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Kendra M. Hall-Kenyon

Kendra Hall-Kenyon’s time as a scholar has taken unexpected turns: from studying reading comprehension in children to teacher well-being to supporting families. As she sees it, it’s all serving the same goal.

“It’s all connected,” Hall-Kenyon says. “We know that we need families to thrive, teachers to thrive, and children to thrive for schools to be successful.”

As a young professor at BYU, Hall-Kenyon “focused on different instructional approaches to understanding how children comprehend text,” she says.

The research excited this former elementary school teacher because it kept her in classrooms: “It got me in the schools and got me working with teachers.”

However, as she watched fellow academics study assessment and teacher practice, Hall- Kenyon’s imagination caught fire. She started looking at how teachers approach their jobs.

“I realized that I can hand a teacher this instruction and give them strategies to use, but there will always be a missing part if that’s all I do,” she says. “Teaching will always be more about how they implement it than it will be about whatever I give them.”

These ideas led to Hall-Kenyon’s involvement in Systematic and Emerging Early Literacy (SEEL), a program designed to help children grow reading skills through play. With founder Barbara Culatta, Hall-Kenyon became a principal developer of SEEL—work that illustrates the many bridges she likes to build: between research disciplines, between schools and families, between academia and real-life classrooms, and between student success and teacher well-being.

“If you have a teacher who’s thriving, they’re always going to do better for children,” she says. “My work around teacher well-being was very fulfilling. We spent a couple of years in Head Start classrooms, and that was amazing. The work those wonderful teachers were doing couldn’t be more critical in the lives of children and the trajectory of their education.”

Hall-Kenyon felt her research was still serving the same goal: improving education to give every child the best possible outcome.

“I don’t think I shifted my focus; I think I shifted my approach,” she says.


While it seems that she’s come a long way from studying instruction, Hall-Kenyon says she really hasn’t: “Understanding how children learn and how we can support them is still my major interest. But you can’t answer that question unless you include the teacher and the parents. It’s about all of us.”

Becoming head of Teacher Education, the McKay School’s largest department, and serving as interim dean before her official appointment was another way for Hall-Kenyon to
spark growth in others.

“The thing I love about being a scholar is that there’s a lot to wonder about in education,” she says. “People have been studying these things for decades, and there is still more to know.”

As dean, Hall-Kenyon has lofty goals—helping students, faculty, and staff value their identities as children of God; strengthening relationships with Jesus Christ; building connections within a covenant community; and seeking revelation—that she’s implementing in down-to- earth ways.

For example, this semester her goal is to strengthen students’ sense of divine identity and their sense of the love of Christ.

“Every time I interact with a student, I’m trying to communicate those outcomes,” she told McKay School faculty and staff in August. “I am learning so much, and I am being changed. When you help someone understand their divine identity, you understand your own. As we are intentional in these efforts, it will come back to us a hundredfold.”

As dean, Hall-Kenyon relishes the chance to know more deeply and to represent the McKay School’s departments, faculty members, and students.

“We have faculty working in more medical and adult settings, faculty focused on teachers, faculty focused on children, and faculty focused on instructional design,” she says. “All of those areas are directly aimed at nurturing the full potential in others. That’s why I come to work every day: to help devote minds and spirits to nurturing the full potential in others for the benefit of the world.

“If anything qualifies me to be a leader, it’s that my heart is all in on this work. I don’t think there is a better profession than teaching and nurturing children and families. I don’t think there’s a better place to do this work. I don’t think there’s a better mission.”

Written by Stacey Krantz
Photography by Bradley Slade