From the time she was little, Michaela Hanna was not one to follow the crowd. To stand apart from a childhood friend who shares her name, she quickly adopted the moniker “Mickey.” Similarly, she didn’t want a cookie cutter master’s program to follow either.
Hanna was excited to be one of the first to graduate from Southern Oregon University’s Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Leadership in Early Childhood Education online program in December 2020. She completed the program in just a year and a half and will return this summer to do a special education licensing program.
“Ultimately, I have a really big passion for inclusion and holistic education,” she said. “SOU’s program gave me a different lens and perspective. I feel like my master’s program was so thorough it could have been called the theory of global education.”
Returning to SOU for her master’s was a no-brainer for Hanna who received her bachelor’s in child development there. Her brother and father also hold degrees from the university.
After she completed an internship in Germany working in child development centers on military bases, she got an email about the new master’s program at SOU that set the ball rolling.
“I was looking through SOU’s classes and they just sounded appropriate for who I am as a person,” she said. “So, I went ahead and applied.”
Hanna enjoyed that she could take online courses and work at the same time. She moved and changed jobs, but SOU’s online program made it easy for her to continue her studies.
“Doing both at once allowed me to immediately implement changes to my practice,” she said. “It also allowed me to network and communicate with other educators who were in different areas and gain new resources and ideas from them.”
She has taught at preschools and for Head Start/inclusive classrooms, performed ABA therapy for in-home early intervention services, and student-taught at College of the Redwoods. She has gained varied experience by working for a number of programs and looks forward to continued learning and growth in her career.
New Program, Perfect Match
The courses in the SOU program reignited Hanna’s passion for the early childhood education field.
“It was fantastic to find a master’s program that gives the field the respect it deserves,” she said. “The field of early childhood offers a lot of opportunity for families and teachers to come together. The work done is vital for human and family development and growth.”
Her favorite course was ECE 550: Trauma and Restorative Justice, as it covered student behaviors, appropriate responses and the interconnection between students and school. She especially remembers learning about trauma in young children and using co-regulation and mirror neurons to help. She appreciates the emphasis not only on accountability but also on safety, trust and attachment. The focus on relationships with children and families made a strong impression on Hanna, too.
“We discussed the importance of providing enough resources and training to teachers about restorative justice, repairing situations and helping children gain accountability and autonomy at a young age,” she said.
“When children are young, they’re still learning so much about their social-emotional world and their sense of self, and we’re the adults that need to help guide them and help them co-regulate and gain those tools. This was such a powerful class.”
She also enjoyed ED 560: Diversity in the Workplace, specifically as it related to social constructs. She felt individuals in the class could freely express their opinions.
“We learned about holding ourselves accountable as people,” Hanna said. “It was a lot of re-looking at the policies that we have and who they’re serving. Are they serving people in an equitable way? If not, what can we do to help break down those barriers in the education field?”
Becoming an Advocate
Hanna didn’t always know what career path to follow. She started as a theater major but quickly saw that wasn’t her calling. She loved the course in early childhood education that she was required to take while working with young children at a YMCA in California. She also worked in a preschool at the same time, taking early childhood education courses at a local community college.
“SOU was the perfect school to transfer over to for my B.S. There’s so much neurological science that goes into the first five years, and I think the research part of me surfaced. I ended up really loving it and then I stayed with it,” she said.
Today, Hanna considers herself an advocate for young children, and she feels the program at SOU strengthened her resolve to do more to help.
“In early childhood, we forget that we are advocates for the field, that we are professionals, that we do know what we’re talking about,” she said. “We can talk to Congress and our state representatives. We can lead change in this field.”
Hanna loves to sing and dance, and she incorporates that part of herself in her classroom with her kids. She also plans to begin the SOU special education licensing program and hopes to one day help consult other teachers in inclusive, early education programs.
“SOU offers an amazing program that uniquely focuses on holistic learning and gives you the chance to explore different learning styles and theories,” she said. “This program helps early educators see that we are professionals and early childhood education is a fundamental profession.
“Most people view school as a place to learn academic things, but in reality, we’re teaching children how to be people, how to be humans, how to live in a society.”