Take the lead in your learning featuring Grace Pinto and Rebecca Nicholls

Today on the EduMagic Podcast I interview Grace Pinto and Rebecca Nicholls two future teachers studying at the California University of Pennsylvania. During our conversation, they share about the importance of being a leader in your own learning, how to take on leadership roles, and the role a leader plays in the classroom. Let's jump in!

Tell me about yourself and your teaching journey

Hi, I’m Rebecca Nicholls. I’m currently a senior PreK- Grade 4 major at Cal U and I’ll start my student teaching journey this January. I’m really anxious to get into the classroom and make an impact. I am pursuing elementary education at Cal U was an easy choice for me. My whole life I have absolutely loved school and all things school-related. It’s only fitting that I spend the rest of my life in the classroom where I’m happiest. I met Grace in my junior year at our work-study at the Career and Professional Development Center on campus. We were both new to the position and new to the office so I was excited to meet and work with someone that had the same interests as me. Since she was a freshman, I encouraged her to join Student PSEA. She came to the first meeting and I immediately knew that she has what it takes to be a leader

Hello! I’m Grace Pinto. I am a sophomore at California University of Pennsylvania studying Early Childhood Education Pre-K through 4. I am one of the first Rutledge Institute Scholars for Early Childhood Education at my university. I am using every learning opportunity now, so I can be the best teacher I can be for my future students!

  • Rutledge Scholar- I have gained exceptional opportunities working with young children in the Rutledge Institute preschool. I work one-on-one with students, teach lessons and plan activities, while bonding with the students and their families. I was interviewed for the PASSHE #Prepared4Pa video about the Rutledge Institute Program. Within the next year, I will gain more field experience and enrichment opportunities in the K-4 levels.

Check out a video about the Rutledge Institute for Early Ed Childhood program:

  • My passion for teaching started at a very young age. I would anticipate the next time I would go to school, so I could come home to teach my little sister what I learned. On days I didn’t have school, I would always ask my mom to take me to the school she worked at so I could be her helper. I admired my mom’s dedication to her job, but most importantly to her students. Ever since then, I’ve wanted a class of my own where I can learn alongside my students every day!

  • When I met Rebecca, I was inspired by her dedication to her coursework, her creativity, and her involvement in the university. She has been a role model for me and has inspired me to have confidence in my abilities to be a leader. Rebecca will be a creative, accepting, and influential teacher!

Why is it important for future teachers to take on a leadership role during their college career?

Grace: In the years I have been studying at Cal U, I have been a leader in the Rutledge Institute Scholarship, the vice president of SPSEA (Student Pennsylvania State Education Association), and a student peer mentor. Next semester, I will continue my involvement in these organizations. I will serve as the Vice President of Kappa Delta Pi, which is a National Educational Honor Society, and the Committee Chairperson of SPSEA.

  • I believe it is important for future teachers to take leadership positions in college because it teaches you to lead with humility. When you are a leader, you must listen to others and their needs, know when to let others be leaders, and collaborate within a team. All of which are necessary skills to have in a classroom. I also feel that a leader will gain more confidence the more involved they are. I am confident and prepared for future interviews because I have experience with public speaking.

  • Your confidence grows the more involved you are. I have become more passionate about teaching from my leadership positions in the education program. I set new goals for myself and bring new ideas to the program. The experience leading in the education program at your university can help you collaborate with your peers and professors on projects and ideas for your future classroom.

Rebecca: I have been involved with student PSEA since my freshman year and I am currently the President. I am also part of the education honor society Kappa Delta Pi, where I currently serve as Vice President. I am also a Career Ambassador at the Career and Professional Development Center where I work on a team of 7 other ambassadors.

Leadership roles set you up to be a leader in your own classroom. I can’t think of any effective teacher that is not a leader, so these roles give you a jump start and some practice leading before you have to do it on your own.

Schools need teachers who are excited and passionate about teaching and leading. Our students deserve a teacher that is an agent of change, whether it’s a first-year teacher or an experienced teacher.

How has being a leader helped you with your courses? Fields? Student teaching?

Grace: My experience from being a Rutledge Institute Scholar has helped me connect the content in my coursework to the classroom. For example, in my emerging literacy course, I am learning how children begin to read and the skills they need to be an independent reader. Last year, I have observed the children in the preschool class at The Rutledge Institute, recognize their names. And now this year, I observed the same children who are currently in Pre-K, think and write words that start with specific letters. My observations I have gained through these experiences allow me to discover how different children learn.

  • I have learned that when you are a leader you have to be original and creative to succeed. I use my creativity to prepare engaging lessons for my students in my field classrooms. I avoid using worksheets and only teach in a way that is impactful. A leader must lead with the thought of others and not themselves.

Rebecca: Leading on campus has allowed me to form relationships with my professors and classmates. This makes me courses more enjoyable and meaningful because we are on the same team and want one another to succeed. I formed a supportive network to share lesson ideas with, successes, struggles, and I know that if I need someone, my teacher tribe will always be there for me.

  • Leading has given me practice standing up in front of the room and speaking to a crowd. It has definitely helped me come out of my shell and not be afraid to make mistakes. My members depend on my ability to effectively communicate information, just like my students do.

What skills have you gained from being a leader in your group? How has it helped you personally and professionally?

Grace: I have gained professional development skills from being the Vice President of SPSEA by communicating with educators to present seminars at Cal U. I contacted the lovely Sam Fecich, to speak to future educators about building their professional learning networks on Social Media. From that seminar, I started my professional learning networks on Instagram and Twitter and learned how to present myself as a future educator on the internet.

  • As a leader, I am always thinking about ways I can improve. I have learned to have a growth mindset.

  • I gained the opportunity as a Rutledge Scholar to give ideas to the Education Committee on how to improve the program. I came up with the idea last year to create an event to welcome the new cohort of Rutledge Scholars. With the collaboration of the scholarship advisor, Dr. Maddas and another Rutledge Scholar, Erin Sassak we hosted the very first Rutledge Scholar Meet and Greet.

Rebecca: As a professional, I now feel confident in my ability to go into a classroom and make an impact.

  • Being a leader has increased my confidence, allowed me to practice decisionmaking and problem-solving skills, network with professionals in the field, and exposed me to so many great strategies and best practices.

  • I’ve learned the importance of collaboration and conversation that takes everyone’s voice into account. Being humble in leadership means that the example I set influences the attitudes and success of those around me and an organization such as SPSEA as a whole.

  • I am a big believer that attitude determines the direction, so I have become aware of my own attitudes and have worked to spread positivity in person and online in hopes that it will spread and inspire others.

What advice do you have for someone who is considering taking on a leadership role in their college?

Grace: I believe everyone is a leader in their own way. We all have strengths and passions for different things. You don’t have to be the face of an organization or be the loudest one in the room, it is simple, if you make an effort to inspire someone, you will lead by example.

  • If you are a future educator, I advise that you become a leader in your own education. What I mean by this is that you should take on risks to go outside your comfort zone to improve your skills as a future educator. Do things like attending a career fair that has potential employers, put a post on Facebook advertising yourself as a tutor, and contact educators who have inspired you on social media to get ideas for your classroom.

  • If you are lost on where to start to become a leader, look around! There are many volunteer opportunities in your community and university. Reach out to local schools and ask how you can help.

  • Do some research on social media and see what other future educators or even what professionals are doing to get inspiration. Lastly, take a deep breath and realize that with kindness and wisdom, you will impact people around you every day until you step into the doors of your first classroom.

Rebecca: I think that one of the hidden secrets about leadership is that you don’t have to have a title of president or vice president or any name to be a leader. We can always be leaders and we can always inspire those around us.

  • A leadership role doesn’t come easily or automatically. It’s something that you have to jump into when you feel you are personally and professionally ready to take on the task of growing and learning- because you are not going to be perfect at it and not everyone is going to agree with the decisions that you make, but all that matters is you’re working for the good of the team and constantly reflecting on the work that you do and making adjustments.

  • Reach out to the current officers and ask them about their experiences in a leadership role. You can also ask if you can shadow an officer for a day to some of the behind-the-scenes work that leaders do.

  • My biggest advice is to take the leap- the benefits will completely transform your education and career.

How can my listeners connect with you?

You can find Grace on Twitter and Instagram @missgracepinto. Read more from Grace on her blog here. You can connect with Rebecca @rnicholls_edu on Instagram and Twitter.

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