Photo by: Brandy Hennon

February 19, 2010 / Staff Management

A yearlong plan for keeping yearbook fun, keeping the staff motivated

Written by Christina Vettraino Chatel

In my previous column, I offered you a chance to “borrow and steal” ideas I’ve gathered on recruiting new yearbook staff members. But recruiting is only half the battle!

If you want a group of motivated staffers who love yearbook and get along with each other, the year doesn’t start in September — it starts in May.  Here is a detailed look at how I have arranged our year by month, with ideas for how to keep kids excited all year, because these moments will be the highs that counteract the stressful, discouraging lows.


Organize a “new staff meeting” in May to get everyone together.  This meeting is vitally important for several reasons.  First, this is when those lacking dedication will drop, after I scare them with a warning about how much work yearbook will be.  Second, when we go around the room making introductions, kids can see who they will be working with, and knowing that there are a few familiar faces makes them more comfortable.  Third, this meeting becomes the moment where the editors for next year step up as leaders.  As they speak to the new staff about their ideas and their plans, I watch them realize that they have to grow up and be the leaders and motivators now.  Last, the meeting has its practical purposes: I have the staffers fill out an information sheet so that I can contact them, and inform them about the summer workshop and journalism camps.


At the end of June, take your staff to a Walsworth summer workshop.   My rep holds an overnight workshop with seminars and fun activities.  I encourage every staff member to attend, and I even try to defray the cost with yearbook funds.  Not only is this a great time for new staffers to learn about yearbook design, photography, and writing, but it is also a fantastic opportunity for us to bond.  There’s nothing more entertaining for the staff than to see their yearbook adviser shaking it on the dance floor!


A week or two before school starts, host a welcome picnic on a Sunday afternoon.  Weather permitting, I have it at the pavilion at the local park.  Send the kids invitations and ask them to bring soda, chips, or dessert; I buy subs and bring the paper products.  Make sure to get nametags.

When they arrive, have them write down something about themselves that no one else knows.  (And do this yourself, too).  After eating, read all of the “secrets” and have them guess by writing down whose it is.  You will be surprised when you reveal the answers at the end!  Another easy icebreaker is to dump a bag of Starburst on the table and have everyone take two.  Make each color represent something, such as yellow for “Why did you join yearbook?” and orange for “What other activities do you do at school?”.  Go around the table and have everyone answer the questions.


Do an icebreaker every day during that first week of school.  Everyone should know each other’s name by Friday.  Consult Edie West’s 201 Icebreakers for ideas.

Bring a dessert for the first birthday in September.  Then, that person must bring something to celebrate the next person’s birthday.  In the past, kids have made cakes, cookies, brownies, even ice cream sundaes.  I make this a graded assignment to ensure participation!

October and November

Dub one of your students “social coordinator.”  Tell him/her to plan a staff bonding event for October – anything from a Halloween hayride to a game or movie night.

Attend the National Scholastic Press Association’s Fall Convention.  As with the summer workshop, students will learn so much about yearbook and journalism.  What they will remember, though, are the moments where they bonded over the strange things that teenagers find amusing.

Celebrate the completion of your first deadline with a party.  There are so many little things that you can do to make this event special: Write a note to every staff member with something positive about his/her spreads.

Order pizza, buy soda, bring dessert.  Food is the ultimate motivator.

Choose a student to be “Staffer of the Deadline.”  Recognize a student for excellence in yearbook production, motivation, or even perseverance during hardships.  Candy bars are always great awards for this; pick one that represents the student’s work: Lifesavers, 100 Grand, Nestle Crunch, Smarties…

Use a “Snap Cup.”  If you’ve seen Legally Blonde 2, you’ll remember that Elle Woods tries to boost the morale in her office by having everyone write something nice about each other and put the notes in a “Snap Cup.”  While it didn’t work out so well for Elle, my students love it.  They write anonymous thank you notes or compliments to put in my “Snap Cup” (made from an old coffee canister).  I read the notes while they are eating lunch at the deadline party, and we all snap at the end.


At the beginning of the month, have your social coordinator set up Secret Santas.  My coordinator creates an information sheet where kids give hints for gift ideas and then randomly assigns Secret Santas.  For two weeks, students leave four $1 gifts for each other, and it all culminates at our annual holiday party, where the final $5 gift is exchanged and identities revealed.

Ask a family to host the holiday party on a Saturday night in December.  You could do a potluck dinner or even order carryout, but have the kids provide drinks and dessert.  After dinner, we have the gift exchange, and our staff tradition is to play several rowdy rounds of Catchphrase before everyone leaves.

January and February

These are the tough months, the low point of the year for spring release yearbooks.  At this point, all of us — adviser, editors, staffers — just want to quit.  This is why it is more important than ever to nurture the spirit.  Keep up those deadline parties, staffer of the deadline, and the Snap Cup.  Bring in cupcakes and a variety of frosting options: let them frost to their heart’s content.  Turn up the music loud and have a dance party.  Send them Valentines.  Praise them and validate them.


When you have survived your last torturous deadline, throw a final deadline party.  Decorate the classroom with crepe paper, banners and balloons.  Sometimes I order lunch, and other years I’ve just done cake and ice cream.  What is most important here, though, is for the kids to celebrate each other.  At this point in the year, they have become a family, whether they realize it or not.  In order to remind them of this, I do an activity with the meaning of colors, which I found by doing a quick Google search.  They all draw a name out of a hat of another staffer and must choose two colors that represent that staffer’s personality.  Then, they make a friendship bracelet with these colors and share with the class the person’s name and why they chose those colors for that individual.  It’s always moving to hear them make such wonderful and kind comments about each other.

May (again)

To wrap up the year, plan a farewell party on the seniors’ last day of school.  We have many traditions that go on at this party (and you can guess by now that I always order food…).  The party starts out with Mock Awards: everyone in the class voted the previous week on awards such as “most likely to lose a hall pass” or “staff hottie.”  The sophomores and juniors decorate paper plates for each award and are in charge of organizing this.

Next, I announce the winners from the Gladiator Yearbook Hall of Fame.  Every year, staffers vote on the best spreads, copy and photos in the yearbook.  I buy certificate paper and print awards for the winners.  The smiles on students’ faces are priceless—they love the fact that their peers are acknowledging their hard work.  Following the Hall of Fame is the announcement of Staffer and Editor of the Year, which also is determined by staffers’ vote, not by me.  The winners’ names are inscribed on a plaque, which hangs in my classroom.

Finally, we honor the seniors with gifts.  The underclassmen get together to purchase a small item for each senior, and the gifts have ranged over the years from picture frames to decorated pillowcases to CDs with a song specifically chosen to represent each senior.  My gift to the seniors is a little “college survival kit” with symbolic items, such as a candle for “when they are burning the midnight oil” and tissues for “when they miss yearbook late nights.”  Included in this kit is a note to each individual congratulating him/her and sending best wishes for college.

Following numerous photographs and hugs, farewells and tears, the seniors leave us.  I take a moment to wipe my eyes and put a smile on my face, then turn to my computer.  It’s time to start planning for next year.  After all, the meeting with my new staff is just around the corner….

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Christina Vettraino Chatel

Christina is the former adviser of the Gladiator yearbook at Troy High School in Troy, Michigan. During her time as adviser, the yearbook was honored with the Spartan Award from the Michigan Scholastic Press Association, a Gold Medalist ranking from CSPA and an All-American ranking from NSPA.