The students I teach today are very different from the students I taught even five or 10 years ago.
The fast-paced, high tech world they are growing up in has changed the norm, the practices, the expectations in the classroom. But different doesn’t mean bad. Today’s staffers are just as bright and creative as students of the past, but often they do not excel because our expectations of them are too low. If we expect excellence, they will rise to our expectations and do amazing work.
Creating an environment built on high expectations is one of the most important jobs a yearbook adviser has. The adviser can create such an environment by teaching journalistic standards and exposing students to the best publications. Trips to scholastic media conventions and workshops are a good way to help students discover for themselves what excellence might look like. In my yearbook class, I teach students the basics of yearbook journalism, and I emphasize the necessity to behave responsibly and professionally.
Then, I expect excellence. Ultimately, our goal is create an environment where students demand excellence from themselves.
Here’s an obvious example. It might be easy to reuse materials (the ladder, some designs, the fonts, etc.) from last year’s book, but every school year is different. Every student body is different. Every staff is different.
That means each and every yearbook that captures the story of a unique school year and student body should be different as well.
Creating a different yearbook every year begins with finding a unique theme or concept to guide the staff through the process. Theme is much more than a catch phrase on the cover. The best themes allow students to plan coverage, design, color palettes, photography, copy formats, typography and photography deliberately chosen to create a visual-verbal voice for their book.
If your staff has fallen into the rut of producing the same book every year, encourage your students to consider shaking up their ladder. Perhaps a chronological approach or umbrella coverage would help them see new possibilities for telling the story of the year. Another way to push students to create a different book is to help them choose a voice for their book before they choose a theme.
That will help them see that every decision they make about the book needs to support the voice they are hoping to achieve… and that they should go to the extra effort to both challenge the staff and delight their readers because that’s what the best staffs would choose.
West Henderson HS Hendersonville, NC
A news junkie who reads five newspapers a day, I bleed Carolina blue, but am an Atlanta Braves fan. And, yes, I believe I can stay young forever if I continue to spend my days in a high school classroom. That's been my secret for more than 30 years so far.