Leslie Nicholas

NEAF-Pearson Foundation Global Fellow 2013


Global learning takes on greater significance as the world flattens. Nothing – and I mean nothing – occurs in isolation anymore.

Economic and environmental globalization is obvious, but even now athletic events even have global implications. Because of a peaceful transition to democracy and a relatively strong economy, Brazil was awarded the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. On our recent trip, we witnessed several demonstrations that were, at least in part, protests about the money that was being spent on athletic facilities while one quarter of the population lives in poverty. It is vital students understand world happenings. Technology has made it a “small world after all.” The days of writing to a pen pal halfway across the country are over. Students now send emails to students halfway around the world. Teachers even teach lessons to far-off students by way of long-distance learning labs. As the world shrinks, it is even more vital students be aware of world happenings. Educators must help students recognize the global connections.


Teamwork is a key concept and is often missing in the classroom. I have discovered cooperation and collaboration are critical components of students’ success, so I strive to incorporate them into my classroom.

One example of teamwork I am proud of is the establishment of the SpARTan ARTiGras, a music and arts festival held at our high school. My students had published an award-winning literary-arts magazine, but they couldn’t find a venue in the area to sell it, so they created their own. They worked with drama, music, and art teachers to put together a first-rate celebration of the arts where drama classes presented skits; the jazz band, orchestra, and choruses performed; and art students displayed their pieces.

Brazilian teachers apparently collaborate with their peers much more than their American counterparts. Faculty members discuss their ideas with other teachers in a room called a germinal, based on the word germinate. I love the name and the concept because ideas grow and develop here.


Teachers must be the models for life-long learning.

They must read articles, discuss strategies, attend workshops, and take courses. It is interesting to note that many of the skills I taught, I didn’t learn in my undergraduate studies. For example, I taught desktop publishing, non-linear video editing, digital photography, and a multitude of other technology-related skills despite not having a computer course in college. I attained these skills by seeking them out. Good educators must have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. The learning process continues until the day you die.

When I started advising yearbooks, students drew boxes on carbon paper for black and white layouts. The last yearbook I advised was an all-color digital book with a DVD that accompanied it. The rapidly-changing technology made the job challenging, but it was exciting too because it means I didn’t teach the same material in the same way year after year.


Our obsession with test results has caused us to overlook the excitement of the learning process and to completely ignore the fact that great learning can take place from failure.

I work hard to ensure that my students feel comfortable making mistakes.  I will admit that it is difficult to watch students make wrong choices, but it is wonderful to see them learn from those mistakes. A mistake can be a great teaching vehicle if a student learns and grows from it. To learn from errors, students must be made to critically evaluate their work and use what they find to keep improving. Knowing that failure is an option results in increased motivation to do well because the flip side of taking the blame for things that go wrong is taking the credit for things that go right.

If teachers allow freedom in the classroom and encourage introspection, students learn teamwork, responsibility, and much more. I agree with Randy Pausch who wrote, “In the end, educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective.”


We desperately need to remind Americans that education is a shared responsibility.

Parents don’t take their child to the dentist and then forget about dental care. They check daily to make certain their children brush and floss. Similarly, parents can’t turn their children over to the teacher and expect the professional to handle it all. Parents need to read to their young children, check homework, and stress the importance of education.

Parents and teachers must view the process as an active one in which each partner’s input is crucial to success. It’s not a coincidence that every student who did exceedingly well in my class had parents who stressed the value of education. Teachers don’t do it alone. The job of educating is not just the purview of the professional. Teachers have a big responsibility, but so do parents and the students themselves. The entire community, in fact, has a responsibility to fulfill.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Leslie Nicholas recently received the 2013 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence at a gala in Washington, D.C., considered to be the Academy Awards for public education. He also received the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence.

In 2009 he was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. In the same year, he was one of five national finalists for the Great American Teacher Award. He was a member of the 2006 USA Today’s All USA Teacher Team. He is a 2005 Disney Teacher and the 2005 University of Pennsylvania Educator of the Year. He is also the 2004 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.

Before teaching English in the Wyoming Valley West Middle School, he advised the award-winning yearbook, literary-art magazine, and newspaper at the high school. He built the student-run radio station and television station where his students gained experience with daily broadcasts. His students distinguished themselves in various journalism contests including the Pennsylvania Student Journalist of the Year in 1998. For his contributions to scholastic journalism, and especially for his defense of the First Amendment, he received the 2006 Medal of Merit from the Journalism Education Association and the 2007 Student Television Network’s First Freedom Award. He was named the Pennsylvania Journalism Teacher of the Year in 2002.

He coached track and field for 17 years and compiled a record of 102 wins against just 7 losses.

He is a fourth-generation educator who is passionate about teaching. He and his wife Jo Ann live in Kingston, Pennsylvania. They are the proud parents of their son, Jordan.