Burke excited to step back into classroom at Adviser Academy

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

As Walsworth’s 2018 Adviser Academy approaches this July in Kansas City, the Yearbooks Blog will get you ready for the event with a new Inside Look at the Academy through a series of Q&As with the instructors.

Technically, it’s really only been a matter of months since Renee Burke stepped out of the yearbook classroom. But she’s still excited to return as an instructor at next month’s Adviser Academy in Kansas City.

After 21 years as a newspaper and yearbook adviser at Boone High School in Orlando, Florida, Burke, JEA’s 2015 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year, decided last year that it was time to step away and find a new career challenge.

She’s done just that as a Media Promotions Manager for Florida’s Orange County Public Schools. But she hasn’t lost touch with the journalism program she helped build at Boone.

Renee Burke (right) was the yearbook adviser at Boone High School for 21 years.

We were able to catch up with Renee and chat for a few minutes before she returns to Adviser Academy, where she’ll be teaching classes on a range of topics to experienced advisers.

How did the transition take place this year?

I didn’t want to just leave whoever took my spot, because [Boone] had grown into such a big program and I really wanted it to be one of my former students. I contacted three students, and my principal interviewed those three. I really wanted it to be someone who knew the program and all of its intricacies, as well as those of Boone. There are so many traditions and community expectations, that I thought someone who lived them would be better prepared to maneuver them. I accepted a CRT (Curriculum Resource Teacher) position, so I could be there to help Bridgette (new Boone adviser Bridgette Norris), who was one of my newspaper editors. She was a journalism major at UCF (University of Central Florida). I wanted to be there to help her, because she had never done yearbook. She did newspaper and web, but yearbook is its own beast.

I had promised her I would stay the year. But then this new position (with the school district) opened up, and she was kicking butt. So, I asked her what she thought about me putting my hat in the ring, and she was sad because she didn’t want me to leave but she said it was perfect for me.

Tell us a little bit about the new job.

Now what I do is Media Promotions Manager for Teaching and Learning. What that means is, I tell positive stories of things happening in Orange County Schools. So I either pitch them, through media tips or news releases, or I write them and post to our website, or do instructional videos — that kind of thing. But it’s pretty much what I taught, because I’m writing stories, I’m taking photos, I’m shooting video. So it’s kind of funny that now I’m not teaching it, I’m actually doing it.

What’s it been like to be on the other end where you’re sort of back in action in that way?

It’s a little surreal, because I’m going from being the editor to having an editor. But I feel like all of my experience in the classroom prepared me so well because I know a ton of programs, like the Adobe Suite, which I use every day. I’m teaching myself Premier Pro, as well as After Effects, for videos. Since I’m already comfortable with the Adobe design software, it’s a bit less intimidating.

But it’s been really cool, because intellectually, it’s been challenging. I’m going in and seeing students across all grade levels, within 191 traditional schools, engaged in their learning. I’ve just been in awe of their excitement to learn and how good they are with technology. We keep saying [kids] are digital native, but they really are so good with it — the way they handle it, the way they navigate it. And I just think that’s exciting, because I still had kids who were nervous about breaking a computer when they would do something wrong in Adobe.

How strange has it been now to be away from advising a yearbook or newspaper?

I can’t even describe it. It was really hard. It’s still really hard. Everyone says, “This new job is so less stressful, that’s a good thing.” Someone like me thrived on that stress and those deadlines, and I was so organized. I planned the whole year out when I was an adviser and told the kids, “Here are the major work days. These are the big things you will have to do.” Now, each day is like, “Ok, you’re going to cover this.” Or I’m pitching story ideas. It’s not as structured, which is different for me.

Every adviser will tell you that there are days we want to kick our pub kids in the butt to get them working, but there is something magical when you see a kid produce the quality of work that we were able to see and experience [at Boone]. And to see them finally get it — finally get the writing or finally get the photography — it’s so rewarding.

But I can’t say enough good stuff about Bridgette. She was always inviting me to help. It helped ease the transition for me, even more so than for her.

What will you be teaching at Adviser Academy?

What I hope to teach at Adviser Academy is the passion for yearbook. It can be daunting and it is, in a sense, overwhelming; but it’s a beautiful puzzle that, when you get to see the end product, it is pretty spectacular. It’s not comparable to any other class someone teaches.

The yearbook is something people keep forever and ever. To be a part of that historical aspect is unparalleled, so I’m hoping to instill in them that they can manage multiple things, and deadlines, and do the job well.

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Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is the Marketing Automation Supervisor for Walsworth. He's been a writer, editor and web content specialist for Walsworth for the past 15+ years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.