Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2013

Faculty Award winner

Kelly Jennings

 College of Education

 Child, Family & Community Sciences

As a teacher for the Early Childhood Development and Education Program at the University of Central Florida, I mentor students through classroom instruction, advising, seminar placements, and Senior Internship. During this time I continually model my teaching philosophy as an advocate for young children. My main goal is to strengthen the education community in the field of Early Childhood Education, instilling in our students at the University of Central Florida the understanding that ALL children can learn.

Early Childhood educators are trained in and understand developmental stages of the young child. We are observers of young children as each child will move through these ages and stages at different paces. Erik Erikson's Psychosocial Stages and Jean Piaget's Cognitive Theory are of utmost importance in order to know where a young child is in their development. Recognition of a young child's development assists with the Early Childhood educator's relationships with the young child and classroom instruction.

I am a strong supporter of learning through play and social activities. Lev Vygotsky described young children's development from socially shared activities. His view on the Zone of Proximal Development and young children learning through peers is a model I use during class interactions with my students. Scaffolding my students' learning provides the instruction they need in order to transfer this knowledge when they are in their own classroom. I also discuss the young child's emotional well-being. It is our job to take into account both the social and emotional needs of the young child. When a child's social-emotional needs are met, education can be more successful.

My doctoral research examines the need for high-quality Early Childhood educators in lower socio-economic settings. The inquiry into urban communities strengthens not only my learning, but those of the students I teach. I am able to expose my students to the importance of how a child's culture and community play an active role in a young child's life. As Early Childhood educators, we need to understand children by making connections with the family systems. Families are where children begin the process of socialization and being part of a community. Pedagogical frameworks need to be in place for children of low-income and culturally diverse families in order to instruct.

I continue to mentor and model for veteran teachers in the field, advocating for change when needed for young children in the Central Florida community. Through classes at the University I instill the role of advocacy in the students I teach. We cannot leave our young children behind as they are our future.