March 1, 2012 / Spring 2012 / Staff Management

Managing the challenges of yearbook club

Written by Jeff Wood

Any yearbook adviser who does not have the luxury of yearbook as a regular class period faces extra challenges. The keys to making any yearbook program run smoothly and minimizing work and stress involve organization and continuity, and this is especially true when you are faced with the added challenge of your staff meeting as an after-school club.

Yearbook clubs typically meet less frequently than yearbook classes, and often meet irregularly. The yearbook club competes with other clubs, sports and a great many events and activities that appeal to students when the final bell rings, in addition to jobs outside of school. To combat this, consider taking the following steps for next year.

Create a student yearbook staff member commitment contract.

This can be a simple one-page Word document. Hand these out at your first yearbook meeting. Make it clear from day one that yearbook involves dedication and commitment year-round.

Here is some sample language you can include in your student commitment contract:

Congratulations on becoming a member of the yearbook committee!

We have a long road ahead of us, and we will need to work hard and dedicate ourselves to making a high-quality yearbook for all students in our school. We will be meeting every Tuesday (except for holidays and snow days) from 2:45-4 p.m. from now until mid-April. You must be at all meetings unless you are excused with a note from a parent. If you fail to come to a meeting, you will be excused from your duties as a staff member of the yearbook.  At each meeting you will be assigned a task for which you will be solely responsible. If you need to, you may work from your computer to finish any tasks not completed during our meeting hours. We are confident in our staff members and know that you will devote yourselves to the task of yearbook throughout the school year.

In addition to this contract, you will want to note which students are involved in other sports and activities and make a list of when these take place. You might consider making it a rule that nobody participating in other activities can become an editor, although they can be a contributing staff member.

Interview each aspiring staff member. This not only helps you learn about each student’s skills, availability and where to place them on the staff, but also helps students take the process seriously and value admission to your yearbook club.

Establish a firm editorial staff structure.

Two structures, or a hybrid of the two, really work well with a club situation. These are the Sectional Editors Model or Functional Editors Model.

With sectional editors, you will create editorial positions based on content sections in the book. For instance, you might have a sports editor, a student life editor, a clubs editor and an academics editor. These editors will supervise the photography, writing and design of their sections. They may report to an editor-in-chief or to the yearbook adviser directly. This model is best employed when most of your staff wants to get involved in many aspects of yearbook, as opposed to bringing one skill and focus.

Conversely, when you have many students who wish to specialize in certain yearbook tasks, adopt the Functional Editorial Model. In this model, you create editorial positions around yearbook staff functions, such as photography editors, content editors and design editors. These editors will be responsible for their tasks throughout the entire book, rather than focusing on just one section in the book.

Give them work.

This is one important and seemingly obvious maxim, but it is often neglected. Make sure that your students have job descriptions, know their roles and are assigned pages and tasks related to their individual interests immediately. Even the most enthusiastic staff members will begin to drop out of yearbook if they are not having their own needs within their interests and skill sets met. If you have students interested in photography too involved in debating the ladder or theme, they may lose interest. And if a spring sports editor has no work to do in the fall, they may leave and not even return for the spring after finding other clubs to join.

Foster a fun, professional and team-oriented yearbook culture.

Now that your staff is up and running, it is vital to avoid one of the greatest setbacks to a yearbook staff – the formation of cliques. If you see your staff breaking off into groups and not communicating well, take action immediately. Yearbook is about organization, team work and collaboration, much like any professional editorial staff at a newspaper or magazine, and you cannot afford to have small groups of students keeping ideas to themselves. Doing so will lead to poor coverage and inconsistency in the look and feel of your book.

Disrupt this by keeping things fun, like having students take turns sharing their music, assigning secret admirers to exchange supportive notes and gifts, and having group pizza parties and off-campus retreats such as a staff trip to a newspaper. Just because you do not have yearbook as a class does not mean you cannot treat your club as such.

Establish continuity among your yearbook staff.

The last thing you want is to face an entirely new staff year and after year, as this greatly increases your workload and prohibits you from getting a jump on the year.  To combat this, hold a yearbook “interest meeting” each spring and invite the entire student body to attend. You want to begin recruiting yearbook staff at this time, before the fall clubs fairs, and so you can send interested new members for the following year to a summer workshop. Have potential or definite new members shadow current members in the spring on the remaining pages or spring supplements so they gain experience for next year.

By taking all of the above steps, you can create a great yearbook club that rivals any yearbook class and manage any additional workload or challenges that an after-school club typically presents.

Jeff Wood