Empowering your staff

Written by Cait Harcharik

Yearbook staff members need to feel as important to the production of the publication as the editor is. I did this by empowerment, which enabled my small staff to produce the 2006 Spartonian yearbook for Hempfield Area High School in Greensburg, Pa.

My view of empowerment was shaped by my mom, who teaches computer programs, filing systems and other office duties to new employees at her office. She said, “because we’re all adults, it’s often difficult for the ‘students’to take instruction from a person who is the same age.” I found this to be very true with students in school. It is difficult for a 17-year-old to work under the instruction of another 17-year-old, even if they are editor-in-chief.

Due to a lack of interest in the yearbook program, only 11 students, including myself, were enrolled in the class. As the staff of a publication that requires extensive amounts of dedication, time and creativity, it was extremely difficult to complete a 250-page book within the time given. This further contributed to the need for me to empower the students.

To empower students, the editor must positively reinforce their work. Rather than criticizing the negative aspects of a page, it is crucial to commend their efforts fi rst and later, in private, enthusiastically and nicely give them tips on how they could improve. Also, using pieces of a student’s page as a positive example to the rest of the class can encourage that student to continue to create quality pages.

Offering rewards such as bonus percentage points for exceptional work or even lollipops for the best captions do not hurt, either. The best advice I can give to future editors-in-chief is to speak to the students as if they are on the same level as you, despite different job titles. For example, my entire staff and I attended a summer yearbook workshop to learn the basics of writing copy and captions, taking quality photos and using the InDesign program. It was important for me to remind the students that we were all at the same level of ability. Granted, some students are better at certain tasks than others, but it was together that we learned everything we needed to know.

Also, it was essential for me to find each student’s strength and focus on improving it. Combining students’ individual strengths made for a quality product. Focus on the positive and make the best of what you are given.

Empowering works on all levels. The adviser of our yearbook, Denise Valerio, was on medical leave for almost one month during the school year. We had a substitute – an English teacher who knew little about yearbook or journalism – but I was in charge of conducting the class, recording yearbook sales, dealing with the publishing company, and other tasks of my position. This was not much different than when the adviser was in class. Mrs. Valerio was not only in charge of the yearbook, but also the newspaper and an English class. Due to her busy schedule, I was often responsible for most of the aforementioned duties. In that way, she had empowered me to do my job.

Cait Harcharik