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Students in Kiley Rikard’s class congratulate her as 2021 “Teacher of the Year” at Mill Creek Elementary School. CONTRIBUTED

Kiley Rikard, Mill Creek’s leading teacher, values conversation with students

MADISON – To Kiley Rikard, teaching is the most important profession in the world. Rikard is 2021 “Teacher of the Year” at Mill Creek Elementary School.

Teachers can introduce students to the world, help them figure out who they want to be and the role they want to play, Rikard said. “Teachers must be all about listening, having conversations and giving students the opportunity to ask questions,” she said.

“Learning is a lifelong process, and we learn from each other. As their teacher, I’m a facilitator of that learning,” Rikard said.

In her structured classroom, Rikard sets clear routines, procedures, expectations and consequences, while giving a safe place to take risks and ask questions. She confirms that students know their voices are important.

“I’m a support teacher, so I work closely with classroom teachers to help students feel confidence and success in the general education classroom,” Rikard said.

In Conyers, Ga., Rikard taught grades 2-4 and was Academic Coach at J.H. House Elementary for 16 years before returning to her home state in 2016. At Mill Creek, she previously taught first- and fourth-graders and currently is English Language or EL teacher.

She has sponsored Junior Leaders and Amazing Shake Club with students competing nationally at Ron Clark Academy.

Many of Rikard’s students are new to the United States and are learning English. “Students often feel homesick and intimidated when they first arrive. One specific success I’ve felt has been with a student from Japan,” she said.

Within 1.5 years, this student reached honor roll, volunteered to read aloud and showed excitement daily. However, she was devastated when a friend moved out of her class. “She has learned enough English in one year to bond … and experience true loss with her American friend,” Rikard said.

Rikard is fulfilled in promoting an environment for the student to develop friendships with American peers, “instead of simply clinging to her Japanese friends.” The child’s academic foundations have been important, “but helping her develop confidence in communicating and find joy in all aspects of school has been the most rewarding.”

Rikard earned a bachelor’s degree from Converse College; master’s degree from Walden University; and education specialist certification in elementary curriculum and instruction from Brenau University and add-on in instructional leadership from University of North Alabama. She is a National Board Certified Teacher or NBCT.

She owns two cats — 25-pound Jasper and seven-pound Ripley. “I’m just a few cats shy of being a crazy cat lady,” Rikard said.

Originally from Tuscumbia, Rikard grew up on a farm with goats, chickens and rabbits. “It’s still my favorite place to be — even though I consider myself to be a city girl.”

“I love to read by the pool, go to the movies, wander Target and spend time with friends and family,” Rikard said. “My latest interest is learning about the culture of my kids as their generous parents share food and experiences and open their home to me.”

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