Photo by: Gabriella Minjarez
Team building: Making it worth their while
Written by Patty Gómez
Success in teamwork is ideal, but it’s not easy to come by. Numbers matter, chemistry between team members matters and varying degrees of investment in the outcome matter. All these and many other variables are addressed and manicured by yearbook and newspaper advisers all around the country, year after year. All the while trying to push forward the making of a good book.
Sometimes, teams face the quintessential challenge: only a handful of students end up doing everything. Consequently, at times they have to compromise quality for “this is all we have and deadline is tomorrow.” It is a cycle that breeds misunderstanding. Those who ended up working by themselves resent those that left them hanging. In turn, those who didn’t work often report that they felt left behind by the clique. This mutual resentment brings down motivation and can surround any team endeavor with a shroud of unpopularity, demeaning the activity from its rightful place in student life.
There are other varieties of team problems: some students land on the staff by accident while others who would love to work in your publishing room and would thrive don’t see themselves knocking on your door. It’s not cool to do yearbook, or so they think.
Student press rooms have the potential to offer some of the most vibrant learning spaces in high school. True deep learning can happen naturally in these classes/clubs. In the pursuit of common and tangible goals (making the deadline, producing a high-quality journalistic publication), staff members can always be challenged, empowered and engaged. That’s the trick to making your program flourish. Do you want your team to collaborate, negotiate issues together and create practical solutions? Make it worth their while.
Young people want to belong and be a part of something of value. They spend plenty of time in their classrooms working on hypothetical scenarios and theoretical frameworks. The student press room is a publishing office where traditional classroom structures aren’t effective. It is the ultimate project-based learning experience, where students become better writers, master journalism principles and apply design concepts because they need that learning to produce their yearbook or newspaper. The acquisition of knowledge and the development of skills are byproducts as they fulfill a real need. Just learning to caption or making a cool layout is not the goal for them, nor is mastering best practices to interview, to credit and to fact-check information. They need to learn all that to make a good publication, but their goal is much larger than just checking a box in a rubric. You know your team is engaged when you don’t have to make the to-do list for them and when you can’t go home early (ever) because they just need a bit more time to finish a couple of things. Every. Single. Day.
Elevate the stakes. Don’t let your students settle for mediocre work. Teach them the difference between OK work and outstanding, world-class work. Show them that the standards they are aiming to meet are the same standards to which esteemed press organizations hold themselves accountable. Take them to regional and national workshops and conferences where they can discover from experts in the field the prestige and importance of the work they do. Let them be brave and submit their publications to contests for critique. Raise the bar. Do it one step at a time but keep raising it. Students will respond, meet expectations and surpass them every time. Give them time to do so, but don’t lower the standards. Their personal development takes time.
Let them take the reins. Choose your battles. Don’t micromanage and encourage them not to micromanage each other either. Students need to be part of every decision in every aspect of the process, from the conceptualization of theme, to scheduling, to finalizing PDFs to print. Every single task counts. Let them put skin in the game. Let them own their publication. Moderate, guide, advise, but students need to be the creators of the entire publication. They need to find the strength inside themselves to do it. It’s fulfilling for them to realize they were able to do it all along.
The key to making group dynamics work is a mysterious combination, but it seems to require students to find a sense of belonging – a place where they are in control of how much they take from the experience and an occupation that elevates them in the eyes of their community.
Work in the publishing room is rewarding, energizing and even thrilling, but it also is time consuming. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a good book. It takes about the same amount of time and effort to make an OK one. Make a good one. Build a strong team. Model it for them. Be engaged, challenge yourself and be empowered to lead your program forward.