Standing Back – A lesson in staff management

Written by Rebecca Pfnister

It is hard to give up control. Even after three years as a yearbook adviser, I find it hard to know when to step in and when to let the staff make mistakes for the sake of learning from them.

We have a huge responsibility to give our student body a great book of memories and history, so it is diffi cult to restrain from trying to make everything perfect. But what is perfection in the yearbook world? Is it an on-target theme, superbly cropped photos, tightly written copy and design with pizzazz? Sure, but it is also students learning skills such as decision-making, leadership and teamwork on the way to creating the yearbook.

One Monday morning in early February, my staff unwittingly re- minded me to trust in their ability to work out problems. It pointed out that the power of photos and the staff’s shared experiences were better teachers than any lecture from me.

It had been a rough weekend and the tension was thick in the classroom that morning. The Valentines’ Dance on Saturday was one of our new color pages this year and somehow the passing of the camera between half-hour shifts had gone terribly awry. I’ll change their names to protect the innocent, or guilty, depending on your viewpoint. Heidi was mad at Sophia for not passing the camera, Sophia was mad because she felt it wasn’t her fault since the battery had died, and Maggie was mad because she was worried there wouldn’t be enough photos for her page.

I was feeling the pressure as well. While this staff is not terribly chatty to begin with, on this morning the proverbial pin would have sounded like thunder had it dropped. What should I say to break the tension? What if this incident created a rift for the rest of the year?

I left the room to collect my thoughts and make some copies.

I knew I had to make some sort of speech about teamwork and forgiveness and remembering that being a staffer was not about our egos but about doing our best for the rest of the student body.

I boldly headed back to the room with my game plan and found the whole staff gathered around our server. Good grief. What now? Had our network crashed on top of everything else? Had Sophia deleted all of the Valentines’ pictures out of spite?

Laughter interrupted my downward spiral of worst-case scenarios. The entire staff was gathered around the screen, oohing and aahing over the pictures of couples dancing, an impromptu limbo competi- tion and the crowning of the king and queen.

Pictures really do speak a thousand words and I wish I had had the sense to grab a camera and capture them in that moment of pure camaraderie. The photos they were viewing spoke the words I was hoping to say and then some.

While I had been out of the room, Maggie had taken charge and decided to see just how many good pictures existed. She made a point of pulling over Sophia and Heidi to show them that the few pictures available were high quality and actually told the story of the evening fairly well. Maggie also informed me later that she had talked to the entire class about the importance of leaving cameras charged and ready for the next staffer. Her speech left an impression on the staff, and I was so proud of the way she handled the situation. By calling over Sophia and Heidi, she patched up an argument that could have become much worse.

I was not too disappointed that my hastily planned intervention was never carried out.

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Rebecca Pfnister