December 20, 2023 / News

C. Dow Tate Named the 2023 H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year

Written by Jim Jordan

In a surprise ceremony at a rally attended by the entire student body on Friday, Dec. 15, C. Dow Tate of Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas, was named the 2023 H.L. Hall National Yearbook Adviser of the Year.

The National Yearbook Adviser of the Year honors outstanding high school yearbook advisers and their exemplary work from the previous year, as well as throughout their careers. The award was first presented in April 1995 to H.L. Hall from Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri, the man for whom the award was renamed in 2012. To date, 31 scholastic yearbook advisers have received the award over the past 29 years; seven of whom are Walsworth Yearbooks advisers.

Getting to Know Dow Tate

Dow’s wife, Becky Lucas Tate, who was the 2019 H.L. Hall Yearbook Adviser of the Year at Shawnee Mission North High School, was there for the surprise. “We were hidden in the gym and didn’t come out until part way through the assembly when the principal creatively brought Dow into the center of the gym and signaled the start of the video from last year’s [National Yearbook Adviser of the Year], who officially announced Dow as this year’s [National Yearbook Adviser of the Year.]

It was a wonderful moment for Dow – one he richly deserves. It’s a nice bookend to the Dow Jones Newspaper Adviser of the Year award he received in 1997.

After the announcement, the students and teachers at the pep assembly gave Dow a standing ovation – and then his own students swarmed him.

“It was like something out of a Disney movie; I’m pretty sure I even saw some tears in his eyes. He’ll never tell you, but he is really the best yearbook adviser out there,” Becky said.

Dow has been advising scholastic publications for 36 years and is an innovative leader in everything he does. His career began at Hillcrest High School in Dallas, Texas, advising the newspaper. Two years later, he began advising the yearbook. After advising in Texas for 14 years and marrying the love of his life, Becky, he moved north to Kansas and started advising at Shawnee Mission East, where he has now taught for 22 years.

“Dow has elevated what it means to be a member of the Shawnee Mission journalism program. He took a yearbook in need of revitalization, dusted it off through high expectations and limitless energy, and gave it a new focus, building the program into its current state of excellence. He brought fresh ideas into the district’s media programs, such as the Journalism Showcase that the five Shawnee Mission advisers host each January. As an adviser, he inspires me and keeps me laughing. He has become an invaluable part of the Shawnee Mission adviser fellowship,” retired Shawnee Mission Northwest High School yearbook adviser and 1999 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year Susan Massy said.

His list of awards and recognitions is long; he holds almost every award that is given to scholastic journalism advisers.

  • 1996 Texas High School Journalism Teacher of the Year
  • 1997 Dow Jones National Journalism Teacher of the Year
  • 2003 Scholastic Journalism Hall of Fame inductee
  • 2007 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year Distinguished Adviser
  • 2007 Kansas High School Journalism Teacher of the Year
  • 2009 JEA Medal of Merit
  • 2010 Kansas Teacher of the Year Finalist
  • 2019 NSPA Pioneer Award
  • 2021 NSPA Top 100 Ninth Place – Hauberk – 15 Pacemakers, 5 Pacemaker Finalists

What Others Have to Say

Though the awards keep coming, they aren’t what motivates him. For Dow, it’s always about his students and how he can make them better people while creating a publication of excellence to be proud of. His students will be the first to tell you so. In fact, three editors from three different decades did just that.

“My story is just one of many touched by his influence over the years. The life lessons, memories and solid journalism skills are all things I took into college and early adulthood. I can pick up a DSLR at any time, ask the hard questions, churn out a quick design in Photoshop and now show grace to the moody teenagers of the world because of him and his dedication to education,” 2016 Hauberk editor Audrey Thomas said.

“Dow takes yearbook as an opportunity for more. Yes, it is a high school class that takes a single period (two if you are in leadership), but he makes sure it extends beyond that. He takes opportunities within the setting to better us as individuals. I remember after a particularly harsh critique, I was pretty upset; he sat me down and talked me through it. It was not just about what I could have done better in the work, but about how to take criticism – criticism as a whole, not just in yearbook. And my favorite piece of advice he’s given me is that ‘If it seems like there should be an easier way to do something, then there probably is.’ I find myself thinking of this every time I’m struggling with a new design assignment or life in general. He has us look towards the future. A final assignment senior year is to find and apply to internships. Some of us get them, some of us don’t – the point was that he was forcing us to make that transition from high school publication and into the real world earlier than anyone else would,” 2020 Hauberk editor Lilah Powlas said.

“Tate embodies the traits of a true educator who continuously goes above and beyond their role, providing his students with mentorship and guidance that carries them into college and beyond. His passion for journalism and design and his commitment to nurturing the talents and ambitions of their students are unmatched. Even years later, Tate is cheering us on and providing us with countless opportunities… As a Hauberk editor, I had to grow up quickly. I was put in a leadership position at a young age, allowing me to guide the conceptual and visual direction of the yearbook and the large staff that was in charge of bringing it to life. To this day, I consider my time as editor to be one of the most challenging and life-changing experiences,” 2007 Hauberk editor Megan Collins Shinn said.

And any adviser who has come into his world can’t help but be changed forever too. He’s impacted and mentored countless advisers throughout his career.

“I’ve learned so much about expanding the experience of journalism beyond the classroom from him. I find myself thinking, ‘Dang, why didn’t I think of that?’ He inspired me to bring back my successful students. He showed me the value in one-on-one coaching. He modeled the power of staff unity with silly hats, kimonos or tutus,” 2009 National Yearbook Adviser of the Year Lori Oglesbee Petter said.

“It’s the work Dow’s students create that sets him apart as an adviser. When I took over the yearbook at McKinney High School in 2016, my new editors wanted fresh design and coverage. They wanted to give their school something it had never seen before. Instead of looking back at last year’s Lion or at the year before that, my kids looked at the stack of new yearbooks in the room and instinctively picked up the Hauberk – not to steal coverage ideas or designs, although they may have borrowed small bits here and there – it was to see how far they could go to break traditional yearbook rules and do something that was truly new. The Hauberk gave my students permission to do that. And I have their adviser to thank,” Interscholastic League Press Conference Director Alyssa Boehringer said.

Walsworth Yearbooks Journalism Specialist Mike Taylor, CJE, has seen Dow in action as he works with his own students in their classroom or with other yearbook programs at various training events and workshops that Dow teaches at.

“Dow is the educator among educators. His classroom is always buzzing with a palpable excitement and curiosity for learning. At the start of each class, his editors take the reins and lead their peers in discussion. Sitting off to the side, Dow interjects strategically to spark critical thinking among his staff while nurturing his students into strong leaders. There is never a dull moment in his classroom,” Taylor said.

“I met Dow more than 25 years ago when I was beginning my career as a high school publication adviser in Austin, Texas. Dow was larger than life to me back then. After teaching for only a few years in Dallas, Texas, he was already setting the standard for other high school journalism teachers in the state. His staffs were winning every award around – both in state and nationally. My staffs were in awe of his publications. In fact, his publications were often the reason my staffs stayed extra hours on the weekend and school nights. They wanted to be just like those Hillcrest kids. My students and I improved simply by seeing and reading Dow’s publications … Dow’s impact isn’t limited to Kansas and Texas. Every chance he gets, Dow is teaching at workshops and conventions around the nation. Dow is passionate about everything he does. He is a passionate teacher, administrator, father and friend. He lives his life for scholastic journalism, and we are better for it,” former Interscholastic League Press Conference Director Jeanne Acton said.

“Dow has done more than win awards at [Shawnee Mission East] and at Hillcrest High School in Dallas before that. He shares his passion for all things journalism at conferences and workshops around the country. I work most closely with him these days in his role as director (for more than 24 years) of the Gloria Shields NSPA Media Workshop. This summer workshop has a well-earned reputation for the quality of instruction and the illustrious group of instructors that teach there. The 600+ students and advisers gain important skills to take them into the next school year but also have a lot of fun while they are there. And that is due to Dow’s leadership,” ATPI Executive Director Mark Murray said.

Perhaps longtime friend Oglesbee Petter said it best. “[This award] won’t make him a better teacher. It won’t affect his influence. It will secure his rightful place in the greats of our profession. In fact, Dow Tate would be a strong contender for Adviser of the Century. It’s his time.”

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Jim Jordan

Jim Jordan is a Special Consultant for Walsworth Yearbooks and the host of the Yearbook Chat with Jim podcast. He is former yearbook adviser at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California. Jim was the 1996 JEA Yearbook Adviser of the Year, and shares his expertise with students and advisers at workshops and conventions across the country. Jim is the lead mentor for Walsworth's Adviser Mentor Program.