Photo by: Katherine Severin

October 5, 2021 / Staff Management

10 Ways You Can Rediscover the Fun in Yearbook

Written by Mary Beth Lee

I’m the worst teambuilder.

No, really. I talk to the coaches to find out their tips and tricks, I watch other advisers and ask for advice, I LOVE game day Fridays, but I don’t do the teambuilding thing. I don’t mean to be so one-track minded, but the yearbook is always on deadline, and it’s got to get done, and there are literally four-five classes going on at once in yearbook, so my brain goes one place the minute the day starts. Work. Fun work, but work. And planning. And project management. And deadline. And…

I forget the planned fun. The team building.

In honor of National Yearbook Week, I want to say, it’s okay if you’re the game day Friday adviser or the I forget the fun adviser. It takes all of us to do this job, and the job is so very important. The yearbook adviser’s job is one of the most important on campus. We protect the school’s legacy, the archive, the memory of what once was.

The book looks like a class project, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the school. It’s what we’ll remember in 10, 20, 30, 50, 100 years. The trophies will go away. The buildings will change. The admin teams, even the ones that last for generations, eventually leave. We remember because of the stories, and the stories are in the book – the book that lasts forever. It’s the only thing on a campus that lasts forever. We have been honored with the task of choosing the stories to tell in a given year through words, design and photography. What an amazing opportunity we and our staffs have to tell the stories of the year.

But, let’s face it, this is hard work. The hardest work in my entire life the last three years.

And if it’s hard for me, I know it’s hard for kids.

True facts: I tell my kids it’s okay to feel like quitting. I even share when I feel like that. And I remind them it’s all better when the book comes out because it is. Every single time. But you can’t make it through on promises of May (or June, July, August, September) alone. It’s too hard—especially during these forever COVID years—for the promise of Publication Day.

So what can we do? I hope these suggestions help.

10 Ways to Rediscover the Run in Yearbook!

  1. Editors O’Fun. Since I forget to have fun, I appoint kids to be the editors o’ fun. They celebrate the birthdays and remind me we have to play games. They organize Yearbook Olympics after the book is done. They bring cupcakes and cookies and just make sure the fun goes on. It’s a good thing.
  2. Dance parties. Sometimes when the world is upside down in the newsroom, you just have to stop for a dance party. The Cha-Cha Slide, the YMCA, the Cupid Shuffle. Anything works really. It’s especially helpful to have a dance party mix ready to go for the times the Internet quits working or the server crashes on deadline or someone calls in a bomb threat in the middle of picture day and you have to reschedule the event for six weeks later creating a cascading disaster for deadlines, though I hope none of those happen to you. Dance parties make everything better. Because all those disasters are out of your control, you have to help you and the kids let them go. Ultimately, that’s one of the big keys. Let the things go you can’t control, and remember to dance.
  3. Know your why. I’m an adviser to make a difference in kids’ lives. I provide a safe space for kids. And while I’m doing that, we make the yearbook. Remembering my why helps keep me going.
  4. The COVID years have taught me this more than the years before. It’s so important to just stop and breathe. Our jobs, especially now, can be so overwhelming. The Calm app has been life-changing for me and my students. Deadline tension and stress isn’t a bad thing – learning to power through those feelings and use them for good is an important part of what we teach – but sometimes those stresses are overwhelming. When that happens, I break out the Calm app breathing bubble. When I started using the breathing bubble, I thought it would be a rare treat. Now it’s a regular part of class. The kids run in and ask to breathe. They need it. I need it. We do it, and it has helped so much. When the stress decreases, the fun increases.
  5. It’s okay to say no. We love our schools. That’s part of the yearbook advising job. Because we love our schools, we can sometimes overcommit. It’s fun to do everything and be everywhere, but it’s also exhausting. It’s okay to protect your time and say no. Advisers need lives outside of the newsroom and outside of the school. Burnout happens often because we go-go-go and forget to live outside our jobs. As much as we love advising, it is a job, and we need to put ourselves first. Sometimes that means saying no so we can better enjoy the role we already have.
  6. Remember to say yes. We have such great moments on campus. People will let us help with so many activities. Becoming part of your campus, investing time in activities outside the newsroom, can be the best part of teaching. When the dance team asks you to pretend to be a rival’s fan for a pep rally skit, do it! If you can do it with friends, even better.
  7. Join your state and national journalism organizations and go to their events when you can. I’ve met some of my dearest friends at the Texas Association of Journalism Educators events over the years. The networking help from JEA is invaluable. We’re alone on our campuses often. No one knows what we do. They can’t. And that’s okay, as long as we have our J-teacher buddies to talk to. Today there are even great groups on Facebook to help.
  8. Lean on your representative and use the Walsworth planner in the kit. Your Walsworth representative knows yearbook. They are your partner in this job. Ask questions. Send text messages. Don’t avoid your representative when things get hard. Instead call and say, “Help!!!!” And the free planner that comes in the kit is invaluable. Every once in a while, I forget that and spend way too much money on a fancy name brand planner. I always return to the Walsworth planner with its timeline help. Use it, and life will be much easier.
  9. Go to summer camp. The Gloria Shields Summer Publication Workshop has been my go-to for my entire career. My kids learn so much there, and our staff bonds. We pair it with the Walsworth workshop and end summer with a strong theme ready to go. That makes everything easier, we have fun together and we get inspired and excited about the upcoming year. Yes, summer is still months away, but it’s never too early to talk to your staff about it and get excited about events that can be some of the most fun of the entire year. Your Walsworth rep can recommend workshops near you that you would enjoy.
  10. Find the joy. It’s easy to focus on the negative, especially the last couple years. Deadlines will be missed, kids will quit, picture days will be interrupted, but you’ve got to find your joy. It’s there – sometimes we just have to dig it out. One of the people on my admin team challenged herself to find the joy in every day, and she posts it to Facebook. I don’t find my joy in every day, but at least once a week I share a “Brought Me Joy” list. Sharing that joy is important. Find your joy and shout it out.

There are plenty more ways, but these 10 keys have made all the difference for me. I truly believe they can help you and your staff reconnect to the joy of yearbook too.

Yearbook adviser is the best job in the world. The joy of watching blank pages become beautiful spreads, the laughter and excitement of teens collaborating in the room, the process of watching those teenagers find the story of the year and tell it through interviews, photography and design, all built around a solid theme package they’ve developed over time – you just can’t beat it.

This National Yearbook Week, take a little time to celebrate your staff and have some fun. There will always be another deadline looming, but this week is all about us and the incredibly important jobs we do. That’s worth celebrating. And if you want to throw in a couple teambuilding exercises too, go for it!


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Mary Beth Lee

Trained to be a newspaper adviser, Mary Beth Lee never meant to be a yearbook teacher, but once she started advising yearbooks in 1998 she loved everything about the job. Today she teaches at Chisholm Trail High School in Fort Worth, Texas.