School Ambassador Fellowship
Colorado Springs, Colorado
2017 Campus Teacher Ambassador Fellow
Fifth-grade Teacher, Christa McAuliffe Elementary School
Bio/Overview: Dr. Elmer Harris is a 5th grade teacher at Christa McAuliffe Elementary in Colorado Springs School District 11. In addition to his daily work as an elementary teacher, he has taught early childhood special education, equity, and cultural competency coursework as an affiliate faculty member in the Schools of Education at Metropolitan State University and University of Colorado Denver. Prior to teaching, Dr. Harris served 22 years of military service with the US Air Force, and also did work as a defense contractor for Boeing and the Missile Defense Agency immediately upon his retirement from active duty in 2006. In 2009 he was notified of a pending layoff from his position as a contractor. While gathering documents to update his resume, he found an old Troops to Teacher application that he’d started several years prior while on active duty, but never completed. He eventually completed the application and entered the field of education as an early intervention para-educator supporting young children with special needs. After two years of active duty service with 3 and 4 year old preschool students, Dr. Harris was hired for his first teaching position as a special education teacher serving military students in Fort Carson, Colorado. Although he has worked with children of varying abilities, his primary focus as a special educator involved supporting students with autism. In 2016 he transitioned to general education/5th grade teaching as part of a long-term plan to diversify his experiences in education and prepare for additional leadership opportunities. Elmer is a husband, father, and top-notch skier (in his dreams). In real life he's an average skier that has above-average fun when enjoying Colorado slopes.
Educational Values/Philosophy: Several years ago while working as a para-educator and pursuing his masters degree and initial teaching license, Dr. Harris recalls being fascinated at the skill of his supervising teacher (Miss Suzanne) in creating excitement among young learners in doing what appeared to be very routine tasks. The children were enthralled with very simple activities, like pouring water between containers, because the teacher had an amazing ability to create an exciting and expectant atmosphere in her classroom when teaching tasks to students. Those experiences left a lasting impression, and continue to guide his work today. Dr. Harris believes a major responsibility of every educator is to ensure students are provided with opportunities that allow them to experience the wonder and excitement of learning as a way to create an insatiable, life-long hunger for knowledge. It is also his belief that teachers should embrace their role in facilitating relationships that emphasize the basic truth of, more than just academics when working with students, and must remain steadfast in pursuing avenues that facilitate high achievement and character development. To that end, he believes a key component in the development of today citizen-learners is assisting them in developing their ability to speak out concerning issues that impact their lives, and the lives of others.
Achievements: Dr. Harris was the recipient of a federal leadership development grant through the University of Colorado and the US Department of Education. The grant fully funded his doctoral studies and provided opportunities for him to brief lawmakers at the state and national level on issues related to supporting children with special needs. The culminating thesis in his doctoral program, A Family Partnership Approach to Increase Parental Self-efficacy in Military Families and Reduce Young Children Challenging Behavior, focused on studying the impact of a parent training program on increasing parenting competence among military families as they encounter deployments and other related challenges. Dr. Harris has also presented at national conferences in support of issues that directly impact children with disabilities and their families.
Leadership Experience: Dr. Harris experience as an Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer laid the foundation for a successful transition to leadership opportunities as a public school educator. He has been an active and dedicated participant in the Mentor 2.0 program through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado since 2015. The program matches high school freshman with college-educated mentors as part of a 4 year partnership to facilitate their successful transition through high school and into college or the workforce. Dr. Harris is also an active member of his local teacher’s union, Colorado Springs Educators Association, where he also serves as the local representative for his school; and has traveled to his state capital to lobby lawmakers on behalf of Colorado students and teachers. He also serves on his schools leadership and positive behavior teams. Dr. Harris is also currently enrolled in a principal licensing program through the University of Colorado Denver.
Affiliations: Colorado Springs Education Association, Council for Exceptional Children, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence, Black Male Educators for Social Justice.
Education: Dr. Harris received his Bachelor of Science degree from Bellevue University, and his Master of Arts in Special Education from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He holds a doctorate in Leadership for Educational Equity from the University of Colorado Denver.
Areas of Interest:
- Special Education Advocacy
- Military Students and Families
- Personalized Learning
- Social Justice
- Hi-quality Inclusion
- Educational Equity
- Recruitment/Retention Teachers of Color
- Teacher Leadership
- School-Family Partnerships