Interior Design professors Dr. Natalie Ellis and Mia Kile are on a research team that is focusing on the early childhood educators’ interactive experiences with the built environment. The study, led by Dr. Kyong-Ah Kwon, is entitled the “Happy Teacher Project: Supporting Early Childhood Teachers’ Physical and Psychological Well-being.”

The team recently received a Faculty Investment Program (FIP) grant of $15,000 to develop new strategies to improve workplace support for early childhood education (ECE) teachers and address concerns around their physical and psychological well-being, which can affect teacher turnover and classroom practices.

“This is an exciting project focused on a very important topic.  We are very proud of Professors Kile and Ellis and the work they are doing to make a positive impact toward improving on our educational environments and teachers’ well-being,” said Elizabeth Pober, director of OU’s interior design program.

Believing that teachers’ well-being is overlooked in research, the team wants to modify and validate measures to assess physical and emotional work environmental factors. During their research, they will use teacher focus groups, questionnaires, standardized classroom observations, administrator interviews, and teacher’s physical health assessment data collected from 240 ECE teachers and eight administrators. The team has successfully recruited 20 of the 30 targeted early childhood centers and are on pace to meet or exceed team project goals.

The research is a collaboration among colleagues across disciplines of the University of Oklahoma (Department of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum at OU-Tulsa, Division of Interior Design, Norman Campus, and the Department of Rehabilitation Services, OUHCS) and Universities (University of Oklahoma and Johns Hopkins University and its College of Education).

“The collaborative team directly connects to the University’s vision of reaching out beyond our own building’s walls and involving surrounding community needs as we address the built environment’s effect upon the individual physical and mental health well-being and effectiveness,” Ellis and Kile said.

Their next step in their research is to randomly select eight ECE centers, conduct focus group and classroom observation, and collect survey and interview data from administrators on ways to support teachers. Their future plans are to publish research findings in multi-discipline venues, both written and presented, and to seek national grant funding opportunities.

The team previously received $8,500 from the Early Childhood Education Institute at OU-Tulsa during the Fall 2018 semester. See our blog for more.

Featured photo: The Early Childhood Education Institute, OU-Tulsa.