Putting out the welcome mat

Written by Hannah Vandegrift

Every year, begin to build a cohesive staff by integrating your newcomers.

Yearbook staff members typically form cliques based on previous friendships and their grade levels. Freshmen are often intimidated by the upperclassmen and are reluctant to ask them for help during deadline crunches. New members of any grade are unsure of their roles and how they fit in. These situations can create an uncomfortable working environment within the classroom. Experienced staff members know how to make newcomers feel welcome in this high-stress environment where they have much to learn.

At the beginning of the year, new staff members often feel isolated and a bit confused. So, we pair up each newcomer with a veteran. That way the new staff member always has a mentor. They work together on fun activities in August such as cutting and pasting mock layouts using magazines for design, font and headline ideas. As staffers start working on the computers, each new member has a veteran staff member sitting with them and tutoring them on every aspect of completing their layout.

We have large tables in our yearbook room at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla., so we sit in groups for all yearbook activities. That way, no one is ever sitting at a desk alone. Sitting at the tables promotes friendships and cooperation.

We have a get-to-know you activity called “brain picking.” Each student fills out the brain-picking questionnaire, answering a variety of questions about himself or herself. The students are paired up, and the partners exchange sheets, read about each other and ask questions, and then they introduce each other to the class.

We have another game called “Get to Know You Bingo.” Each student gets a bingo sheet with information in each square such as: lived in another country; speaks another language; can name at least 10 countries in Africa. They have to ask the other students in the class to sign the bingo sheet if they can answer yes to a statement in a square, with one name per square. The first student to get bingo wins a prize.

With team-building under way, we do activities throughout the year to continue the bonding. For instance, I make a big poster listing all staff members’ birthdays, and I hang it on the wall. Whenever a staff member has a birthday during the year, everyone brings in food and we have a little celebration. And at the beginning of the year we pick secret pals, a voluntary arrangement that allows staff members to surprise each other with little gifts such as snacks or CDs to keep each other motivated during the year.

We also celebrate special occasions during the year such as Valentine’s Day, homecoming week and deadline times with a theme party. For the Christmas holidays, each staff member draws names for Secret Santa. These activities reinforce the ties we having been building since the year began.

In a working environment where deadlines cause stress and learning is a constant process, it is important to take a break every once in a while to have some fun and make friends on the staff.

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Hannah Vandegrift