October 11, 2018 / Podcasts

Ask Mike: How can student leaders coach great writers?

Written by Sarah Scott

While working with schools at the Kansas City Elite Weekend this September, Ask Mike host Mike Taylor, CJE, was really impressed by four students.

So he interviewed them.

These four young women are exceptional leaders, and their conversations with Taylor show how capable student leaders can be. Taylor chats with them about their roles in producing the great writing their yearbooks are known for.

Shawnee Mission East

Addie Von Drehle and Emily Cooper are the 2019 Editors-in-Chief of the Hauberk yearbook at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas. They lead their staff in finding, writing and editing stories – and they do it well.

“I loved every story I was able to write, and I’m happy to do it again this year, but as editor,” said Von Drehle.

Hauberk produces great stories, and has grown and improved over the years. This growth is especially impressive because the yearbook is totally student-run. Adviser Dow Tate makes himself available, but it’s the students’ show. However, Tate is there to coach and correct when they need it.

“I can’t explain how much better a journalist and writer – and leader – I’ve become because of him,” said Von Drehle.

In this episode, the EICs share how they coach their staff to start coming up with unique stories and find the stories that need to be told. Their yearbook stories are focused on the people, and Cooper and Von Drehle have developed their ability to write great stories, as well as coach their peers in telling great stories.

“No one wants to read a story about a tennis team playing tennis. People want to read about their friends and peers and the people they see on their way home from school every day,” said Von Drehle. “You need personality in these stories and you need it to be relatable to other students. And you want it to be fun.”

They share their advice to help EICs at other schools come to their level.

“Never be happy with your first angle or your first idea,” said Cooper.

“Stories are always more compelling to me, and I think to a lot of people, when they show personality,” said Von Drehle. “Get to know who you’re interviewing as a person. Don’t treat them as an interviewee or a subject. Just talk to them.”

Shawnee Mission Northwest

Kelsey Volk and Molly Elfrink are copy editors for the Lair yearbook at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Shawnee, Kansas. They’re currently working on their school’s 50th yearbook.

Adviser Susan Massy provides her students the opportunity to lead, and Volk and Elfrink share how they help their staff develop their writing skills.

“It’s all about finding your voice,” said Volk.

To get students started with their storytelling, journalism students at Northwest take part in a workshop every summer. Elfrink explained that they’ll go out in the community, like the local farmer’s market, to find stories.

“Each beginning writer and an advanced writer get paired together, and the beginning writer works really hard to find that story.”

They do a lot of one-on-one work with developing writers.

“Asking questions and showing general interest in them does so much for their story,” said Volk.

One of Elfrink’s favorite stories from last year was one she wrote with a first-year journalism student because they bounced ideas and work off of each other to write a great story.

Student leaders

Remember the names of these four exceptional young women because they’re going places. Taylor’s conversation highlights how much they do to develop great student writers, and shows that it’s possible at other schools, too.

You can listen to this episode of Ask Mike at walsworthyearbooks.com/podcasts or search for Ask Mike on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you prefer to get your podcasts. Find Taylor on Twitter, @yrbkmiketaylor and #AskMike.

Sarah Scott
Sarah Scott

Sarah Scott is a content writer for Walsworth, specializing in blog posts, eBooks and case studies for the web. She’s been writing most of her life, and previously worked as a radio journalist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.