Photo by: Sarah Messmann

March 31, 2017 / Spring 2017 / Staff Management

Rev up your staff with a workshop

Written by Rhonda O'Dea, CJE

In the midst of creating this year’s yearbook, it’s hard to look ahead and get motivated to start next year’s book.

However, the best yearbook years start well before the first day of school.

Early preparation starts with more than just idea generation. In fact, it begins with identifying and training new and returning staff as well as teaching and practicing yearbook sills.

It’s advisable to do a full one-day workshop, like an in-school field trip, or a series of classes using workshop lessons that accomplish the same thing.

Reasons to do an in-school spring workshop

  • Identify your talent – You likely know who your current staff is and what their strengths and weaknesses are. But holding a workshop that includes next year’s staff, or those who have expressed interest in next year, will allow you to identify the early standouts. Who will be the best leader, the best designer, the best writer and the best photographer?
  • Identify your slackers – Who doesn’t show? Who gives last minute excuses? Did they prioritize yearbook? Who shows but is a goof off? It’s better to know now, before it’s too late to get them out of your class or off your club roster.
  • Get some big picture tasks done – The long list of early decisions can be made with the help of the experts! If you or your yearbook rep can work with your students to nail down a great theme, then work can begin on the visual package that will showcase it. You can start your cover design, create modules to complement it, and even set styles for type packages. This time of year, no idea is a bad one; it’s time to collect them all and start making some decisions. Find your group’s aesthetic and help them define and design it!
  • Look at yourselves in the mirror – They say when reflection happens there can be real growth. You can only eat this yearbook elephant one bite at a time, so reflecting on what went well this year and what did not will help you narrow the list of what you’d like to improve. After putting it all out there, find three to four things you can reasonably improve upon in the coming year. Starting with a list at this point allows you to make training decisions and find a depth of resources to make real, lasting changes.
  • Practice skills – In major league baseball, spring training is a series of practices and exhibition games preceding the start of the regular season. In yearbooks, spring training can be the same thing! So, what must the yearbook staff practice?
  1. Writing – Learning to create good captions and copy
  2. Photography – Recognizing good photography and knowing how to do it
  3. Staff building – Identifying your leaders and helping them find their place
  4. Theme – What will it be?  What will it look like?
  5. Goal setting – When a staff wants to improve, determine where to start

Students work hard at workshops learning new skills and concepts, from what is a theme to how to cut out backgrounds from photos. Workshops in the spring, summer or fall usually take place in classroom settings like this one at the Midwest Yearbook Workshop in Notre Dame, Indiana, hosted by Valerie T. Tanke, CJE, a Walsworth sales rep. Workshops need to have some time for fun to avoid information overload and burnout. Photo by Sarah Messmann


Once you’ve made the decision and planned the time and location of your event, you need to gather your resources to ensure you accomplish real progress. This brief list will help you get started:

  • Your yearbook rep – He or she can help you plan, prepare and teach the skills you want your students to develop.
  • 2018 Workshop Workbook – This workbook will help your staff brainstorm and will walk them through theme development, colors, fonts, page design, coverage development, and options to round out the book. There are even pages for sketching.
  • Yearbook Suite curriculum – Engage your students using this 11-unit curriculum with collaborative learning activities available as printed student workbooks, an app or online versions. A comprehensive Adviser Edition guides you through the lessons. Learn more and download the “New Advisers Field Guide to Yearbook” PDF at
  • Idea generation sites – See recent, trendy media at; check out other award-winning yearbooks in the Design Showcase at; follow some yearbook gurus on Pinterest such as Mike Taylor @Taylormjc.
  • Games/activities for bonding, motivation and fun – Start with the “Staff Management Through Team Building” unit of the Yearbook Suite curriculum, which helps staffs learn to work together. Then search for icebreakers and games. Search the Internet, too. Be sure to celebrate birthdays, milestones such as getting a driver’s license, and deadlines. Never forget food as a reward and motivator.

The Actual Event

Every great workshop has energy! Whether you are in your yearbook room, the library or someplace else, bring the fun!  It’s not hard to do, but the devil is in the details. You don’t want them to feel like they are in the world’s longest yearbook class. So spice it up!

  • Music – Have a laptop or phone set up with speakers to play music. Let your current staff pick some fun tunes and maybe play a couple of warm-up games that use the music.
  • Student presenters – They learn best from each other. Give this year’s editors some real responsibility for teaching basic skills to the newbies.
  • Pacing – Organize your agenda around the fun. Remember, you’re building the foundation for a long, challenging year. Woo them with the fun stuff now! Interject music and games and lots of 
positive vibes!
  • Teamwork – Whenever possible, team up your newbies with a veteran staffer for small group critiques and training. Send them out together to take photos, have them write captions and copy together, and even work on spread design 
basics together.


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Rhonda O'Dea, CJE

Rhonda O'Dea, CJE, is a former teacher and yearbook adviser from Salem High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The books she advised were recognized on the local, state and national levels for excellence in journalism and design. Rhonda now enjoys a successful career in sales with Walsworth Yearbooks, first as a sales representative and now as a regional sales manager.