Today we highlight Dr. Hannah Kye, assistant professor within Rowan University’s College of Education. Dr. Kye’s fields of research are early childhood and elementary education. She surrounds her research on multicultural, social justice approaches to early childhood education with a focus on science and engineering education. She was recently recognized for her work with the Excellence in Online Learning Award by Rowan Global. Here, Dr. Kye discusses her experiences as a Rowan educator, how she started her education journey and her approaches to teaching.
What is your area of expertise and how long have you been an educator in this field?
My fields are early childhood and elementary education. This is my eighth year teaching in higher education. Before this, I was teaching in early childhood and elementary classes for about 13 years.
Have you always aspired to be a professor within a college of education? Did you experience any “it moment” that led you to realize you wanted to be an educator?
I experienced my “it moment” sitting in my undergraduate class. My professor, Dr. Daniel Walsh, played his guitar and improvised a song about my classmates and me. He was showing us an example of relationship-based pedagogy to use in our own future classrooms.
Dr. Daniel Walsh’s courses were unlike anything I have ever experienced. He focused on building community, taking a critical look at education, and he had very high expectations. He expected us to be teacher researchers. I went to his office hours to learn how to do his job because he had such an impact on me. Within these office hours, we discussed a path to becoming a professor and I followed it to a T.
Why did you choose to center your research on multicultural, social justice approaches to early childhood education with a focus on science and engineering education?
I was fortunate to teach in a science and engineering program where I connected with colleagues who shared my concern about gaps in STEM access and outcomes across lines of race, gender, class and disability. The discussions I had with them became the foundation of my future research.
Now I study culturally-responsive approaches to stem education with the goal of ensuring that young children, particularly those from groups that have been underserved, want to engage in science and see themselves as science learners. This work involves young children, teachers and families, so my research also includes teacher preparation and family engagement.
Describe for us an experience you’ve had with a student that made you feel excited about educating the next generation in your field.
My students and I worked with the absolutely amazing educators and families in the Bridgeton Public Preschools on a series of family science nights. Our early childhood education majors facilitated the science investigations, and these students came prepared. Even though we provided translators and I developed the curriculum in English and Spanish, the Rowan students went the extra mile to translate their own greetings, questions and vocabulary all so they could better connect with the families.
The Rowan students’ enthusiasm was infectious and all of the laughter, cheers, and high fives exchanged between the preschoolers and the Rowan students were amazing. After this experience, my students in class could not stop talking about more ideas for inviting families into their curriculum.
What is one thing you wish people knew about your academic discipline or your research focus?
Early childhood and elementary educators work with children in the most important and dynamic years of human development. I think from the outside, people typically see the play, imagination and singing. All that fun and laughter is deeply informed by teachers’ expertise on best practices for effective instruction, curriculum and assessment. They are experts on child development, and not only intellectual and cognitive development, but also social and emotional development.
How do you define good teaching?
Good teaching starts with positive relationships. Teaching is an incredibly complex job. Everyday, teachers navigate the various expectations of the state standards, their school leaders, curriculum, and their diverse student and family populations. Good teaching prioritizes relationships and keeps children and families at the center of our work.
What pedagogical changes do you see on the horizon in your discipline?
Universal pre-K is one major change that I see. There is a push right now to welcome our youngest learners into existing elementary schools and school districts. We need to talk about how schools and leadership must adapt to these young children because we cannot demand that the children adapt to the structure of schools. Young children need to play everyday inside and outside and have opportunities to explore and investigate things that are important to them. That is really how all kids, especially kids up to age 8, learn content, disciplinary skills, language, leadership and really everything. When you take away play, you take away learning.
How would you describe your teaching style and/or philosophy?
One of my students wrote to me that she values her open relationships with her professor and classmates and being able to share experiences to learn and grow in our class. I think that sums it up well. My focus is on connecting, sharing, and building knowledge and skills in a community.
What emotions did you feel and/or do you feel as one of the recipients of the Rowan Global’s Excellence in Online Learning Award?
I am grateful to be the recipient of this award. I teach in the College of Education and I take great joy in teaching tomorrow’s educators.
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