GREEN RIVER — Bradlee Skinner is the epitome of everything you’d hope an educator would be. He is also one of three educators to receive this year’s Josten’s Educator of the Year award. The prestigious award will be given to the Green River High School teacher in person at the Josten’s national conference this July in Orlando, Florida.
Skinner was chosen out of 6,000 eligible schools that implement the Jostens Renaissance program. The other two recipients of the award are principals from Texas and Washington.
Jostens Renaissance is an educational division of the Jostens company best known for it’s yearbooks, caps, gowns and class rings. Jostens Renaissance focuses on improving a school’s culture and climate. There are many benefits such as teacher retention, high graduation rates and an overall positive environment for learning and teaching.
From the Stage to the Classroom
Skinner, who primarily teaches theatre and American literature, has touched the lives of many students throughout his career. His love for teaching was only discovered through finding the love of his life. Originally he planned to flourish in professional theatre. He had majored and studied theatre in college, however, due to circumstances of traveling and being gone his career path took a dramatic turn when he met his future wife.
“When I met Melissa, who is my wife of 21 years, I didn’t want to be away from her. I didn’t want to have that insecurity. I wanted to be wherever she was. I knew I couldn’t do that with where my acting career was at the time,” Skinner said.
Education provided the opportunity to still participate in theatre and have the relationship he desired with his wife. Since his career path changed, Skinner has found great joy in helping others find their love for theatre and providing them the tools necessary to reach their goals and aspirations.
“When I directed my first play I was just hooked. As an actor I loved being on stage, I loved hearing the accolades of people. But it was completely different when I was sitting in the back of the theatre as a director now hearing the applause and seeing the looks on my student’s faces. That is even better,” Skinner said.
Doing His Job
Despite spending most of his time in a role where he shares knowledge and discusses ideas with the youth of Green River, Skinner has come to learn many unforgettable lessons from his students and the faculty around him. Without them, he wouldn’t be the role model and person he has sought to become.
As an avid sports fan, Skinner compares his career to the basketball player Horace Grant.
“I look at myself more like a Horace Grant rather than a Michael Jordan. I’m not the greatest educator but I’ve been blessed to be on teams that have had incredible supporting players that have allowed me the opportunity to reach success. Horace Grant got to play with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He won championships because he surrounded himself with great people, had an incredible coach and he did what was necessary to win.” Skinner said.
The most important lesson that Skinner has learned is that he has the great privilege and responsibility to help kids no matter the effort that it will cost. On a daily basis he goes into the classroom prepared with his students in mind. The goal each class period is to uplift and serve students to help them see their potential. While the world may tell young people that they are limited and defined, Skinner focuses on an opposite message.
“You’re going to have kids that come into your classroom that have physical, mental and emotional baggage. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. You can’t allow your own shortcomings to fail these kids,” Skinner said. “As educators we have to want to see kids succeed. We can’t allow for them to fail or accept who they are because of their background or lifestyle. They can come into school and we can give them the best possible environment to succeed, to learn and to feel loved. I think the more we do that, we are giving kids a chance to succeed when the rest of the world wouldn’t give them a chance to do anything. That’s been the biggest thing I have learned; find a way to help kids no matter what.”
While the Educator of the Year award is a great honor, Skinner feels he hasn’t done anything special. Instead, he has only done his job.
“It’s kind of weird to be recognized for doing your job. I don’t necessarily think that I’ve done anything super special, I’ve just done what I believe I am supposed to do as an educator. I believe in kids. I want them to succeed and I do whatever I can to make that happen. It’s nice to be recognized for what I do, don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate it. But it’s not going to change what I do. It’s not going to change how I’m going to strive every single day to be a little bit better to help the kids that need it.”
Great Relationships and High Standards
Skinner is not your average teacher. He’s different. In his American Literature class Skinner gutted out desks and swapped them for beanbags and couches. The goal is to help the students feel more comfortable which leads to more conversation in the classroom. By making the classroom feel more like a bookstore instead of a classroom he has found that students are more willing to learn and talk about books.
In addition, the few first days of a new semester he focuses on building relationships with his students and truly desires to get to know who they are and what expectations they have for him.
“Jumping right into coursework or lessons is not my style. It’s what I was taught to do. But I found it wasn’t as effective as spending that time to build relationships. Once a relationship is established the student is more willing and happy to do the work that we are asking them to do.”
At Green River High School the school’s mission statement focuses on “great relationships and high standards.” By creating positive relationships, high standards can be met. When trust exists between educators and students, true learning takes place in the classroom.
“If you treat students like a number on a role sheet, they are going to perform and behave like a number on a role sheet,” Skinner said.
Instead of checking the role sheet, Skinner takes the time to go out to extracurricular events his students participate in. Whether it be a baseball game or a rodeo, he believes that supporting students and getting to know them outside of the classroom shows how much he truly cares about each individual.
“I want them to be successful not just in my classroom but in all their classrooms and outside the walls of the school,” Skinner said. “Whatever career they pick they will be successful and I will support them and be there for them no matter what. You can’t get that if you just sit kids down and give them a syllabus and lecture on the first day.”