Back in 2013, Bradlee and Melissa Skinner were facing an uncertain future. Education was their shared passion. But after more than a decade in the field, Bradlee was struggling with teacher burnout. He had left his classroom, he believed, for good. Meanwhile, Melissa was striving to pursue her Masters of Education degree. But, despite drive and diligent effort, the roadblocks seemed endless.
To call it a difficult season in their lives would be an understatement. In Bradlee’s own words, “It was disheartening. It was tough. It wasn’t good for my mental, physical or emotional well-being.”
Thankfully, that’s where this story starts, not ends. With the support of former students, open hearts and a touch of Jostens Renaissance magic, their world began to change.
A Captivating Experience
In his time away from teaching, Bradlee tried a series of odd jobs, searching for the right fit. It just so happened that some of those jobs had him working side-by-side with former students. These teenagers were now young adults, and as the old teacher-student barriers faded, his new coworkers started to speak candidly about their time in school.
“They talked about a lot of stuff… things that they faced in school, what they wish was done differently, and they were so open and vulnerable about it. That really got me thinking.” Bradlee recalls “I’m like, you know what, there’s gotta be a better way. And you know what? I’m not going to be able to fix it from the outside. So, maybe, I go back to teaching, and I can try to fix some of these things from within the classroom. From within the school. From within a leadership position.”
Turns out, his spark of passion for teaching had never really been extinguished, despite the teacher burnout. And so, with Melissa’s full support, he accepted an interview with a new high school, in a new state. It was a Renaissance school, which at the time meant nothing to them. But the moment they stepped foot inside, the Renaissance spirit was palpable.
“Meeting the principal [and] being in the school… there was something unique that we had never experienced in any of the schools or school districts that we had worked in previously. There was just a different energy about the school, a different perspective from all of the teachers, a different school spirit and drive from the students. It made us want to learn more about it.”
Simply put, “It was captivating.”
Opening up the World
It wasn’t long after their move that Melissa also found the path she was looking for. She landed a coveted spot in a Masters program. And soon after, she learned firsthand just how far reaching the Renaissance impact can be.
In fact, it was the global community of Renaissance educators that helped her find her first position as an elementary school teacher. To this day, the community continues to be one of the elements she loves most about Renaissance. “I feel like, in that Renaissance community…you want to help each other. Even educators, not just the students. It’s the educators that you want to help grow as well.”
It’s a far cry from times in her past, when she once worked as a substitute teacher. Thinking back on those experiences, she reflects “so many teachers teach within a bubble, or they have a closed-door policy. Renaissance opens-up your school, your classroom, to the whole world. We’re able to get information and ideas from educators all over the world, to say ‘Hey, how do you do this? How do you make that work?’ Having access to that global think tank is incredible.”
Strong Relationships are the Teacher Burnout Antidote
Underpinning the Skinners’ impressive journey – from nearly leaving teaching altogether to reinvigorated educator super couple – is the power of great relationships; relationships with former students, fellow educators, school staff and the global community.
Relationships, of course, are also one of the guiding tenants of Renaissance . And it doesn’t take much to see why. Frankly, positive relationships pay off.
Melissa says it best. With strong relationships, students “are going to trust you and listen to what you’re educating them about. Then, as you build that relationship, the great part is watching them come back to see you, to talk to you. [With] Brad teaching for 20 years now, there are a lot of students from his first couple years where, now, we’ve been there for weddings!”
It’s a sentiment Bradlee agrees with wholeheartedly. “To have [my] students come back and say ‘hey thanks, thanks for being my teacher. Thanks for what you did to help me through that tough time,’, That’s where those dividends are paid back, where I can see that, you know, what I did actually made a difference.”
“Building positive relationships…was something I was always successful with, but I wasn’t necessarily mindful of what it could truly create.” He adds. “Being part of Renaissance, we’re seeing that those relationships are a vital component to future success.”
Support and Love
To end on a sweet note, the Skinners are also an endearing example of how beneficial a strong relationship with the one you love can be. Though they’re often asked if they were high school sweethearts (they just have that vibe, you know?) Bradlee and Melissa actually met in college and have been together ever since. Though , truthfully, their love story wasn’t without its hiccups.
Melissa laughs. “Bradlee stood me up 6 times till we finally went on our first date!”
But naturally, Bradlee insists he had a good reason. “When I asked her out that very first time, I didn’t get more than five feet away from her. And I instantly felt that if I go on one date with her, I will not date anybody ever again.” He grins when he admits “I panicked.”
Clearly, the panic passed. Today, the Skinners do outstanding work, both independently in their classrooms and together as beloved members of the Jostens Renaissance community. Their story is one of perseverance, dedication and love. And, of course, the power of Jostens Renaissance!
Article inspired by Renaissance Educators, Bradlee and Melissa Skinner.
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