February 4, 2011 / Teaching Moments / Winter 2011

A little (yearbook) conspiracy theory

Written by Virginia James

I have served as the adviser for the Talon yearbook at Frank W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, Va., for 23 editions — and it is likely number 24 in 2011 will be my swan song. Ours is a club situation; none of the 11 high schools in our city is allowed to have a yearbook class. However, our staff has sold out of yearbooks, won our share of awards and served as speakers at CSPA repeatedly. It has been a long, rewarding experience for me.

Many advisers have been offered advice galore. I hesitate to add another ounce to that cup. However, here is a parting idea.

I take advantage of a perceived technology challenge. That is, at my age, it is accurate that I am not enchanted with Facebook, don’t tweet, prefer a camera to a phone for photos, and try to avoid providing my email address to every merchant. Students may not realize I have been submitting grades via computer programs for decades and I actively use the web for grandchildren’s camp selections and for viewing travel options.

Part of my philosophy for the world of yearbooking has been the premise that the students need to feel a sense of ownership for this book. They need to know the program inside out, they need to develop the concept, design the cover and dividers, select the color and font package for each section, and it is they who need to market the book to advertisers and fellow students. They need to take the pictures, select the best, place them appropriately and write a headline to compliment that dominant picture.

Therefore, if there is a hint of conspiracy, a method in my old-age madness, it is that they do not know that I know much about the computer program. They are forced to do it. Otherwise, they may leave crucial steps for me to complete. If they have any pride in the final product, they cannot leave it to me.

Do I monitor every step of the process? Yes. Do I approve every word of copy? Yes. Do I offer suggestions? Yes. But I try very hard, three hours a day, to return emails to parents about senior picture deadlines, coordinate with the Student Activities Coordinator and the PTA, make deposits through the bookkeeper, consult the computer resource folks about a better printer, and more.

I am always at arm’s length, but I know the staff is actually placing pictures. They cannot leave it to me and run out to another event — at least not day after day — on the assumption that I will fix it. They don’t think I know how to fix it. They have ownership and a continuing, successful program to sustain. They have been carefully selected and adopted a sense of responsibility and pride in their record of the school year, so they will not jeopardize that by leaving it to an old rookie.

They teach one another; our slogan: “Train Your Successor.” Works for me.

Virginia James