September 23, 1999 / Fall 1999 / Staff Management

Hey, Who’s in charge here, anyway?

Written by Shelley Barnett

Increasing student leadership in the yearbook environment

During my first few years as yearbook adviser, I wanted to have control over everything. I did not want the students to have too much responsibility for fear of mistakes and errors in the yearbook. As a result, the yearbook process became cumbersome and overwhelming. It took up a large part of each school day and, frankly, the better part of my life.

My strong desire to simplify things, coupled with the positive advancements in yearbook production, gradually resulted in my letting up on the reins. This shift in philosophy dramatically changed my yearbook program from one with an “assembly line” mentality to one that is highly organized and structured.

The first step was the creation of job classifications for each editor. All the extra duties I had been carrying out, including calling parents, businesses, photographers, as well as communication with the plant, were turned over to the students. I also doled out other responsibilities, such as typing deadlines and weekly business meeting minutes, organizing photographs and scheduling photo shoots.

Next, I reclassified the positions of editor-in-chief, assistant editor, business manager and technical editor, creating a new unit of editors the leadership team. The members of the leadership team serve as liaisons between myself and the staff, helping to ensure the program runs smoothly.

The leadership team immediately began operating with a great deal of efficiency. Within the first few months of the “power shift,” the students began to really blossom. For the first time, I realized how much the students could actually do for themselves. At the same time, they gained a great deal of confidence and learned valuable leadership skills. Today, my time in yearbook class is spent working together with the students in the creation of layouts and editing spreads, which is a great deal more rewarding than making phone calls.

The change in philosophy did not stop there. I took it to another level. The leadership team is also responsible for staff disciplinemissed deadlines, bungled assignments, lost photos, etc. The section editors grade the copy and the spreads the first time around (although I reserve the right to all final edits). My students went from frequently missing deadlines to not missing deadlines at all by the end of the first quarter. I actually discovered the students were tougher on themselves. I am no longer considered the bad guy by the staff. Instead, I am truly able to be their adviser.

This fall marks the third year having the leadership team in place, and it is with this group that I have seen the most growth. There were several times over the summer that I came to school to find the team hard at work already assigning deadlines, picking fonts for each section, and finalizing the cover and endsheets. I was delighted to find they had even prepared for me copies of the updated class list, phone list and potential business ad list. In the past, it usually took at least the first month of school to get to this point. When school started this year, we were ready to start on the fun stuff.

Having a student leadership team really pays off. Granted, it can be quite risky. As the adviser, you should make the final choice on who is to be part of the team because you have to work closely with these students and of course, in the end, you are still ultimately responsible.

Trust is the major component of implementing this philosophy. I took the risk and now I have a dynamic group of students who want to take responsibility for themselves and who have a developed a great deal of ownership in their yearbook and the program as a whole.

Shelley Barnett