September 28, 2011 / Fall 2011 / Staff Management

Find, foster, feed, flourish

Written by Jessica Young

How to recruit and retain your yearbook staff

When I took over the yearbook staff, the book was in debt, the students were uninterested, and the school was not sure it wanted to continue to support a failing program. But as a former yearbook student myself, I couldn’t let the Torch yearbook die.

That first year I had 21 students on staff, only three with experience and most of them with apathy. We put out a 200+ page book that impressed our campus community and was recognized by Walsworth’s Gallery of Excellence. In the process, the staff came to believe in what they were doing.

When it came time to recruit for the coming year, my staff and I developed a strategy to get the kind of students we wanted on staff. Imagine my surprise when the registrar told me 175 students signed up, and even more had listed yearbook as an alternate elective.

Now, our skeleton crew of 21 has become a massive work force of 80 in two yearbook sections. Our recruitment strategies work, and our retention rates have increased as well. Here are those strategies in the form of a Top 10 list.

The Torch Recruitment and Retention Plan: 10 Ways to Get Kids in the Door and Keep Them There

To recruit:

10. Make a list. As a class, the staff listed everything we liked about yearbook. Each student had to contribute at least one positive thing. It was as simple as throwing all of our ideas up on the whiteboard and having someone type them up. In one class period, we had a flier we could give to anyone who was thinking about joining the staff.

9. Get loud. No one on your campus is going to know how awesome you are if you do not tell them. Make sure the staff is talking up the program, telling other students about the fun stuff they do and letting the whole world know what kind of opportunities they have in yearbook.

8. Put the staff to work. Break your staff into small groups and have each come up with a three- to five-minute presentation that explains the world of yearbook and why they should join. Let these groups present their “yearbook commercial” to other classes. Also have your staff at a registration or curriculum night. Incoming ninth graders will be your super-experienced seniors if you can get your hands on them early. Have fliers, candy, pencils or buttons to hand to students and parents.

7. Ask for help. Email your English department and ask them to send you names of students who are strong writers. Talk to the art teachers about kids who have a great creative eye. Contact your activities director and find out who the movers and shakers are on campus. You want students from different clubs and groups on your staff. Also, ask each staff member to recommend at least one other student for staff in the upcoming year. This is a great way for students to encourage their friends to join, or to reach out to kids who may be apprehensive to join.

6. Make your recruits feel special. Once you establish a list of recruits, send them a letter. Let them know that someone thinks they would be great at yearbook, and they should consider joining. Highlight the benefits of the class, and include your contact information so the students and their parents can come to you to find out more.

To retain:

5. Feed them. Let’s face it — high school kids eat a ton. If they know they will find food in your classroom, they will show up. It does not matter if you are a cookie gourmet or a Dollar Store diva. If you have snacks, the kids will come in at lunch, after school and in any ounce of free time they have. Sure, they will be eating, but they get work done when they are well fed.

4. Listen to them. This is THEIR yearbook. It should be reflective of the school. Rather than assigning pages and telling the kids to come up with a story idea, spend class time brainstorming topic ideas for each section of your book. Have them talk to peers, teachers and coaches for ideas. Not only will you have a lot of ideas to work with, but the ideas come from every section of the school — not just the yearbook class.

3. Love them. You are going to spend a lot time with these kids and develop unique relationships. To be effective, your staff needs a working environment that is supportive and supported, nurturing and caring, that allows them to take risks while catching them when they stumble. Play icebreaker games. Celebrate birthdays. Give awards after each deadline. Do little things as a group to make them feel like they belong.

2. Let go of them. Again, this is their book. When your students come up with an idea they love, let them run with it (within reason, obviously). If you are questioning what they want to do, bounce it off your yearbook sales representative.  For the staff to create books that are real and authentic, the product has to be student driven. Show up. Turn on the lights. Take attendance. Feed them. Let them run the show.

1. Celebrate them. Meeting a deadline is a victory. Taking awesome photos is a huge accomplishment. Conducting a really solid interview is something to be proud of. Their work will not always be perfect, but find the good and celebrate it. Knowing that they have pieces of the puzzle right keeps them going. It makes them feel appreciated. It makes them want to continue working.

Additionally, have your students give positive feedback to one another. Hearing it from a teacher is satisfying. Getting a compliment from a peer can be a much bigger deal.

But do not stop there. Amazing things are happening in your classroom. Tell someone! Have your principal come in and thank the students for all of their hard work. Send your staff an email recognizing students who are working hard. Have your yearbook sales representative come in and critique their spreads.

Take a look at this Idea File video from summer workshops, where some yearbook staffers explained why they joined yearbook.

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.