April 22, 2006 / Spring 2006 / Staff Management

Striking A Balance

Written by Idea File Staff

Life is a balancing act, and some people do it better than others. Some of the
best examples of balancing work and professional life come from yearbook
advisers, who must be a contributing family member and teach while overseeing
yearbook production.

None of the advisers in this article claim to have the answers to a perfect blend of work and personal time. What is interesting is that these four advisers do similar things in their attempt to maintain balance – they select their own staff for the most part and put them in charge, they put family first and they make sure the yearbook work is done within the time allotted each week.

A peek at the lives of these advisers may offer a solution to a dilemma that has been irritating you.

Letting go
Staff is an important element to juggling all of life’s duties for a yearbook adviser.

These advisers choose their staffs, put them in charge and remind themselves, when mistakes happen, that it is a student publication.

“My staff and editors are hand selected, generally from my photo classes, and they learn quickly how to deal with me,” said Scott Patton, yearbook adviser at Upper Merion Area High Senior School in King of Prussia, Pa. “When I get crazy, they just keep on doing their jobs, and ignore my tirades and keep saying, ‘don’t worry, we always get it finished,’ and they always do.”

“Having students who really want to be a part of yearbook is also very important,” said Pam Gutierrez, adviser at Hilltop High School in Chula Vista, Calif., who tries to select her own staff even though the counselors sometimes add “surprises.”

“Having the history of being responsible people is a key factor. Being an A student does not always make a great yearbook member,” Gutierrez said.

Patton said he empowers his students to make decisions when appropriate.

“My staff knows that the other adviser (Kelly Cross) and I have first right of refusal when dealing with ideas for the yearbook, but I also let them make choices and decisions whenever I can. This results in some mistakes occasionally, usually caught on the proofs, but it also allows for some really creative thoughts and ideas students come up with that I never anticipated.

“In a nutshell I guess one of my goals is to educate my students with enough information so that they can begin learning and creating for themselves,” Patton said.

Rebecca Pfnister has been yearbook adviser at Sabetha High School in Sabetha, Kan., for four years, and she said it has been hard learning to delegate and letting students learn from their mistakes.

“I’ve had to let a lot go compared to my first year. I’ve gotten better at teaching them to be a leader,” Pfnister said.

One big task that she relinquished was file management of photos. Pfnister used to spend hours at night reviewing photos, and now her photo editor does it. And a bonus for this year is that she found a staff member who wants to do the secretarial and paperwork tasks, also removing most of those from her to-do list.

“I try to keep the yearbook in perspective,” said Debbie Mitchell, adviser at Chaffey High School in Ontario, Calif. “Although I definitely feel an obligation to make it as good as possible for the student body here, I know that expecting perfection is not reasonable.”

Get it done in class
Yearbook advisers put in long hours. Whether yearbook is a class or an after-school activity, these advisers have the work time allotted and they stick to it.

“I do not plan any automatic late or evening sessions for yearbook and generally expect the staff to finish their work during class and at lunch. Sometimes we do have a crisis and have to be here extra,” Mitchell said.

Patton does not have a yearbook class. The staff meets after school, one or two days a week during the heavy production months of December through March, when the staff works three to four days a week until 5 or 6 p.m. After the final deadline, it is back to one day a week to start the next year’s book.

“My staff knows that we do not work on days my son has a (football) game since I attend almost all of his athletic contests and events. Is it realistic? Probably not, but I do see 90 percent of his games,” Patton said.

Thoughts of yearbook begin at 6:30 a.m. for Gutierrez, although she teaches government to seniors until noon. Then yearbook begins in earnest, starting with class and going after school until about 4:30 p.m., mixed in with other meetings and activities. As deadlines approach, workdays stretch until 8:30 p.m. three or four days a week and on Saturday.

“For the first deadline with senior pages and names, I tend to take a computer home to do the tedious stuff rather than sit in the lab. At home I can enjoy a movie while I work or keep up with the news,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez added that time management and scheduling are big factors in getting all things done. She said she always hopes that surprises do not conflict with the schedule, but she deals with them when they do.

Her students are graded on meeting deadlines and commitments. She expects others to meet their commitments, too.

“Hold people accountable when they are part of the plan. Coaches and club advisers have been put on a calendar (so) I can schedule their photos in and get them in time for deadlines.

“Parent ads are only accepted during a specific time. If they sell, fine. If they don’t, we have less to deal with.”

Family first
While yearbook is an important aspect of these people’s lives, it is not the main focus.

“Personal goals are to put my wife and children first and take care of home life. I think that if that is working, then everything else will fall into place,” Patton said.

Patton has two sons, one now in college and the other still in high school.

“When both boys were living at home, things would get very hectic with school pick up, then scouts, piano lessons and youth groups in the evening. Since Tim went to college, it has become a bit less hectic,” Patton said.

Patton said his family insists upon eating together every night, and they try to have dinner out each Friday night “to slow things down.”

Pfnister builds personal time into her life, too. She is single, and has no immediate family in Sabetha, a small Kansas town. The evenings are her time, and she makes it a practice not to think about school. Then she gets up on school days at 4 or 5 a.m. to be at school around 6 a.m., when it is quiet in the building.

“I’ve shifted when I get up and get the majority of my work done. I’m not naturally a morning person,” Pfnister said.

Mitchell said she makes time for her family and tries to work in some quilting and gardening every week. She is married with grown children, which she said is a plus when advising yearbook.

“Frankly, I think I would have been overloaded with young kids at home and the yearbook. It occurs to me that the yearbook may have helped me with “empty nest syndrome,” she said.

Having a supportive spouse also helps.

“My husband is very patient about stopping by the cross country meet across town to snap some quick photos and receiving emergency calls during dinner that the photographer did not show up at the swim meet.”

Gutierrez, who has been married to a teacher for 35 years, said her husband has always shared in the cooking, laundry and shopping. That may be one reason Gutierrez can pack so many activities into her life- local parades, Girl Scouts, gardening and sewing, putting up extravagant Halloween and Christmas lawn displays, extra school duties and teaching graduate-level teachers at a local university.

Gutierrez explained balancing best in a recent example of a week in her life. Grades were due, and so was deadline one, but there were PDF problems and the pages were not uploading. Thanksgiving weekend was approaching, and her oldest half-sister died.

“It takes a frame of mind, and a personal understanding, that things happen, not everything is perfect, we are always going to get surprises but it will get done. We managed around the PDF problem, we found another way to upload (and) we made the deadline. I took the time needed to deal with the passing of my sister, and (we) went out for Thanksgiving Dinner…. no cooking!”

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.