January 13, 2010 / Staff Management

How to recruit a fantastic yearbook staff and keep them

Written by Christina Vettraino Chatel

Teaching is probably the only vocation where we, as professionals, have no qualms when it comes to the phrase “beg, borrow, steal.”  Teaching yearbook isn’t any different: in order to become a better adviser, you need to do a little stealing.

A great adviser knows that her yearbook is only as good as the quality of her staff members.  She knows that it is her job to light the fire of passion in their hearts, to make them feel like yearbook is their second home, and to reward them for their hours upon hours of work.  Finally, she knows that, after expending so much effort on this staff, she needs to do it all over again next year.  A daunting undertaking, yes… but putting a check next to each of the items above is much easier (and more fun!) than you think.

What I’m offering you here is a chance to borrow and steal my ideas on recruiting new staff members and creating staff traditions.  I wish that I could say that I developed all of the hints and tips in this article.  However, just about every idea has been drawn from my myriad yearbook experiences, from high school until the present day.  A fun icebreaker from high school, a college yearbook tradition, a casual conversation at a national conference… all have become resources in my quest to recruit and retain the best yearbook staff that I can.

I say borrow, because maybe you will take my idea, make it better, and then email me with your new idea.  I say steal, because I want you to just take my thoughts and run with them.  Pretend they are yours.

Wary of stealing? Don’t worry: you can always call it recycling.

Recruiting new staff members

At my school, yearbook is a class that always runs fourth hour, during lunch, but whether you teach it as a class or advise it as an extracurricular, the methods suggested here could be altered to fit either situation.

The fact that yearbook is always during lunch allows me to do many of my recruiting and bonding activities, as well as gives me 90 minutes with my staff.  Most of my staffers stay in my room to eat lunch and continue working on their spreads, but they also have the opportunity to leave my room anytime during fourth hour to seek out and interview a student at his/her lunch period.  If you do not have yearbook at lunchtime, I would highly suggest speaking to your principal about making that happen next year.

I begin my recruiting process at the end of January and beginning of February, because students turn in their schedule cards mid-February.  My first step is to plaster the hallways with posters advertising yearbook and hang them in the English teachers’ classrooms.  Next, I email my English colleagues and ask if I can speak to their classes for five minutes about joining yearbook; I usually try to target the ninth and 10th grade Honors classes, because of the quality of the student and the fact that they will stay on staff for two or three years.  Sometimes, I send my editors to speak for me, and I have even advertised in the art and graphic design classes.

My last step is to send another email to the English department, asking them to recommend specific students to be on staff.  I then print out generic notes to send to these students, telling them they have been recommended and asking them to come see me if they are interested.  It’s a point of pride for a few of the teachers in my department that they have recommended a student who went on to become editor-in-chief!

In our district course guide, it states that students must have a B or better in their English class plus a recommendation by me to be in yearbook.  In addition, I require potential students to complete an application and be interviewed before I accept them.  When students drop off their applications, I set up an interview to be held during their lunch hour.  This is a test of their dedication—if they are not willing to give up their lunch hour for an interview, they are not going to be stellar staffers.

The editor-in-chief, a candidate for EIC next year, and I conduct the interview, each taking turns asking questions.  The key here is to ask questions that YOU think are important — I am a obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, and I look for students who are the same, yet you may have a different personality type with which you work well.  Here are some of our questions:

  • Why are you more qualified to join yearbook than the other students out there?
  • Do you use your planner?  What would you do if you lost it?
  • How do you interact with others when you are working in a group on a project?
  • What is your favorite word?
  • What will you cook/bake for us, if you’re on staff?

As you can see, we like to ask some fun questions, to put the student at ease, but also to get an idea of his/her personality.

Once we have completed the interviews, the editors and I discuss our options and make our selections.  The list is posted outside my classroom door at 7 a.m. on the day schedule cards are due.

And now for the fun part!

If you want a group of motivated staffers who love yearbook and get along with each other, the year doesn’t start in September — it starts in May.  In my next article coming soon, I will show you how I have arranged our year by month, with ideas for how to keep kids excited all year, because these moments will be the highs that counteract the stressful, discouraging lows.

Christina Vettraino Chatel

Christina is the former adviser of the Gladiator yearbook at Troy High School in Troy, Michigan. During her time as adviser, the yearbook was honored with the Spartan Award from the Michigan Scholastic Press Association, a Gold Medalist ranking from CSPA and an All-American ranking from NSPA.