Understanding how to best promote learning and instruction has been a conundrum for UCF College of Education and Human Performance’s associate professor of educational psychology Michele Gill. Besides being a mom, devout Catholic, novice bass guitarist and an avid reader and yogi, she has spent more than 25 years searching for answers by studying the history and philosophy of education.
Gill was a National Merit Corporate Scholar who took general education courses at UCF during her senior year in high school. Her thirst for knowledge intensified, so she decided to take her education quest further by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in humanities at New College of Florida in Sarasota.
“I’m passionate about education,” said Gill. “I studied the underlying roots from the time people started writing about education and wanted to know what a good education was before I became a teacher.”
Gill was ready to take her educational expertise to the classroom and returned to college through an alternative certification program in elementary education from the University of New Mexico and then pursued a K-8 teaching certificate from the State of Colorado.
After receiving her certification, she taught fifth grade for three years and then eighth grade literature in Colorado. Gill enjoyed teaching and said she “loved creating a dynamic classroom environment and felt teaching was a real art.”
Although Gill enjoyed teaching, she still had persistent questions about school reform. She had experienced the problems with the current educational system and wanted to find solutions. Gill knew she needed to delve deeper for answers and decided it was the right time to attend graduate school.
Gill was inspired by Russian theorist and developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky after reading about him in an educational psychology book. She found educational bliss after pursuing and receiving her educational psychology master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Florida.
“Educational psychology is the application of psychological learning principles as well as examining learning and the psychology behind it,” she explained. “It’s looking at classrooms and learning from a psychological lens.”
She continued to make strides in her pursuit of educational happiness while teaching students at UCF, and later receiving tenure. Gill realized there was a need for educational psychology courses as part of an Applied Learning and Instruction Master of Arts (ALIMA) degree program for students from diverse academic majors who have an interest in the application of psychological theories and research to improving learning, instruction and training in school or work environments. After the proposal received the green light, the program took off with students taking online courses from as far away as Turkey.
Over the summer, Gill and her colleagues received a National Science Foundation grant for developing an ecosystem where UCF Department of Mathematics faculty apply evidence-based practices when teaching calculus courses as part of their MATH-GAINS application.
Arianna Finnane has been a teacher for the past 16 years and wanted an opportunity to prepare future educators. She enrolled in the master of applied learning and instruction program and will also be pursuing an Ed. D. degree at UCF. Finnane has taken Gill’s human lifespan course and is currently enrolled in her ALIMA seminar class, and feels she’s on track for success.
“Dr. Gill makes you feel like you can succeed and I think that’s what makes her an outstanding educator and instructor.”
Education doctoral student and lead facilitator for Florida Hospital’s CREATION Health Employees department Alexander Chriest is studying educational psychology with a focus in self-regulation and motivation. He took Gill’s Facilitating Learning, Development and Motivation class last year and is taking her ALIMA Seminar course this semester. Gill’s teaching style keeps him engaged and excited about learning.
“You can tell she’s passionate about teaching. I think that really reflects upon her students because you will get a lot more students achieving greater things because of the way she teaches.”
Gill’s accomplishments have flourished by founding the Galileo School for Gifted Learning, a K-8 public charter school in Sanford, collaborating with fellow education professors Gillian Eriksson and Debbie Hahs-Vaughn on its opening in 2011.
The charter school, which is named after Italian astronomer, physicist, philosopher and mathematician Galileo Galilei, was recognized for its psychology-designed programming and for nurturing children by receiving the American Psychology Association’s Board of Educational Affairs Golden Psi Award and $1,000 prize last April. As part of the award, the school was featured in the organization’s Sept. 2015 issue of its “Monitor on Psychology” publication. Gill also received the Center for Success of Women Faculty’s Women of Distinction Award for Excellence in Community Engagement and Outreach for chartering the school and establishing community engagement.
Gill enjoys giving back and advises future educators “to continue learning but be critical about what they’re learning” and emphasizes “it’s a moral imperative to not let any student slip through their fingers because teachers have power, and just like Spider-Man found out, with great power comes great responsibility.”