2022 Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year Ashley Ritchie, a 2nd-grade teacher at Beechwood Elementary (Beechwood Independent), is dedicated to engaging her students and loves to make learning come to life with her classroom transformations.
Ritchie strives to provide fun ways to learn and shares her ideas with other teachers through professional development
Originally a pre-medicine major, Ritchie realized she had a passion for teaching when she spent time working with kids at a summer camp. She obtained her undergraduate degrees in sociology and elementary education from Hanover College in Indiana.
She became a teacher in her college town in 2004 and knew she was right where she needed to be–in the classroom.
While in the beginning of her teaching career, Ritchie obtained her master’s at Walden University in Minnesota. In 2007, she moved to Kentucky, where she taught in Campbell County Schools, then later moved to Beechwood Independent Schools.
“When writing lessons for my students, I seek to ‘set the stage to engage,’” Ritchie said. “I believe that creating unique learning experiences excites students and deepens student understanding of content.”
She uses room transformations to engage all students in the learning process, which involves transforming her classroom into something new and different that centers around the standards students are learning. She said this allows all students to be engaged.
Over the years, Ritchie has transformed her classroom into the Oregon trail, a bat cave, a football field, a mad scientist lab and a pirate ship.
“Working in a K-12 building in a smaller district is special because I get to watch my students grow up after they leave my classroom,” she said. “Hearing my students talk about my room transformations, years after they’ve left my classroom, makes me feel proud of the learning and experiences they were a part of in my room.”
Beechwood Elementary Principal Zach Ashley said Ritchie’s work ethic and genuine interest in the lives of students is unparalleled.
“She is truly a woman of integrity and character, and is always interested in helping others and leading,” he said. “She has maintained excellent rapport with students from all backgrounds. She remains focused in stressful situations and never compromises what she knows is best for students. Innovative is a word that we use at Beechwood, and she exemplifies it perfectly.”
Michael Brinkman, a father of two students who have experienced Ritchie’s class, said his children believe Ritchie is the teacher who challenges them while making learning fun. And she’s one they won’t forget.
“We first met Mrs. Ritchie five years ago when our oldest son Ben entered her 2nd-grade classroom,” Brinkman said. “As parents, we loved the excitement she was fostering with her students, but more than that, we loved how she was modeling the importance of being a well-rounded person, that pushing oneself should never come at the sake of being unkind to another, and that one’s mental and academic abilities are just as important as your physical health.”
Jill Harrison Berg, who is a National Board-Certified Teacher, an author for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and a monthly columnist for Educational Leadership magazine, said Ritchie is a multiplier and a powerful leader.
She said she first met Ritchie through the Network to Transform Teaching project.
“I have continued to follow the tremendous impact of her leadership on both students and adults. The changes in school professional culture initiated with Ashley as team lead have continued to inspire teachers throughout the school to step up to make the changes their students need within the school, and also to extend themselves as part of learning networks beyond the school,” said Berg.
Ritchie believes that, in the world of education, everything starts with your “why.”
“Relationships should be at the heart of every teacher’s ‘why.’ Teachers spend years building relationships with students, families and colleagues,” Ritchie said. “No matter what changes they face, even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, teachers are constant. They work even harder to develop relationships with their students in order to make them successful leaders and learners.”
Ritchie said educators need to be champions for each other.
“As educators, we know the importance of bringing new educators into our profession. So, not only must we be a champion for current educators, but we must also support and cheer for those in teacher preparation programs across our state,” she said.
“Just like students, teachers need a champion to cheer on their successes, reflect on areas of growth, and support the social-emotional health of each other,” Ritchie said. “Every day, teachers are champions for the students of the Commonwealth, but remember that we must also be champions for one another. We will rise together – better, stronger and more prepared to educate the students of Kentucky.”