October 30, 2012 / Fall 2012 / Staff Management

Creating yearbook community

Written by Jessica Young

My calendar on my desk reads like a roadmap of my chaotic life. It is ringed with coffee stains. Highlighted, double-checked and scratched out appointments and deadlines are scrawled across each week. Pen caps, mutilated paperclips, Cheerios crumbs and sticky notes decorate the surface. At first look, the calendar appears to be explicit documentation of a train-wreck style of organization and management. But anyone familiar with the world of yearbooks knows a little bit of chaos is what keeps this industry running.

An efficient yearbook staff is not a class where students sit quietly in their desks, working their way through packets and textbooks or taking notes during lectures. In publications classes, students are asked to perform a myriad of tasks, meet mountains of deadlines, compile historical information, write compelling stories, take dynamic photographs, work effectively with their peers, the faculty, the local community, run a small business… all while maintaining their other academic commitments, playing sports, holding part-time jobs and managing their family and social lives.

With so much on students’ plates, it isn’t surprising that yearbook classrooms have taken on a hybrid model that mimics the professional newsroom, small businesses and other project-based classes.

Successful yearbook advisers have figured out how to structure their classes in ways that allow students to divide and conquer their daunting workloads, while facilitating student leadership and personal responsibility. Advisers who have cultivated effective student leaders produce both yearbooks and graduates who are dynamic, well rounded and decorated.

For me it took several years of trial, error, stress, frustration, celebration, growth and adaptation to devise a strategy that keeps my publications staff walking the fine line between actual chaos and purposeful chaos.

So much of what works in my classroom is born out of the community we created, and less out of rigorous journalism training.  Don’t get me wrong — we still work hard, and my students are still held to the highest of journalistic standards — but we spend a significant amount of time building our relationships and maintaining our community while creating our yearbook. We play games, eat cupcakes, laugh, joke and work hard. And in the end, we put out an amazing yearbook. We aren’t a typical class; we’re special.

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Jessica Young

Jessica Young, MJE, teaches photography and advises the yearbook and newspaper at Orange Glen High School in Escondido, Calif. Young was named a 2012 Rising Star by the Journalism Education Association (JEA). She is the President of the San Diego Journalism Education Association and was co-chair of the local committee for the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in San Diego in April 2014. Young also is a member of the Quill and Scroll board of trustees and directors.