Missouri State University

Foundation Award for Teaching

Denise Cunningham

Dr. Denise Cunningham

College of Education
Childhood Education and Family Studies

I.  Philosophy of Teaching

My teaching philosophy is grounded in constructivist theory based on the work of Jean Piaget, and experiential learning from the work of John Dewey.  I believe the atmosphere or climate of a classroom is critical for supporting student engagement and active learning.  This socio-moral atmosphere, as defined by Piaget, is one where mutual trust and respect is built between teacher and students and between the students themselves.  By taking the time to build relationships and creating a positive climate, students generally perform at their highest ability.  Opportunities to work together, share thoughts and feelings, discuss issues of importance and interest to them, and contribute to the workings of the classroom on an equal footing, are some of the characteristics of an active, engaged learner.  The use of participatory instruction, small and large group discussions, and experiential learning provide students with active learning experiences and opportunities to be critical thinkers.  Students engaged in active learning are reading, writing, talking, describing, touching, interacting, listening, and reflecting on the information and materials presented.  Through my passion for teaching, I try to create a learning environment where students are eager to attend class and learn through active engagement.         

II.  Examples of Courses/Topics

I am the Program Director for Child & Family Development and Early Childhood Education.  I teach CFD courses: 305 Multicultural Studies in CFD, 463 Administration of Programs for Children and Families, as well as special topics.  In early childhood, I teach the methods courses – Emerging Literacy/Communication Arts, Socio-Moral Development/Social Studies, and Mathematics and Science for Young Children, as well as The Early Childhood Professional.  In the Early Childhood & Family Development graduate program, I teach Literacy in the Early Childhood Years, The Educational Role of Play, and Family Literacy.

III.  Future Projects

I am currently undertaking a study at the MSU Child Development Center with one undergraduate and one graduate student.  We are investigating the relationship between preschoolers’ block constructions, picture drawing, and literacy skills.  I will be presenting my paper, “Re-conceptualizing Early Childhood Teacher Education: Enacting a Paradigm Shift to Bring Developmentally Appropriate Practice to Higher Education” at several conferences in the fall of 2013.

IV.  Topics related to teaching and of interest to the University Community, for which you are available for presentations and/or consultations (e.g., presentation tools, special topics, technology, public affairs).

I have worked individually with faculty members across campus through peer evaluation of teaching to improve instruction and enhance student engagement.  I have also presented with other faculty members on syllabus development and writing objectives at the university’s Showcase on Teaching and Learning.