Ashley Skinner may not have thought she would one day be laminating and lesson planning at a Christian school, just as she had watched her mother and grandmother faithfully do throughout her childhood.
But the 4th grade teacher now looks back and sees it was God’s hand that led her back to Grand View Christian School, which her family helped start three generations before her.
“Now I’m at Grand View Christian, which is really cool because that’s a school that my family helped start 50 years ago, and came from a church that my great-grandparents helped start,” Skinner told The Lion. “So I have a lot of history at that school. I am thankful to be back.”
Grand View is a dynamic Christian school serving more than 700 pre-K-12 students in Des Moines, Iowa. The school believes “God has placed the primary responsibility for the child in the hands of the parents,” and sees itself as “an educational support ministry for families in the faith community.”
Even when she started college, Skinner didn’t have plans to teach, and so explored majors outside of education. But then a conversation with her mom convinced her to pursue teaching.
“I switched majors to education my sophomore year and really found a fit, and my professors were encouraging and edifying,” Skinner recalls. “That was kind of confirmation that I was in the right field.”
Her first teaching job was at Grand View, which found itself needing extra help during an enrollment increase. Then Skinner worked at another area Christian school for a time before returning to Grand View.
“I have taught English for 15 years,” Skinner says, as she explains a breakthrough in her approach to teaching grammar. “Some students are ready to be challenged while others are lost to the terminology, mindset and rigor. This makes live teaching difficult.”
But nearly 10 years ago, Skinner was researching the pedagogical approach of the “flipped classroom,” which inspired her “to loosen my hold on live lectures” and innovate.
“I now use a blended learning structure that combines my lesson videos with individual, small, and large-group work,” she says. “Students are required to take notes, and they pause or rewind as needed. When they have questions, they talk to me one-on-one or in small groups.”
This effective approach to teaching English is just one of the reasons Skinner is one of 12 educators nationwide to be named 2023 Christian Teachers of the Year by the Herzog Foundation, which publishes The Lion.
“Three hundred videos or so later, I am still tweaking the system,” she told The Lion.
Skinner also works hard to integrate a biblical worldview in her classroom.
“When I first started teaching, I had a narrow understanding of what it means to teach students through the lens of a biblical worldview,” Skinner said. “But over the years, two things have changed.
“First, I became serious about reading God’s Word. Once I began reading faithfully and for understanding, I found that my worldview ‘glasses’ were clearer. Biblical integration became more natural, and I shared lessons from my own Bible reading” with students.
The second factor was more personal, as Skinner says she learned to share with students how she was applying a biblical worldview to the trials her family was facing.
“My husband and I struggled with infertility for six years, and my students knew that we were trying to start a family,” Skinner says. “Once I shared the lessons [God] was teaching me, I learned that I would need to be real if I wanted to impact my students.”
Reading the Bible deepened the well she was drawing from, and being genuine about her own life experiences deepened the relationships she has with her students.
Looking back on her journey, the proud mother of two sons firmly believes that it was all part of God’s plan.
The Christian Teachers of the Year honor is part of the Herzog Foundation’s Excellence in Christian Education award series. Each of the 12 winners will attend a special awards event in Washington, D.C., where they will also receive a monetary gift.