A firm belief in the power of education for young children led Gillian D. McNamee, PhD, to pursue a career focused on high-quality teaching of young children — and she has channeled that passion through her work at Erikson Institute for nearly four decades.
Her love for teaching began as a child interacting with her grandmother, whose piano playing and storytelling helped her connect with children. In the 1960s, her grandmother volunteered as a teacher in the early days of Project Head Start; today, Dr. McNamee keeps a certificate hanging in her office signed by Lady Bird Johnson and Sargent Shriver that recognizes her grandmother’s efforts to help launch Head Start in Boston.
“I’ve always wanted to understand how education could provide every child with the opportunity to achieve their potential, giving their talents and capacity for empathy to family and society,” she says.
Dr. McNamee serves as Erikson’s director of teacher education, a role in which she designs courses for students learning on campus and online. Students in Dr. McNamee’s classes can expect diverse readings, films, video clips, hands-on activities, dramatic readings of children in play, and discussion about moments of learning involving teachers and children. “The goal is to connect teaching to our students’ lives and interests, as well as what is meaningful from history and today’s world,” she says.
As the principal investigator for Erikson’s Language and Literacy Partners (formerly New Schools Project), Dr. McNamee leads a team of experts working in schools located in under-resourced urban neighborhoods and focusing on the foundations for learning to read and write in preschool through third grade. The program engages school administrators and teachers in three-year professional development partnerships to transform schools into centers for excellence in teaching and learning for our nation’s youngest schoolchildren.
She also has authored three books, the most recent of which is “The High-Performing Preschool: Story Acting in Head Start Classrooms,” published in 2015. In the book, Dr. McNamee portrays the lives of 4- and 4-year-old children in Head Start programs to uncover where excellence in teaching and learning resides. She focuses on a particular part of the curriculum — story acting — to understand how it provides the blueprint for all preschools, not only serving society’s elite and delivers on the promise of investing in education.
- BA in culture and cognition, Hampshire College
- MS in teaching, University of Chicago
- PhD in reading and language, Northwestern University
Areas of Expertise
- Preschool, kindergarten, and primary grade teacher development
- Language and literacy development
- Performance assessment of young children’s learning
- Vygotsky’s theory at work in early childhood classrooms
- Head Start: the starting points for closing the achievement gap
- Creating high-quality preschool through third grade teaching and learning within diverse cultural and language communities in the United States and around the world
- Erikson’s Language and Literacy Partners (formerly New Schools Project)
- Essential Elements of Effective, Engaging, and Empowering Online Teaching and Learning
- Common Core Standards and Early Childhood Education
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- McNamee, G.D. 2015 The High Performing Preschool: Story Acting in Head Start Classrooms. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Chen, J. and McNamee, G. (2013). Assessment for Learning in the Early Childhood Classroom. In J. Johnson & J. Roopnarine (Eds.), Approaches to Early Childhood Education. (6th ed.). Pearson, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
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- Listening to Learning in the Early Childhood Classroom. 92nd St. Y Early Childhood Wonderplay Conference, New York City – keynote. November 2014.
- New Leaders for Young Children: Realizing the Promise of Early Childhood Education. New Leaders: Chicago Public School Principals in Training – keynote. October 2014.
- The Story of A Princess, Dragon and Batman: Listening to Head Start Children with Vygotsky and Mrs. Paley. University of Nebraska – Omaha Early Childhood Conference – keynote. October 2014.
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Related professional experience
- Member, American Educational Research Association
- Member, National Association for the Education of Young Children
- Member, Society for Research in Child Development
- Member, National Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators
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