This blog is probably read mostly by advisers, and that makes sense. Most of our posts are aimed at advisers. But this one is a little different. This one is aimed at your whole team, so maybe you can read it to them (we’ll try to keep it brief) or get it into their hands somehow.
Because, according to many of the schools we work with, one of the best things you can do for next year’s team is to give them a letter — a letter from this year’s team, an honest assessment of what went right, what went wrong, what to watch out for, and what to consider doing differently.
And before you say Well, that’s what I’m here for, we’ll remind you of something you already know: their experience this year was not the same as your experience. They had setbacks, fears, confusion, frustrations, and also successes, surprises, joys, and growth that they likely never told you about.
This letter doesn’t have to be long or involved. In fact, we suggest that you don’t make it an essay; these kinds of essays often turn into those valedictorian speeches that don’t get any more specific than vague generalities about “struggles and difficulties” and “opportunities and pathways” and how “now we’re all better people” and “we’ve all grown together” and all that.
You might want to have them write such a letter, and that’s fine. But that’s not what this letter is.
"They had setbacks, fears, confusion, frustrations, and also successes, surprises, joys, and growth that they likely never told you about."
This letter is intended to be informative and educational and extremely practical. With that in mind, questions and prompts are better; they keep the students — and the letter — on point.
You might consider making this a graded project. In fact, if your staff still has some creative juice left, instead of a letter you could suggest that they could make it a video!
Here are a few questions and prompts that your current staff could answer, with the goal of helping next year’s staff (you probably have several of your own to add):
What did we wish we’d started sooner? (and its mirror: What did we start earlier than we really needed to?)
Maybe it feels like all this is too much responsibility and you can’t do this. But you can, and here’s how…
Here are three things we did to keep ourselves on track and on deadline…
Here’s what we learned about being different but working together…(AKA sometimes we wanted to kill each other, but instead we…)
Here are some traditions we inherited (or began) that you should consider continuing…
Where did we wish we’d had more help? More partners from around campus? Did we need students with specialized talents that we didn’t have?
What did our customers tell us about our product? That might sound a bit too much like “corporate-speak,” but if you have some feedback from students about this year’s book, it would be great to include that in this letter.
What was the best experience we had this year as a team? What was the worst? What was the biggest stress and how did we get past it?
What people-management mistakes (in recruiting, communication, job responsibilities, etc.) did we make?
Where were the bureaucratic obstacles that next year’s team should know in advance?
Were there procedures that should work better? Maybe include some alternatives you didn’t get a chance to try. It would also be helpful to include some fixes you did try that didn’t work, just so they don’t repeat them.
Are there bridges that need to be rebuilt and relationships to repair? Any apologies that need to be made should happen before the year ends. But next year’s staff should be aware if there was a dust-up with an admin or a department, just so they can be extra-careful next year.
What things looked like they were going to be easy, but they ended up being ridiculously hard…and why?
How did we work through being tired, frustrated, overworked or so-done-with-this? Include details about celebrations, debriefs, group activities, or anything that refreshed or renewed you.
What materials/equipment did we want that we didn’t have? Yes, adviser, the answers you get to this one are really for you.
Here’s what to know about how the teacher grades… This one might be sensitive for you, but maybe it’s something you should be aware of.
[As you (the adviser) have probably noticed, many of these might also be used as part of an end-of-year review for you to do with this year’s staff.]
"Next year’s team will have their own challenges and make their own mistakes; there’s no need for them to make this year’s all over again."
Now, it’s very possible that your staff might give their most-honest answers in a letter that goes directly from this year’s editor to next year’s; that is, the adviser never sees it. But we don’t recommend that. Sometimes letters like that end up passing on complaints, misunderstandings, untruths and dysfunction, and that’s not going to make next year better.
Instead, we hope that you have a solid enough relationship with your current staff that together you can create an honest and helpful letter that doesn’t shame or embarrass anybody but gives next year’s team a real gift box of insight and experience. Next year’s team will have their own challenges and make their own mistakes; there’s no need for them to make this year’s all over again.
United Yearbook regularly offers workshops and resources on this and other topics, for both new and experienced advisors. To learn more, contact us at 877-489-7462, info@UnitedYearbookPrinting.com, or visit our website at www.unitedyearbook.net.
Dr. John Tuttle, Curriculum Specialist & Lecturer
Dr. John Tuttle is a lecturer for UYB’s in-class workshops, and also works with curriculum development, podcasts, and blog posts. He holds an M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Biola University, where for ten years he was Director of Student Communications. For several years, Dr. Tuttle has also worked as an adjunct faculty member within Biola’s “great books” program.