Jennifer Ribbeck: Strong relationships are the foundation of student success
Updated: Jan 6
Principal Jennifer Ribbeck is an educator who believes that students flourish when they’re held and supported. Building a strong community is central to this, as is creating a positive, optimistic environment.
Jennifer Ribbeck, Principal of East Iredell Elementary, first started teaching elementary school back in 2001, where she met her husband. She taught third, fourth, and fifth grade for six years before becoming an instructional facilitator, offering support and training to teachers. It was there she trained for and became certified as a state math foundation trainer. After having served in the role of instructional facilitator for 13 years, Jennifer decided to further her leadership skills with a master’s in school administration before being hired as assistant principal and now principal.
As the world of education evolves, Jennifer evolves with it, and wherever she can, she attends principal conferences, leadership groups, and instructional training. She also has four mentors, who she checks in with regularly to support her growth as a principal, and she makes sure to maintain strong communication with colleagues to share strategies and feedback.
Jennifer works off the philosophy that every child can learn and that it is the teacher’s responsibility to identify points of access and apply the right strategies. She explained that building strong relationships with students is at the foundation of this. “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” she said. “I’m all about positive reinforcement and being optimistic about being successful.”
With respect to tried and tested strategies, Jennifer said that Robert J. Marzano’s ‘High-Yield Instructional Strategies’ has proven to be effective alongside the gradual release model. “I believe in using total participation techniques, where we engage our students in the learning, so: turn and talk, thumbs up, hold up cards - those sorts of activities.” As a math foundation trainer, Jennifer has also found great value in the concrete representational abstract model or CRA, which ensures that students gain conceptual understanding through using manipulatives and gradually progress through different phases.
Jennifer explained that when working with children, you teach them much more than just one subject matter, like math. “I’m big into Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Effective People. We’re a ‘Leader in Me’ school, so we’re all about teaching students those leadership skills,” she said. Likewise, Jennifer advocates for students to take ownership of their learning. “We’re a class, a family, and a community that supports each other, but I also believe in empowering them.” When Jennifer had her own classroom, students would set their own personal goals and chart graphs to mark their assessment progress, while the wider class would also set strategic goals together that were regularly revisited.
For Jennifer, her field of work is incredibly rewarding and knowing the impact she has on her students’ lives makes it all worthwhile. “Knowing I can be a positive influence in their lives and a role model, not only for my students but also the teachers in the building, is incredible,” she said.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Ribbeck