The Future Starts Here

The Future Starts Here

One professional designer has three JEA/NSPA conventions to thank for his career. So, take note fall convention attendees in Dallas. You never know which students will find their callings, their careers and their tribes through high school publications. The industry’s next designers, writers and creative directors are probably attending this convention.

On Nov. 8 just after lunch, Kyle Lewis hopped out of his chair and left his office. He returned a minute later carrying a tattered, white cardboard box.

“My mom’s packing up a bunch of my old stuff and gave me these,” he said as he pulled out three yearbooks and three black and white student-made booklets.

A new graphic designer in Herff Jones’ Indianapolis headquarters, his co-workers were of course drawn to the yearbooks, picking on Lewis’ portraits and remarking at how fashion, design and the world changed in 10 years. They took note of how he had served as design editor of his senior book, a post which launched his career.

The books garnered the initial attention, but the soft-cover booklets incited a frenzy of coincidences. They were publications, reports even, of Lewis’ staff’s trips to three consecutive JEA/NSPA conventions.

“To attend the conventions, we raised money for months,” he said. “But the only way the school board would approve the trip was if we made a review of the convention, showing what we had learned. Everyone was responsible for creating content. Some focused on the cities, some on the conventions and some on the competitions.”

As he told the story of the black and white booklets, Lewis’ co-workers realized, excitedly, he enters the Hyatt Regency exhibition hall today returning to the convention as a corporate employee working in the yearbook industry after having attended three consecutive conventions a decade ago as a student.

That dutiful little teenage designer would be shocked, he said, to know instead of working to recap convention goings-on for his principal, his work would be a part of a booth. (Those yellow-tipped banners and photo illustrations are his handiwork, by the way.)

None of this was part of his plan, he said.

“I took journalism my freshman year on accident. I misread the class listing and thought it was a journaling class.”

His co-workers giggled, too.

“At my high school, you took Journalism 101 freshman year, which is one semester of writing and one semester of design and photography. After, we worked on the publications, and I chose newspaper. But we didn’t get a chance to learn new techniques.”

He said JEA/NSPA conventions were worth the fundraising and the additional labor because, “we could learn from professionals and pick up other schools’ books and papers to get inspiration.”

After three years on newspaper staff, Lewis joined the yearbook staff to get more experience. He attended the 2006 convention as design editor of both publications.

“I like working on both,” he said. “With newspapers, you have a daily or weekly publication. With a yearbook or a magazine, you get something that lives beyond that week.”

With a degree from Ball State and a decade of working in the newspaper industry, he’s found his way home.

“I always thought I would work for a newspaper, but always had interest in working for a magazine. Working for Herff Jones is more like that.”

Will you be the next Kyle Lewis?

Open your eyes to possibilities, your mind to interests and make the best of both.

Who knows where you’ll be in 2027?

Summer’s Not Over Just Yet

Summer's Not Over Just Yet

After 180 days of school, summer is an anticipated “holiday” that everyone looks forward to and — while it’s not part of the school year per se — the people and things they do are still worthy of coverage in your yearbook the following school year.

If you’re not a seasoned adviser, you may be asking yourself and/or your staff, “How in the world are we going to cover all of the interesting things that students, faculty and staff did over the summer?”

Probably the quickest and easiest way to get pictures from summer activities is to let your student body know that you’re interested in how they spent their summers. Ask them to use the Herff Jones eShare app which can be downloaded for free in the App Store and Google Play to submit photos of themselves on vacation or at work.

You might also want to ask your staff to review their friends’ social media accounts to see things that they did and, if they see something cool, ask them to contact him/her to request additional information and photos.

And, as with anything else, planning is really the key to success so although you might be behind this year, the best way to ensure that you have stellar summer coverage is to make sure your students know that you’ll be covering it before they leave for summer break so they can share pictures as the summer progresses instead of you and your staff playing catch up.

You may also want to plan times to meet with your staff over the summer so you can collectively decide who has time to visit people at their jobs or to go to a local event and take pictures.  

For more great ideas on getting summer covered, check out this previous blog post.


Everyone Has a Place

Everyone has place

When I was little, I loved doing puzzles. I would challenge myself first by choosing ones with more and more pieces and then later by choosing ones with unusual pictures and designs. As the years went by and time grew more scarce, I had to shelve my puzzles until my daughter Zoe came along.

Like most young kids, she started solving puzzles with one image that fit into an exact cut out of it, but she quickly grew tired of those and progressed through the 24-piece, more elaborate wooden ones and by the time she was five, she was tackling 100-piece puzzles on her own. I was always fascinated to see how she approached a new one. Like me, she would turn over all of the pieces so she could see what portion of the image each contained, but unlike me she didn’t start by building the borders of the image. Instead, she would examine the image on the piece and lay it on the table in the approximate place that the piece would go. Slowly, the image would begin to take shape and, sure enough, pieces would be placed next to the first ones and the picture would begin to emerge. I was astounded as I had never seen anyone do a puzzle quite that way and still haven’t to this day.

When I was a yearbook adviser, I often felt like starting the year with new staff members was like putting a puzzle together. Each person was going to be an important part of how the picture formed, but knowing where to put the person (piece) was critical for the successful production of the yearbook. I would carefully examine (talk to) each person and have them tell me more about themselves using this colorful activity and then place them into a position where I thought they would be able to shine. Yes, it required some practice and I didn’t always get it right the first time, but when I did, I celebrated because I knew I was one step closer to seeing the big picture.

In order to decide what positions you want to have on your staff, consider this list of staff job descriptions and choose the ones you’ll need to get the job done most efficiently. I had my students apply for their three most desired positions telling me why they would be a perfect fit for each position. More often than not, the nuggets they shared about themselves did indeed lend them to fit a particular position perfectly so it made my decisions that much easier.

I loved this process every year and especially enjoyed it when students came back the following year to apply for a different position or a leadership role as they expanded their vision of themselves and knew, like Zoe did, exactly where they would fit perfectly into the big picture.

We’d love to hear how you choose positions for your staff and any unique ways you may have of doing that so please comment below and share them with us.

Getting to Know Your Team

Getting to Know Your Team

A well trained yearbook staff is a finely tuned machine where everyone chips in to help so that deadlines are met and the book is the best it can be. Done well, it is a true testament to the power of working together as a team. Unfortunately, most yearbook staffs don’t start their year with a complete group of seasoned members — and while some do — they still have new staff members who will need to become contributing members very quickly. It’s not uncommon for staffers who have been together for a while to have their share of inside jokes or to know each other’s favorite Starbucks order, which can be unsettling. How can you, as the adviser,  help your newbies become acclimated and accepted more easily and level the playing field? Enter the team building icebreaker.

Used properly, these icebreakers can serve several purposes: introducing everyone, seeing quickly who takes the lead and who prefers to follow and, during the assessment/discussion time, you can share how that activity relates to being on staff.

Team building icebreakers like these can also be used to alleviate stress during deadlines. Allowing staff members to blow off steam will help to keep things moving along productively instead of grinding to a halt because of negativity and frustration.

How are you using icebreakers and team building activities in your classroom? What are some of your favorites? We’d love to hear from you especially if you’re interested in sharing them for a future blog post. Please comment below.

Planning the Best Day Ever

Planning the Best Day Ever

So, we finished the book. There’s no more copy to correct, people to identify, photos to edit or designs to review. Submitting the last few pages to the plant, I, like many advisers, finally breathe a sigh of relief and take some much needed downtime to catch up on sleep and slowly lower my caffeine intake. It’s not until a few days later when my staff, bored out of their minds, (did they forget how much work we just did?) starts asking me what’s next. Although we create a few slideshows and start organizing next year’s book, distribution is really the last ‘task’ on our radar. There’s no better feeling in the world than handing that freshly pressed book over, but let’s get real for a minute. Sometimes the monotony of handing book, after book, after book out can take its toll. Yerds need to feel the love and appreciation from their student body. They need a chance to celebrate their accomplishment and be recognized before they hand over ‘the baby.’ As an adviser, it’s been my goal from the beginning to make distribution not only a party, but a community event.

So we go all out. I made an investment in my first year and bought some décor pieces straight out of Pinterest that I knew were versatile and would last us a long time. We bought linen tablecloths, sequin tablecloths, gold chalkboards, banners, and dollar store frames. We custom designed everything to match the theme of the book making sure that every detail, no matter how small, was planned out. We even wrapped old yearbooks in gold wrapping paper to create stands for our signs.

Planning the Best Day Ever

Our goal was to involve the community as much as possible so my staff reached out to several clubs and organizations for support. We asked a group of choir kids to perform a selection of songs while people mingled and socialized. The ProStart food classes were generous enough to create a sampling of appetizers, serving up strawberry shortcake kabobs, teriyaki meatballs and mini-turkey wraps. A parent hooked us up with a cheap photo booth so we designed Instagram inspired frames out of cardboard (to match our theme, of course) and included a logo design on the photo strip. I purchased over 50 lbs of assorted candy in our school’s colors and bought a bunch of cheap glass bowls at Goodwill to create a candy bar. One of the yearbook students had a popcorn maker, so we loaded up on seasonings, paper cups, and oil. We printed about 200 photos at Costco and hung them in the commons for students to grab and take home (this was a huge draw for students). I ordered stickers, pens, and swag from Herff Jones to adorn our signing tables. We created an exclusive slideshow with a glimpse of photos only seen in the book, and performed a tech demo showcasing the Aurasma videos, which we were introducing for the first time. My design crew even had enough consideration to design a Snapchat geofilter for the event so that students could share video and photos from the party.

Being that this was our first time hosting a distribution party, we wanted to make sure the word got out and everyone felt included. My design team created a postcard that we mailed out to the school board members, superintendent, CTE director and the yearbook staff parents. The students recruited for next year’s staff were excused from their last two class periods to help us decorate and serve food. You would not believe the morale boosting effect this had on students who had not even made a book yet. They practically soared on the energy my staff members gave off, lifted by their excitement and joy. I even contacted the middle school yearbook adviser and invited the entire middle school yearbook staff to join us, with the hopes of planting the seed of interest before they entered high school. All told, it took us about a month to design, organize and plan the party.

Planning the Best Day Ever

If you’re an adviser, I know what you’re thinking… Is all this work really worth it for a two-hour party? And the answer is yes…Heck. Yes. My staff was overwhelmed with support, love, enthusiasm and pride. They experienced a sense of accomplishment, and acknowledgement similar to the feeling athletes get when they win a state title – but this time they weren’t the ones photographing that joy for someone else.

We all know the wild rollercoaster ride we sit on has many turns and pitches. It’s not easy staying motivated throughout the year when you can’t see or feel that book in your hand until the very end. Giving my students something more than the book felt needed, if not necessary. Pulling the student body and community into our little Yerd world for even the briefest of moments left a huge impact on my staff. We were able to hold onto that excitement as we coasted straight into our summer camps, ready to conquer the next book, knowing that our finish line had a much bigger crowd waiting for us at the end.

Here’s a breakdown of some easy projects for your staff to consider:

  1. Framed Signs – We bought 11×14 wooden frames and 8×10 standing acrylic frames from the dollar store which we used for our signing tables, food stations and distribution tables. Make sure you design them to match your book’s theme!
  2. Photobooth Props – Make your own props for students to use in a photo booth. My staff used recycled cardboard; cut it out in the shape of an Instagram photo frame and spray painted them white. We also added funny superlatives like, ‘Most likely to be voted off a reality TV show,’ and, ‘Most likely to take more than one free sample.’ We added gold cardboard triangles to each frame to match our book’s cover and tie into our theme.
  3. Photo Prints – My school goes absolutely bananas for free pictures! I get so many requests from students throughout the year to get copies of photos that this solution is the best way to attract their attention and get them to show up at the party. We tape them all over the commons areas. Last year I spent $50 at Costco for 250 prints.
  4. Slideshow + Aurasma Videos – Whether your yearbook staff does Aurasma or not, videos and photo slideshows are always a huge hit. While we make a big assembly slideshow at the end of the year for the entire school to enjoy, students have learned that the best photos are displayed at our party. We only use photos from the book in the distribution party slideshow and mix our Aurasma videos intermittently between photos. Slap some awesome to it and you can bet students will be captivated. My staff loves doing a tech demo and showing students which videos appear in the book and where.

There’s nothing quite like the moments spent celebrating all your staff’s hard work during distribution!

Leave Your Legacy: End of Year Staff Traditions

Leave Your Legacy: End of Year Staff Traditions

Traditions are important, especially in a yearbook staff because we are like a family, bound together through this amazing class. If you have not started a few traditions of your own, it is never too late to start. We have recently started a particular tradition the past few years and so far, it’s become a staff favorite. While we do celebrate birthdays and deadlines with pizza parties and movies, we reserve a couple of activities for the end of the year.

Leave Your Legacy: End of Year Staff Traditions

In late May, we hang a piñata and I fill it with enough candy bars for each staff member, and I’m not talking about snack size bars or unknown brand candy. Whenever my grocery store has candy bars marked down, I take advantage and purchase Twix, Snickers, M&M’s, Hershey’s, Reese’s and anything else they would love. Each student has three chances to hit the piñata and when it busts open, they can only take one candy bar. Some years we do this outside, depending on the weather. If not, we hang it in the classroom.

After the piñata frenzy, we settle down to create our legacy art print. We all decide what type of artwork we want to create and one of my yearbook students makes a design with a sharpie. Students use an inkpad to impress his or her thumb to the design. After that, they sign their name on the artwork, thus leaving a permanent mark.

Leave Your Legacy: End of Year Staff Traditions

Whatever traditions you choose, make them memorable and meaningful. Your staff will feel they have left behind a part of themselves and a new staff will see that we are all in this together as a family.

“The art was really cool and I like that we leave it in the classroom so that later staffs can see who we were.”  – Kobey

“I liked the piñata and the candy was the best!” – Rachel

“Traditions are important because they bring the staff closer together and leave a mark in our classroom for future staffs to see and enjoy.” – Elizabeth.

We’re a Yearbook Staff… We Like to Celebrate!

We’re a Yearbook Staff… We Like to Celebrate!

Yerds put in a lot of work in a year. That’s why it’s important to celebrate their successes. And nothing says celebration more than food!

Every year, after my editors wrap up a deadline, we celebrate by having a Fat Friday. Fat Friday is the term that has come to life over the years as our student-provided food spreads have become larger and larger, our selections more interesting and delicious. Sometimes our lavish buffet will include mostly desserts, sometimes there’s a veggie tray thrown in and I even purchase pizza from time to time. Anything goes.

We’re a Yearbook Staff… We Like to Celebrate!

In the end, you have a day where you can sit down with your staff, learn more about them each personally and enjoy a much deserved break. We have even instituted Special Fat Fridays to celebrate staffers’ birthdays, special recognitions and even milestones. This Friday, for example, one of our teachers celebrates her one year anniversary of finishing chemotherapy and being cancer-free. Who doesn’t want to celebrate that? It also marks the completion of our senior magazine, so a token of appreciation is due, too.

Remember to take a breath from time to time and celebrate all that makes your staff amazing — hard work, deadline completions, special occasions, year end, or sometimes just because… you will love the time with them as much as they do. And we all deserve it!

The Art of Recycling: Using Covers to Cover Your Wall

The Art of Recycling: Using Covers to Cover Your Wall

Over the years, we have housed excess yearbooks, which eventually became a storage issue. There are many ways to utilize yearbooks and I lean more towards the side of showcasing them as wall art. I have moved yearbook rooms at least 10 times and each time I find ways to make it my own, but sometimes sharing a room with another teacher can be a challenge when it comes to making your space look like a yearbook room. One room housed a sitting nook with two blank walls. We cut the covers off the books, sometimes using the entire cover, front cover only, or end sheets and hot glued them to the wall. They were relatively easy to remove when we had to change locations.

The current room we are in has a long blank wall, which we painted flat black. I purchased three large canvases and my students used the salvaged yearbook covers and hot glued them to the surface. Now if we have to change rooms again we will take our art with us. Yearbook wall art could also be hung in other parts of the school for students and staff to see. Here’s how you can make your own!

Materials: art canvas, hot glue gun with plenty of glue sticks, box cutter, extra yearbooks


  1. Use a box cutter to cut off the covers.
  2. Place a cutting mat or piece of flat cardboard under the cover because it will cut into the table surface.
  3. Arrange your yearbook covers on the canvas first until you like the design. Try to keep the same colored covers away from each other for contrast.
  4. Depending on the number of canvases you have, you can use the same cover on the other canvases if you need some fillers.
  5. Place hot glue on the cover and press onto canvas. You may need to put your hand behind the canvas to make sure the cover completely adheres.
  6. It is okay if part of the cover edges extend off the canvas.
  7. Allow to completely dry before hanging.
  8. You can use frame wire or can directly hang canvas on two wall screws. Just make sure screws are aligned or your artwork will hang crookedly.

One Word to Describe How We Feel About Our Advisers

One Word to Describe How We Feel About Our Advisers

What does yearbook mean to you? In one word? Take a few minutes to think about how you would answer and see what a few other advisers, just like you, had to say when asked. Fulfilling. Chaos. Exhausting. Love. Comment below and let us know what that one word is to you!

We want to wish you all a very happy Teacher’s Appreciation Week! As yearbook advisers, you are hardworking powerhouses who shape the lives of the students in your staff rooms day after day, year after year. And those students in turn impact their communities and student body through the work they do to create amazing yearbooks.

During this special week, we have one word to describe how we feel toward our advisers — grateful.





Post Convention Thoughts

Post Convention Thoughts

It is chaos when my 41 classmates, my journalism and yearbook advisers and I prepare to board ourselves onto the light rail that will take all of us from the Washington State Convention Center to the Seattle Airport. My journalism adviser is quickly punching her credit card information into the ticket dispenser in order to print 43 tickets, while my yearbook adviser is shouting at us kids to stand out of the way of people trying to squeeze through what seems like an endless mass of teenagers. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, I find myself mentally taking a step back, and reminiscing about my experiences during the last few days of the JEA/NSPA spring convention in Seattle.

I’ve always been a huge fan of these journalism conventions. When I saw the itinerary for my first NorCal state journalism convention in Sacramento, three years ago, I was excited beyond belief. I could fill three whole days with yearbook lectures! I was able to hear from the advisers of the schools whose publications I idolized: Whitney High School, Smoky Hill High School, Palo Alto High School and at least a dozen more. Those one hour sessions widened my perspective of what a publication could become, and encouraged me to learn more and more about the world of yearbook.

The Seattle convention was no disappointment. I attended as many yearbook sessions as I possibly could on April 7 and 8. My goal was to absorb as much knowledge as I could about design, writing and photography, and then pitch what I learned to the rising editors of my school’s publication. And while I thoroughly enjoyed all the sessions I went to, I found myself realizing that listening to sessions wasn’t the only reason why the Seattle convention was such a memorable experience.

As cliche as it sounds, the people I met during the Seattle convention were what made the convention so special for me. All around me in the convention center were people who were just as eager as I was to learn more about yearbook. They asked the same questions I was asking about improving the quality of yearbooks. They got excited about three whole tables filled with yearbooks and free yearbook swag and accessories. They asked each other for social media information so they could stay in touch with each other and share ideas for each other’s yearbooks.

In my school, even within my yearbook staff, no one really has a burning passion to learn more about yearbooks. I felt like I was that one lonely yerd who didn’t have anyone to talk about yearbooks with, or talk about how we could make changes to it. No one seemed to understand that yearbook could be a passion just like art or music. All of the attendees at the Seattle JEA/NSPA convention reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my love for yearbook.

The Seattle convention was a place where I could refine my yearbook skills, but it was also a place where I could belong.

I pondered on these thoughts so deeply that I almost missed my yearbook adviser reminding us that we had to get off the next stop. So before the the light rail stopped at our final destination, before we all got up and rushed through ticket printing and security checkpoints, I took a moment to smile at the wonderful experience Seattle was, and to mentally thank everyone I met who made me love yearbook even more.