“Mr. Kenner is an educator deeply committed to his own growth and development. He approaches every situation as an opportunity to learn and grow, all for the sake of getting better at his craft on behalf of students. He is an exceptional teacher and an exceptional leader because of his humility, determination, and deep sense of purpose.”
Principal, E.L. Haynes Elementary School
In 2014 Rick Kenner started feeling restless. Growing up in the DMV, he attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to study Exercise Science. He planned to be a Physical Therapist, but while he was working as a personal trainer, he was looking for a career change. With a passion for service, he talked a lot about teaching with a close friend of his from high school, who worked as a teacher at KIPP in Atlanta. He probed her about what the job was like, what it required. Rick kept thinking that this was the path he might take, but he was hesitant. He didn’t go to school for education.
She suggested he looked into the Capital Teaching Residency. As a KIPP employee, she knew it developed great teachers, and he decided to go for it.
He started at E.L. Haynes in 2015 working as a teaching resident in the Capital Teaching Residency program, working alongside Ms. Ty’ease in her kindergarten classroom. He knew at the time he wanted to focus on elementary school and the youngest learners. “I learned a ton that year and had a whole lot of fun. Ms. Ty’ease taught me what it means to be a teacher, how to get a child to not just learn a skill, but to understand the skill, and how to apply it in life.”
Later in that first year as a resident, he truly realized he made the right choice deciding to teach. On a field trip to the American History Museum, he talked to one of his kindergarten students about US presidents. The student shared a fact about President George Washington. Always probing, Mr. Kenner asked “How did you know that?” The student responded matter-of-factly, “You taught me that, Mr. Kenner.” The power of the moment was not lost on him. “I gave it to him and now he has it forever.”
Following his year in kindergarten, Mr. Kenner took over as a lead teacher in Pre-K4 in 2016. He loved the challenge of teaching, being able to manage the daily workload for a group of 4-year olds, together with his teaching team, organizing the classroom and his students, and making sure students get the results they deserve. “I was always asking myself – How do I get students to do the heavy lifting? How do I get students to take ownership of their learning?“ He quickly realized that the answer was to be curious, ask his students questions, and probe their thinking. “If I am supporting a student, I don’t want to just give them the answer. The most effective teachers are really good at teaching students how to learn to understand — how to learn to learn. You have to always ask questions. Teaching is mostly listening and learning is speaking. As a teacher, you are trying to hear where the child is, question after question, to help them figure out the information themselves.”
According to Mr. Kenner, one of the best parts of teaching Pre-K4 was helping support students on their path to kindergarten. He loved the day from start to finish. He got to witness firsthand the world through the eyes of a four-year old – how they saw the day, what they were excited about and eager to learn. When asked what he loved most about teaching he doesn’t hesitate. “The kids, man. There is never a dull moment. You can learn so much from them.” But it wasn’t always easy, teaching four-year olds comes with its challenges. “At the beginning I struggled with patience and understanding the grade-level and how to develop them appropriately. I would ask myself, how do I give them bite-sized information and bite-sized lessons to get them to fully understand? That patience is key to watching students grow.”
In the spring of 2019, Mr. Kenner was hired to become a new assistant principal in the elementary school. Reflecting on leaving the classroom, he thought deeply about ways he could not just impact the students in his classroom, but students throughout the school community. “I always miss the students I taught in previous years after the year is over, and now I get to see them whenever I step into their new classes.”
“Mr. Kenner is an amazing educator. When my daughter was in his class, his boundless energy and positive attitude made the classroom a joyful place for learning and play. As a parent, I felt like we were partners in helping her grow in both academics and confidence. I was dazzled by his ability to keep a group of Pre-K4 kids together and engaged on a field trip to the Air and Space Museum. Now that he is in the assistant principal position, we love seeing his smiling face as we come into the building at the start of each day. He plays a big role in making E.L. Haynes such a welcoming place to be!” Explained Alison Cavanaugh. Her son Bobby, says further, “He is super nice to everybody. He’s funny, generous. And he’s always high-fiving people in the hallway.”
At the beginning of the year, the elementary school principal Brittany Wagner-Friel told him that one of his primary jobs is to coach and support teachers to become even more effective instructors. “I try to bring the same love, care, understanding, and encouragement for them to own their learning as I did with my students,” Mr. Kenner says.
But, in the middle of this first year in a new role, all of what he was expecting was thrown out the window with the COVID-19 closures. The trust and relationships he built prior to these closures helps him navigate these new waters with teachers, students, and families. He sees the big challenges facing our students and knows that the key lies in the power of the relationship between students and their teachers – “students really miss being able to interact with their teachers in person.”
Ever the optimist, the current reality keeps him grounded in the work. “I love E.L. Haynes. The students. The families. The staff. I love everyone here. I feel super blessed that I can walk into work and just love everyone I come in contact with every day. The kids keep me coming back. I am here for a reason, and I am here to make sure when our kids graduate, ready to go to college or build a career, I helped provide a small building block in that process – in helping them pursue their dreams.”