A magazine and a cup of coffee on a table

My Unexpected Path to Leadership Education

Erin Reimel ClementsLeadership Lab, Leadership Programs, Pedagogy Of Leadership®, Student Leadership

by Erin Reimel Clements, Director of Alumnae Engagement at Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in Lower Gwynedd, PA

Finding My Way Back to School

My journey to a career in education has been simultaneously unexpected and inevitable. While I did not study education during my undergraduate career, I have always had a desire to teach. Prior to working at my alma mater, Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School, I was a journalist in New York City. I worked at many of my dream publications, seeing my byline in the pages of Glamour, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Shape, and more. I didn’t realize it then, but all that writing was my personal form of teaching my readers. 

Whether I was explaining the complex science of antioxidants in skincare or the powerful connection between scent and memory—I was seeking information and explaining it to my audience in a way they could understand. Over time, I started reflecting on what mattered most to me: educating women to help them feel like the best versions of themselves. I started working as an adjunct professor at my undergraduate alma mater, Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication, and loved working with the students there. I wanted to do more.

So, when a job opened up at Gwynedd as the Director of Alumnae Engagement, I jumped at that chance to return to the environment that helped shape me into the person I am today. Over the last few years, my job has evolved to include working with students in their Leadership Seminar class and the senior’s Mentorship Program, in which they are each paired with an alumna mentor for the year. Helping our students to become confident and capable leaders resonated with me, so when Gwynedd announced that they would be sending two employees to the gcLi Leadership Lab, I jumped at the chance. I’d heard my colleagues who had gone previously rave about it, so I knew it was something I wanted to experience. 

Transforming with gcLi

I arrived in Colorado Springs in the summer of 2022 for the Leadership Lab, ready to learn as much as I could about leadership and how to teach leadership skills to my students. At first, a week away for professional development felt like a long time. But by the end of the week, I wished I could stay and keep learning from not only the gcLi staff, but also my amazing small group members. We became a community in just a handful of days. We overcame challenges, celebrated wins, and bonded over our shared passion for helping to prepare the next generation of leaders.

My time at the Leadership Lab energized me in a way I cannot even begin to explain. The topics of Adaptive Leadership and Daniel Goleman’s six characteristics of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, communication, social skills, and empathy) and how they connect to leadership really stuck with me. In fact, our Leadership Seminar at Gwynedd is focused on cultivating those six skills in each student. It underscored that anyone can be a leader—not just students (or adults) with a specific leadership title. As someone who still remembers the sting of not being elected to Student Council during ninth grade, this was exciting. 

I love working with our students to help them see that leadership is not about being the smartest, loudest, or fastest person in the room or on the field or stage. It is about making personal connections, building trust, and creating psychological safety within a group to encourage everyone to work toward a common goal. It always amazes me how quickly students come to understand this and to see that they are capable of being strong, impactful leaders. Being able to articulate this for them and having dedicated time to deliver content and practice those skills in our Leadership Seminar is immensely helpful. I am excited to see where our leadership program goes and how it grows in the years to come.

Making My Way to the University of Pennsylvania

The Leadership Lab also led me to reflect on my future in education. I found myself increasingly interested in school leadership and I heard that gcLi offered a grant to the School Leadership Program (SLP) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. I never expected to go back to school to receive my Master of Science in Education, but after a lot of thought, I was sure this was my path forward. If I wanted to be a successful school leader, I was determined to make sure I had the necessary tools. 

As I contemplated this next big step, inspired by all I learned from gcLi, I spoke to gcLi Executive Director Jeremy LaCasse. I explained where I was coming from and where I hoped to be one day and he encouraged me to apply to the Penn program. Thankfully, I was accepted and also to help me complete my degree.

Now halfway through my time with SPL, I have strengthened many of the skills I learned from gcLi, broadened my understanding of the management of a school, and I have even helped bring gcLi back to Gwynedd to train our entire staff through the gcLi School Certification Program. We were so fortunate to have Jeremy and Dr. Heidi Kasevich, Director of the gcLi School Certification program. I love that now every employee at Gwynedd shares a common experience in training with gcLi.

My work with gcLi and Gwynedd also inspired me to focus the research for my degree with Penn GSE on our school’s leadership programming and how it impacts our students during high school and as alumnae. I have been able to work with the staff at Penn GSE to design a research project to study how we teach leadership at Gwynedd, which is very much inspired by gcLi. I am excited to share what I find in my research and use it to improve our program.

Looking Toward the Future

The foundation I built at the gcLi Leadership Lab has helped me to find a path toward becoming a school leader and ensuring that each student who comes to Gwynedd understands that she is capable of becoming a leader—in whatever way she defines it. I did not study education when I first went to college, but the pull back to the classroom (as a teacher and a student) was something I could not resist. And truly, I feel as though I am exactly where I am meant to be. I find those topics of adaptive leadership and emotional intelligence that I connected so strongly with during the Leadership Lab woven into the PennGSE program and my own personal approach to leadership.

I look forward to continuing to strengthen them throughout the rest of my education with Penn GSE and beyond, working toward becoming a confident school leader. I am also thrilled to keep working with gcLi to bring the Pedagogy of Leadership into the halls of Gwynedd. Each day, I use the tools I learned from gcLi and I am truly thankful for the gift of that week of professional development in Colorado Springs. 

Erin Reimel Clements is the Director of Alumnae Engagement at her alma mater, Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School. She not only works with alumnae to keep them connected to the school, she teaches leadership skills to all students in all grade levels. Erin graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications with a degree in magazine journalism and currently works as an adjunct professor in Syracuse’s Fashion & Beauty Milestone program. Erin started her career in New York City as a beauty and wellness editor for magazines such as Elle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and Shape. She is now a freelance writer and editor, working with beauty and health publications and brands. Erin is working toward earning a Master of Education in School Leadership from University of Pennsylvania. She is a gcLi Lab graduate and a recipient of this year’s gcLi grant award in collaboration with Penn GSE. She lives in the Philadelphia-area with her husband and dog, Fred, and loves spending time with her family and friends, binging TV shows, and watching live theater.