Secure administrators as your allies

Written by Barbara Bateman, CJE

Several years ago, I attended the ASNE Reynolds High School Journalism Institute and came away with a plan to expand and grow our journalism program. At that time, I was the yearbook adviser and wanted to not only improve the yearbook, but revamp our struggling journalism program that includes newspaper, yearbook and literary magazine, as well as start a broadcasting component.

I was fortunate that my principal, Dr. William Smith (seen in the photo above with student editor Regan Francis), had been visiting schools in the Southeast for our district’s conversion to Academy Pathways. Smith had visited a school that had a thriving broadcast program and was excited about the possibilities it could give our students.

Murphy is a Title I school, and our students struggle with reading and writing skills. When I approached Smith with the idea of adding a broadcast program and an Introduction to Journalism class as a means for students to explore written and verbal communication, he was receptive to the idea. I explained how an introductory class could help students with their reading and writing skills and better prepare them for choosing journalism classes that fit their personality. We discussed what would be needed to make journalism a pathway in the Academy program.

The biggest issue for starting any program is often money. Schools nationwide struggle for funding and ours is no different. We talked about what I would need to purchase and how I could get the necessary texts and equipment to start the class. Yearbook had some funds, but I could only spend those funds on equipment and items that yearbook could use, though we could share with other classes.

I made a list of necessary items, nice-to-have items and dream items. Then we broke down the list by what yearbook could purchase, what Title I funds could purchase, what PTA could buy and what the school could afford to purchase. We had a funding plan, and we could add both Introduction to Journalism and Broadcast Journalism to our course selections.

When we talked about filling the rosters, Smith was understanding of the idea that classes needed to be small the first year, and we would grow the program a little each year.

The first broadcasting class had only four students enrolled. In a school with overcrowded classes, I had a class of four. I made sure if I could volunteer to do something that helped the school, I did. I felt like I needed to pull my weight.

I took over the Daily Bulletin that was emailed to teachers every morning. This not only helped the school, but allowed my staff and me to be aware of what was coming up to better cover events.

Respect and teamwork go both ways. When the district decided that the building my classroom was in was to be repurposed, Smith came to me with a map of the school and said we needed to find a place for my class. He understood that my room had to meet certain requirements because of the broadcast set-up and the 500-pound safe we use to store equipment. We walked around campus looking in classrooms and discussing the options until we found a place that would later become my new home.

My students and I brainstormed ways to streamline the disruptions to the school schedule because of yearbook. We reworked the school picture day procedures and now finish photographing more than 2,000 students in four hours with five photographers, and without students wandering campus all day pretending to go take their photo. We do it the first week of school by homeroom. Each grade is always involved in an activity: photos, class meeting in the auditorium, schedule changes, or filling out the annual yearbook survey in homeroom. When one class finishes photos, we rotate the activity.

This one change is probably the most important and bought us the most goodwill from faculty and administration.

Coverage of events and staff visibility throughout the campus also helped to justify the growth of our program. When the superintendent begins to recognize you and your students and comments on the excellent job they do, it makes your principal look good. It also helps solidify your relationships with the principal and superintendent, both key allies to a successful program.

Teachers notice and let you know what they are doing in class to highlight their students. Visibility has its drawbacks; the staff and I have a plan to deal with requests that do not fall under the journalism program’s mission statement.

I have students enter their work in contests; awards speak volumes to administration at the local and district level. While the students don’t focus on awards, or work specifically for them, the press and attention received after earning them justifies the program and helps with recruitment. Students do not do stories with the intent of entering them into a contest, but they do selectively choose what to enter in contests.

Do not limit contest entries to just student work. If an administrator is worthy of nomination for an award for supporting your program, nominate him or her for the award. Recognize parents and volunteers at the annual end-of-the-year party. Like awards, simple recognition helps build recruitment.

I am fortunate enough to have an administrator who trusts me. I built that trust over time. I know that my current principal wants his faculty and staff to think of solutions to their problems before they go to him. If you have more than one possible solution, he will discuss the options, but he wants to know that I have attempted to figure out how to fix the issue.

If there is an issue that the journalism students need to discuss with the principal, they also go to him with a plan of action to address the situation. First though, we discuss the issue in the classroom to see if anyone else might be able to help or even fix the problem. Working for Smith, I have learned and taught my students that one does not need to go to the “top” for everything. Learning to work smarter, not harder, is a valuable lesson for all of us.

I understand that every administration is different, and every school has its own personality, but this is what worked for me and my program. Working with administration is easier than the alternative.

Barbara Bateman, CJE

Barbara Bateman, CJE, is the journalism and photography teacher and yearbook adviser at Murphy High School in Mobile, Alabama. She received the 2017 Diversity Award from the Journalism Education Association and was the 2016 Alabama Scholastic Press Association Adviser of the Year. Bateman has written articles for the publications of the JEA and the Dow Jones News Fund, and has presented sessions at both the ASPA and JEA/NSPA conventions, including a session from which this article was taken.