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San Angelo Lifestyles

From Teacher to Speaker

Written by Sabrina Forse
Photography provided by Julie Schniers, LaRae Russell Photography, Sixty Sage & Mix It Up Media

A former San Angelo teacher motivates and connects others one relationship at a time.

When you see Julie Schniers speak on stage you see an intelligent, beautiful woman who exudes confidence. However, that wasn’t always the case. The motivational speaker refers to her teen years as a ‘hot mess.’  “I was 5’6 by the 5th grade and felt like a huge outcast,” Schniers said. “I was called every name in the book—lady long-legs, octopus, jolly green giant, flamingo. By high school I was still trying to fit in until I joined speech, debate and theatre. My debate teacher at Seminole High School had enough confidence for the both of us. He found what I was good at and pushed me into that space.” This former outcast would go on to become Miss Lubbock USA in 2005. 
Schniers graduated from Texas Tech in 2007, and was hired as the Speech and Debate Coach at San Angelo ISD Central High School. The classroom was like a mirror of her past.  “Alfredo Antu was a sophomore who walked into the classroom with his head pointed to the floor and hair in his eyes. He never spoke to me,” Schniers recalled. “I had the students do an improv exercise to figure out their talents and he was incredible. He went on to become a National Speech and Debate Champion and he’s doing voice over work for movies now. He later told me that he knew he could do it once he knew I was invested in him.”

Like the teachers that had mentored her, Schniers decided that investing in students—and putting relationships first—was the best way to teach them. Her students still testify to the efficiency of that philosophy. 2015-2018 Central High Speech and Debate Alumni, James Mayville, credits Schniers for helping develop his skill sets, “I owe so much of my professional communication and personal skills to the standards she set for us. For example, we had to wear a coat and tie and if you didn’t have one or couldn’t afford one, she found one for you.” 

Though Schniers keeps in touch with hundreds of former students, she realizes that making those connections is not easy for everyone. “Teachers naturally want to make a difference, yet I’ve heard a teacher say that the job is not about building relationships but was about teaching his content, Schniers said. “That’s not the case for most teachers but it was eye-opening, and I thought maybe I have something to share.” 

Schniers former students agreed. “Several students told me that I should share what we did in the classroom with the world,” she said. At the end of the 2020 school year, Schniers decided to retire from teaching after thirteen years. “A former student of mine reached out and was interested in becoming a speech and debate coach, and I knew the time was right.” Revealing the news to her students was a tearful one. “I probably cried a full fifteen minutes before telling the kids and forty-five minutes after,” Schniers said. “We were still on lockdown, so I had to tell them on Zoom.”

Schniers polled her former students when forming the message that she would use to motivate others. “I developed the keynote using LEAN IN which stands for Legacy, Eye Contact, Ask and Answer Questions, Notes and Quotes, Influence and Nurture. Building relationships may be harder for some people than others, but people are the most important piece whether you’re in the classroom or the boardroom. I want to help others make the hard parts your heart parts.”

Mayville describes Schnier’s keynote as inspirational. “She’s taking what she poured into each of us, and the model, and culture of the debate team and sharing it with people everywhere,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see that message and approach to people be used in businesses and organizations. They will be better off ten-fold.”

Schniers is now certified with the International Coaching Federation, and will soon earn her master’s degree in Executive Coaching and Consulting. Schniers is motivating everyone from educators, business leaders and employees to adolescents. “I recently spoke at the Shannon Leadership Institute,” Schniers said. “I am so thankful for hometown people who have given me the opportunity to show and shine in this space.”

Building up others and helping them focus is what Schniers enjoys most. “I am doing business consulting now. I was doing virtual sessions with two business managers in California who hated each other,” Schniers said. “These two guys were struggling because of a lack of relationship.” Schniers explained how the framework used to resolve some of their issues can be used across business types and industries. “People are still people no matter the profession. If you can’t work with other people, you’ll never see the productivity that you could see. If we are not growing, we’re not thriving.”

Schniers’ newest program is a small group workshop for female junior and high school students and young adults. The idea evolved from a group of girls she spoke to about confidence. “Sometimes we forget to teach our kids communication skills and tricks to be more confident as they deal with those really important and tough moments,” Schnier said. 

As a mom and wife, Schniers admits that she sometimes struggles with relationships and confidence herself. “No one is perfect, and as we come out of isolation and rejoin businesses, people are struggling with relationships more than ever. I have a lot of businesses that say their employees don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. That’s where your circle of influence comes in.” Schniers advises building your circle with people that make a positive impact on you. “When I’m having a really hard day, I pull from my circle of influence... I’ve kept every single message from former students and feedback from speeches. I utilize those to build my own confidence and continue to grow.”

On the days that Schniers misses the classroom, she focuses on the Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you. “There’s nothing I loved more than seeing a student grow and become the best version of themselves. I didn’t realize how much I would love getting to work with a group of leaders or help redevelop a focus phrase for a business. My plans always continue to grow and change but they’re not really my plans, are they? They’re HIS.” †
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Digital Issue Summer 2022