Student Profile: Micela Leis Wants Every Child to Feel Excited About Going to School

Name: Micela Leis
Hometown: Providence, Rhode Island
3rd Year Doctoral Student in Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science, and VEST pre-doctoral fellow.

Remember those days as a child, waking up and feeling excited about going to school? Micela Leis does vividly. It’s one of the reasons she became a teacher. But, during her four years of standing in front of the classroom, the Rhode Island native realized that feeling excited about school is not a pervasive emotion for most students. She learned students often view their experience in school as stressful, too much to handle, and boring. And, she found that those feelings were not just limited to students in the classroom, but to their teachers as well. With this in mind, Micela decided to go back to school and study how elementary school systems can be changed to become successful learning environments for everyone involved. For Micela, one of the key ingredients to make this happen is trust.  ‘’It’s all about trust. It’s everywhere, you can’t escape it, and it’s the key to changing every school in America.’’

What is your passion when it comes to education?
“My passion is to make school enjoyable, and learning exciting for both students and teachers. That’s just not the case right now. I’ve experienced it. And I strongly believe that trust has everything to do with that. Teachers need to trust that their principal supports them and will help them implement effective teaching methods. Children need to trust that their teacher is knowledgeable, respects them, cares about them, and wants them to succeed. When those things are present, you end up creating a positive learning climate where everyone has the potential to thrive. I should say that this belief come from reading a lot of research on trust in schools conducted by Anthony Bryk and colleagues, who found that relational trust was an necessary component of creating positive school change during the decentralization of Chicago Public Schools in the 1980s and 90s.’’

Did you come to the Curry School of Education with a specific goal in mind?
“Absolutely, I want to make a difference in education. The Educational Psychology Applied Developmental Science Doctoral Program allows me to do that. I’m engaged in research at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). At CASTL, I’m able to see the creation of good interventions and the best way to apply them. Most of the research in CASTL happens in schools. They are in the field trying to make a difference. I am also exposed to great researchers who are giants in their field. It’s a unique place. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity. ’’

Your goal is to change the way students and teachers feel about their experience in school all across the United States. Do you think that’s possible?
“Yes! But, I believe big changes need to be made, that’s for sure. I think policy makers and the public have to start believing in the craft of teaching again. It is a craft and teachers need to be more respected as professionals. In many European countries teachers are treated differently than in the United States. It’s like a domino effect: When teachers are appreciated and respected, they are motivated to be engaged with their students and in return that has a big impact on students’ learning outcomes. I think one way to start this transformation is to focus on the adult relationships in schools. When teachers and principals trust each other, they are able to work together collaboratively to make learning better for students. I have seen this in action through the research that I have been doing with my advisor, Sara Rimm-Kaufman, on Leading Together, an intervention focused on building a more positive community in schools. In two years of researching this program we found that schools that fully implemented the intervention had increased levels of trust between teachers and their principal and between teachers and other teachers.’’

Where do you see yourself in 15 years?
“I see myself as a consultant working to help create a more positive climate in schools. I know that work will start on a small scale by making an impact in a single school first. But over time, I hope to grow that impact to schools, districts and at a national level. I see myself doing that in the only way I know how: through collaborative efforts with practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. I hope to be in a position where I can help make changes in school that will make the learning experience better for both students and teachers. That’s my goal. At the end of the day, I would like for every child in America to have the same school experience I had; waking up and feeling excited about going to school.”