Written by Rachel Chewakin
Principal Spotlight: Celia Sanchez, Dallas ISD Principal & 2018 Cohort PIC Alumna
This month, we are highlighting powerful stories from women that inspire us. Today’s feature is a spotlight of a conversation we had with Celia Sanchez, proud principal of San Jacinto Elementary School in Dallas ISD. She is a 2018 Cohort alumna from PIC’s Principal Fellowship program.
Our conversation centered on Women’s History month, starting with the powerful and rewarding experience of getting to know the struggle that gives women motivation to have the strength and courage to make change. Celia’s personal reflections share the stories of celebration, admiration and learning from great people that have made an impact in her life and throughout history.
Women Who Inspire
When asked to share about an influential woman in her life, Celia immediately told us about her paternal grandmother, a woman who despite her first-grade educational level and disadvantages she encountered during life, always led with her values.
As a young orphan, her grandmother quickly stepped in to support raising her siblings with limited resources but always championed the importance of earning an education and leading with your values.
Celia shared, “She taught me the most about the importance of academics but through a values-based perspective. That there is an opportunity to teach lessons of life through experience. She taught me about respect, care, humility, and generosity, all of which are values I saw in her actions. She frequently gave to those in need and worked to serve others, even though she didn’t have all of the resources for herself.”
After her grandmother passed while Celia was in her second year of teaching, she continued to show up for others by asking, “What would I have done in a similar scenario?”
Her grandmother chose to view challenges as a positive opportunity to give the best of herself to others. This wisdom continues to motivate and influence Celia to lead with intention and purpose in the education space.
Women Who Lead
Shifting to her current role as a seasoned educator and public school principal, Celia poses another important series of questions for us to consider.
“We are leaders in education. To what extent are we leading for life? How are we inspiring our teachers to create a school designed for students to be prepared for life experiences or creating thinkers, rather than just recipients of learning? And where do we begin?”
Her perspective on the opportunity to empower women leaders in answering these questions is clear. “Re-designing school for students to learn through a values-based perspective starts with a shared vision for equity, and particularly, equity in opportunity for women in leadership.”
She added, “Women in leadership need to not only be celebrated or recognized, but should have equitable access to the wonders of the world. As women, we know that others may not show up and meet us where we are. We need to motivate and empower ourselves to show the world we can and will lead.”
Women Who Empower Others
In the month of March and beyond, where we are hitting pause to celebrate and understand how we can better support women, in particular women of color, allyship has grown increasingly important for women’s advancement.
“We (women) need to empower ourselves to meet one another where we are emotionally, much like we would with our students,” Celia said.
In reflecting on her time in the PIC Principal Fellowship, she recalls a series of leadership tools and resources that impact the way she thinks about vulnerability and emotions. “By reading Brene Brown’s books and building trust-based relationships during my time in PIC, I was able to see a clear change in my school climate. This was in part due to being vulnerable about my feelings and experiences as a leader with the people on my campus,” Celia shared. “As the leader of a school, being more vulnerable opened the doors for my teachers and staff to have access to me, as a human, not just as a principal.”
Women who lead vulnerably while balancing emotions have been analyzed by many. Because of this, Celia encourages women to re-assess the status quo.
“As women, we need to create the status quo from the experiences that have made us who we are and have marked our lives forever by intentionally understanding what we have been through and where we have been. As a woman of color, facing many disadvantages and traumatic experiences, I have the same capabilities of leading as anyone else.”
“And because of my shared experiences with my students, I am able to truly understand what they are capable of and empathize with their lived experiences. Those experiences are what we need to leverage as we are leading others,” she added.
Celia’s intentional commitment to empower women to meet each other where we are, to lead with values-based relationships, to be open and vulnerable, and to create a status quote rooted in our own lived history is powerful. She reminds of how reflecting on where we have been and leading with empathy creates an opportunity to have an even bigger impact on those we lead.