September 28, 2011 / Coverage / Design / Fall 2011 / Teaching Moments

Let the creative process flow

Written by Dale Brooks

Sometimes great things happen when you step aside and let your staff take off and run with something that initially sounds silly.

I was handed the yearbook class five years ago, much against my will. I had seen how other advisers had faired, and I did not want the headache of producing a yearbook.

But many times you have no choice in the matter, so there I was, the new yearbook adviser. I am the graphics teacher, so I had a leg up on any poor English teacher who had the job before me, but that did not ever make me feel any better.

I was a complete wreck the first year, but I learned early on to trust the creative process and the students. After all, they wanted to produce the best book they could. So I needed to learn when to manage and when to step back out of the way.

Once the book is under way, I let the students have free reign. Of course I look over their shoulders and float around answering questions, so I always know what they are working on. But I usually do not see completed pages for the first time until they are uploaded onto my computer. I am the last set of eyes that see every page, and I make the PDFs for submission.


This page, which honors students who won a community service award, looks nothing like the staff’s original concept, said Dale Brooks, adviser at Design and Architecture Senior High School in Miami, Fla. The original idea was to have the winners sitting on metal-statue-looking horses. Instead of helping them achieve that look, if it was possible, Brooks let her belief in a student-created book guide her to watch her staff as they worked to develop this page.

The Silver Knight page is as an example of what the staff can do when I am not the one making decisions or hovering. We always dedicate a page to Silver Knight, a prestigious community service award. We decided this year’s page, in keeping with our theme of an encyclopedia, should have some kind of regal element. The staff decided horse statues were the perfect regal element, and wanted to put the nominees and the sponsor on horses and make them look like metal statues. I thought, OK, let’s see what becomes of this.

I saw the first tests of making the horses look like metal, and it was agreed the horses looked more like they were on fire, so that idea was scrapped. Then the horse idea stuck, and it morphed into something completely unexpected. I just sat at my desk listening and watching. I watched how one student searched the web for copyright-free images of horses, and another for a space to put them in, while another was shooting photos in a different lab of the nominees against a green screen with a green-wrapped object filling in for the horse. After the photos were shot, the image editor removed the green backgrounds and then passed the images to the editors who were working on combining all of the elements.

What we wound up with is a bizarre photo illustration of seven people on horses facing all different directions in all different poses in a pasture. The perspective is not quite right, and the sizes of the elements are a little off, but it is the most charming page in the book, and truly my favorite. It’s irreverent and silly and all it should be when it comes directly from the imaginations of students when teachers do not intervene. And… it’s less than regal. I was concerned the Silver Knight sponsor might be offended, but not so concerned to stop it from being in the book. But she loved it as much as I did, and as much as the rest of the kids who bought books.

I am glad I stayed out of the way.

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Dale Brooks