conference, the words shared by Dr. Jose Enriquez spoke loud and clear to my heart as an educational leader, “True leadership isn’t those who seek leadership, but rather those who position themselves to serve those who seek leadership.” As I previously mentioned, the action of submitting this application is not about me, but rather a way for me to honor those I serve and empower others to believe.