UNION, N.J. — Barbara Ridener started out as an elementary school teacher in Orlando, Fla. Her responsibilities have certainly increased since then — she’s taking over as the new dean of the College of Education at Kean University.
“This felt like the right position and a good fit for me,” Ridener said in a Dec. 20 Kean University press release, after having been chosen as the new dean earlier that month. “I see the opportunity to be creative.
“Education has long been a field where people feel they should do things as they’ve always been done. But what stands a program apart is filling the needs of the students it serves. As the population and the demand change, we have to make sure we change, too.”
Ridener comes to Kean from Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, Fla., where she started as an assistant professor 23 years ago and rose to associate professor and eventually chairwoman of the Department of Teaching and Learning. She earned her master’s degree from the University of Central Florida and her doctorate from the University of Georgia.
Kean’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Suzanne Bousquet said that Ridener was selected for her comprehensive experience and leadership ability.
“Dr. Ridener brings decades of experience in teacher education to her new role as Kean University’s College of Education dean,” she said in a Dec. 8 statement. “She will build on the college’s long-standing legacy of excellence within New Jersey as she develops programs and partnerships that offer Kean’s students the finest education and practical training to launch or further their careers, to the benefit of schoolchildren throughout the state and the nation.”
Ridener’s background as an elementary school classroom teacher, both at Orlando’s Good Shepherd Catholic School and with the Orange County Public School System in Florida, fits with the history of Kean, which was known as New Jersey State Teachers College from 1937 to 1973.
“My initial research was in elementary math education,” Ridener said in a Jan. 6 interview. “What drew me to that was that it was so foundational for how students perceive mathematics and grow as students. So, if they have negative experiences, it affects the rest of their schooling career and who they are and who they become as adults.”
“At Florida Atlantic University, we teach in alignment with the district’s needs for their future teachers,” she said. “That work was recognized by the council of the great city schools for outstanding partnership work.”
Ridener emphasized the importance of understanding each district’s needs and understanding how teaching in a university environment is different from teaching at the K-12 level.
“Some of the district’s needs were to align how our students were taught reading and effective classroom management,” she said about working with schools in Florida. “It’s something you have to learn on the ground. Also, to become really strong teachers, the teacher candidates have to become familiar with the ways in which they were going to be assessed.
“With our collaboration, the principals were saying their teachers were going to become stronger teachers, as well.”
Ridener is as interested in developing effective teachers as she is working with students. “My focus is on the students, but it’s also on preparing teachers to be effective teachers of mathematics,” she said. “One of the things that was fundamental is the idea that what works in a university classroom must also work in a K-12 classroom, but you can’t shortcut skills.
Mathematics builds on itself, and, as students are learning new areas of mathematics, they connect to what they’ve previously learned, and you can’t do that effective learning without building and scaffolding of concepts.”
Ridener is most looking forward to developing relationships with alumni, faculty and community partners.
“I would like to continue my work with partnerships and continue the collaborative work that Kean does within communities,” Ridener said. “Kean has a strong reputation of teacher preparation, and not only do we want to continue that, but we want to highlight programs that are within the program that aren’t just teacher preparation, as well.
“It’s everyone working together to become the strongest we can possibly be.”