The University of Newcastle, Australia

From untrained assistant to global early childhood practitioner

Monday, 30 September 2019

As an inaugural recipient of a DVC(A) Merit List Award for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Nicole Leggett, shares her insight into early childhood education and research.

Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Nicole Leggett

As an inaugural recipient of a DVC(A) Merit List Award for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Nicole Leggett, shares her insight into early childhood education and research.

My passion has taken me from untrained assistant to global practitioner. Having walked in the shoes of an untrained assistant, an early childhood teacher (ECT), a Director and finally an academic, I understand the journey of education for students. I believe that having real-life experience in the classroom as well as working alongside people, families and community members provides wisdom and an appreciation for the diverse circumstances of students. I am particularly excited by a current research project funded by our University where I am able to bring educators and children in Italy together with their Australian counterparts through technology and study tours.

We have the opportunity to become a strong internationally-recognised university through the research partnerships we are forming in education. Creative Collaborations is a research project I am currently leading that provides educators in early childhood centres in Italy and Australia opportunities to share their philosophies, beliefs and experiences with each other. For the past four years I have also lead student study tours to Italy providing them with an opportunity to experience early education in Reggio Emilian centres and learn more about this renowned approach to early childhood education and care. Forming strong global connections and relationships with others is the best way to create a stronger, more unified delivery of quality early childhood education services globally for all children.

It’s vital that teachers lead by example. Relationships are key to learning and if students feel liked, valued, are treated with respect and can trust you, they will hopefully demonstrate the same values to their students one day. It starts with learning their names and just getting to know them. As teachers we know that emotional well-being is essential for successful learning. Sending an email to a student I am concerned about can make all the difference. Similarly, it’s important to model to students the value of being open to feedback; when there are negative comments, I have to reflect on if they are truly valid and what I can do to address them, and positive feedback can drive innovation and creativity in how I deliver the course.

I try to give my students freedom to be themselves. I want students to develop as ‘whole’ people. I want to be ‘real’ to my students and want my students to be true to themselves. To develop their own skills, abilities and to be their own teacher – not someone else, but to think about what makes them unique and what they have to contribute. I also want students to consider creativity and creative thinking over knowledge – to develop as creative educators who have problem solving skills, can think divergently and can be innovative in their teaching. A successful course is one where tutors have been excited to teach, and students have been engaged in their learning; there is a healthy, respectful teaching-learning nexus.

Providing flexibility of teaching programs is challenging. I believe it is becoming increasingly difficult for students to be ‘full-time’ as they are having to balance study with work and family commitments. Students who cannot afford to attend university full-time are enrolling with universities that offer degrees via correspondence (as I had to). While this is creating a need for flexible course delivery, I believe we need to create a better schedule for students so they can attend campus and be involved socially. Creating strong social networks is vital for sustaining students. In early childhood, many students just want to do early childhood (0-8). I believe if we are to increase our numbers in education, we need to be flexible in our degree pathway – offering either an early childhood degree, primary or early childhood/primary degrees.

Leadership and community are our strengths. UON, particularly in education, has a really dedicated, professional and caring team of academics who are fortunate to have a strong leadership team. John Fischetti’s leadership style, personal attributes and commitment to early childhood and creativity in particular has made the University a place of work where I feel valued and supported to advance in my career. As a place of learning, I believe the Ourimbah campus in particular, has a warm community feel. It is an honour to be teaching students at university, some whom I taught at preschool. We are part of this community as people and educators and we have been able to build a good reputation.

It is a gift to be working with children and young adults of all ages through teaching and engaging in research with industry partners and international researchers.

About Nicole

Nicole started working as an untrained assistant in a community-based child care centre in 1987 and continued to work in the profession mostly as a Director for more than 20 years. While working full-time she completed a CCCS (now Diploma), a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood) and a Master’s degree in Early Childhood through Macquarie University via correspondence study. In 2008, Nicole commenced working with the University of Newcastle as a casual academic and in 2009 commenced the PhD. She completed this in 2014 and went on to become a full-time academic and now senior lecturer in education with our University.

Nicole coordinates several courses, sometimes across three campuses and teaches at Callaghan and Ourimbah. These courses currently include: EDUC1055 Foundations in child development, EDUC1070 Foundations in creative arts for early childhood and primary teachers, EDUC2066 Professional experience course for early childhood, EDUC3066 Early childhood education and care: children’s places and EDUC3800 Intercultural Understandings. For this elective course Nicole leads student study tours to Italy.

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