Creating team leaders

Written by Heather Keller

In my limited experience as a yearbook adviser, I have learned so much about myself and just how far I can push seventh and eighth graders. Let me explain.

During my first year as an adviser, I pleaded and begged, but deadlines were barely met and typos and fuzzy pictures were printed. Then our book arrived. It was a step up from previous books, but it was not their book or the story of their year. It was the way I, the grumpy old adviser, saw the year.

Not fair and not fun, right?
During the next few years, I increased the kids’ responsibility for the quality of the book. Anyone who dared return to staff as an eighth grader was automatically a “team leader,” now in charge of one fourth of the book. I told them, “You are in charge of everything that happens in this part of the book. Let me know what you need.”

At first, this system seemed foreign to those leaders, but eventually, the idea caught on throughout the staff. The team leaders began to enjoy that they were responsible for their own book and that I was there as a sounding board, idea person, cheerleader, smiling face and orderer of the donuts, but surely not the problem fixer for the book.

Don’t get me wrong. I still answered questions, made major financial decisions, led team members in making choices, and made the final decision when choices had to be made. I threw a kid or two off staff for taking advantage of the looseness of the class. I was still the one who proofread everything four dozen times. But the beauty of the whole “team leader/ team member” concept was that all the kids took responsibility for getting things done. They reminded each other about deadlines, asked each other for advice, and began to forget about needing me for anything other than ordering donuts.

The defining moment was close to a deadline in January. The warm, fuzzy feeling came over me when I heard a team leader tell a staffer, “Look, our deadline is next week. You’d better get busy because you aren’t going to make me look bad.” Ahhhh… success.

The greatest thing, though, was returning to school after being out for a few days with a sick child. I worried whether anything had been accomplished during that time. I had greatly underestimated my middle school students. They had finished pages and made the self-imposed deadline. They had worn out the sub because they kept asking to go work in the computer lab. I began to question why I did not miss school more often!

Dividing a middle school staff into teams creates a ton of success because it takes the big meanie role from the adviser and spreads it across team leaders. Those leaders are not viewed as meanies, but as enforcers of deadlines and style. By using team leaders, four or five students who have a year’s experience get to be role models and put even more of themselves in the book. And, the ultimate thing happens — the book becomes their book, the story of their year.

Heather Keller