In With the New

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

Walsworth has new adviser tools to make your first year a success

Imagine being a teacher entering your first year on one of the most demanding jobs in the school, and before it ever gets started, the world is stricken by a global pandemic that fundamentally changes your entire school. The anxiousness, the nervousness, the growing pains – all those things you were going to experience anyway as you learned the ins and outs of a new job – just got compounded.

This scenario isn’t an outline to an upcoming movie or TV show. It was the reality that first-year yearbook advisers dealt with in the 2021 school year when the country was devastated by the COVID-19 outbreak.

But the cross-section of first-year advisers we spoke with about this past year looked back with pride on how their staff persevered and came through it. And they were all uniform in praise with this – the variety of resources Walsworth specifically provides for rookie advisers was invaluable and even more important than normal.

A Rough Way to Start

So, again, just how did the 2021 school year start for brand new yearbook advisers?

“Badly – in a word. Chaotically, in another word,” Eric Kamm said, the adviser at Thousand Oaks High School in Thousand Oaks, California.

For Kamm, and thousands of teachers and students just like him, COVID-19 forced school online and led new yearbook staffs to begin their work over the summer and early fall entirely in the virtual world.

“We were barred from any in-person meeting,” Kamm said. “Yearbook requires being in-person to stimulate creativity, bounce ideas off each other, be innovative and determine each other’s strengths.”

According to Emily Phillips, the first-year adviser at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, North Carolina, ramping up the technology also proved to be an early challenge.

“We’re an InDesign school and getting InDesign up and running remotely on student laptops was a huge ordeal,” Phillips said. “Students new to yearbook were at a huge disadvantage because there was so little they were able to put into practice.”

At Ellsworth High School in Ellsworth, Maine, co-advisers Katie Hessler and Yagmur Gunel were both in their first year of steering the school’s yearbook program. When their school year began, they found themselves dealing with a hybrid system, where part of the staff was working remotely from home.

“We had half the group in one day and half the group in another,” Hessler said. “For a collaborative project like yearbook, that makes things really tough. It was a bit of a bumpy road.”

Resources Specifically for New Advisers

Fortunately, despite all the irregularities brought on by the pandemic, advisers kept their yearbook program together and were still able to publish a product during historically difficult circumstances. Helping with that effort were their local Walsworth sales rep and the resources that Walsworth has created specifically for first-year advisers.

It starts in the summer with Adviser Academy, a workshop just for advisers, which has been held virtually for the past two years due to the pandemic.

“I had never used InDesign until right after I took the job,” Therasia Brautigam said, the adviser at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Missouri, whose first year was the 2021 school year. “I attended Adviser Academy virtually and it prepared me for what to expect.”

Brautigam said the Adviser Academy videos, which covered everything from basic photo rules to InDesign skills and were housed on Walsworth’s Yearbook Help website, were extremely valuable.

Watch it Now

Walsworth’s extensive, and constantly growing, library of webinars is another way new advisers can get the training started early with their staff. You can browse through the library by visiting walsworthyearbooks.com/webinars.

During the 2021 school year, Walsworth Yearbooks created webinars on topics ranging from theme planning to coverage to selling ads and everything in between. They proved to be extremely useful for yearbook staffs trying to work from home.

“I think we watched every webinar that was produced this year,” Marie Hazel said, yearbook adviser at Raytown South High School in Raytown, Missouri.

Replays of every webinar are still available now when you visit the gallery.

First 30 Days are Key

Getting the year off to a proper start is crucial for all teachers, but especially for yearbook advisers, who are managing the production of a publication. For first-year advisers who haven’t done the job before, they can lean on Walsworth’s “First 30 Days” lesson plan.

“All the curriculum materials, including the plan showing you what to teach for the first 30 days, were really helpful,” Brautigam said. “It allowed me to sit down with my editors and figure out a plan for the beginning of the year.”

The First 30 Days eBook can be found in the eBooks gallery at walsworthyearbooks.com/ebooks. It lays out which basic topics should be covered in those crucial first few weeks of the year and which specific Walsworth resources you can use to do it.

Mentors Can Help

For those who took part in Walsworth’s Adviser Mentor Program, having a veteran teacher to lean on was more important than ever last year. The program pairs experienced yearbook advisers with young, first or second-year advisers, in order to create a “mentor” relationship where they communicate regularly throughout the year.

“I felt very fortunate to be paired with an adviser mentor, Tiffany Cavicchia, who was able to offer help on how to use all the resources and how to integrate the tools in,” Phillips said.

As Kamm reflected on his first year, he now strongly feels that younger educators need to learn from more experienced peers through programs like the Adviser Mentor Program. Also, events like Adviser Academy should almost be mandatory.

“New advisers need to have someone who has been an adviser assigned to them, to help them in the first crucial months and through deadlines, especially the final one,” Kamm said.

Lessons Learned

Keeping morale high was a struggle last year, due to all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. But time management and communication were also crucial. Those staffs that didn’t have it struggled.

“Dates on your calendar are always closer than they appear,” Kamm said.

Hazel said her staff learned the value of technology. Also that patience and flexibility are critical life skills you must have in times of crisis.

“I did not understand how bittersweet it would be to put together a yearbook with a virtual staff,” Hazel said. “There is nothing we were more thankful for than having access to a program like Online Design. But difficulties with Zoom meetings, computers and WiFi was a constant struggle.”

The Best Advice

Now preparing for their second year as advisers, the rookies from the 2021 school year still have fresh memories and lots of advice for any first-year teachers who ever have to deal with a year like that again.

“The challenge is always there, but if the students are motivated and dedicated, everything comes together,” Gunel said. “[Advisers] just need to encourage them to be involved in the community and look around and see what content to gather.”

Phillips said to make sure and establish a strong relationship with your Walsworth rep and to absolutely take the time to become familiar with the resources provided online at walsworthyearbooks.com and in the Planning Kit delivered to the school. Kamm emphasized that deadlines need to be stressed immediately, right from day one, that they will not be missed.

“This may sound cheesy, but you just have to take it one day at a time. There were days last year where it felt impossible to make a yearbook,” Brautigam said. “It was all worth it because I got to see my students so happy at the end of it.”

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Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is a Marketing Automation Specialist for Walsworth. He's been a writer, editor and web content specialist for Walsworth Yearbooks for the past 15+ years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.