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All Hands On Deck!

It was March, and the pressure was on. By now, according to the yearbook ladder, many of the page spreads were due. But many students were struggling to finish.

Administration had questions. Better photographs were needed for any number of page spreads. My editors and I needed to be cloned to be in all the places we were required. The busyness and the potential for short fuses and misunderstandings were reaching a fevered pitch.

It was time for a disruption celebration!

When time and deadlines were running my staff ragged, I knew I needed to stop the world and invite us all to breathe. Usually, I’d rig up some refreshments and goofy swag or gifts to go along with a “This is Your Life” kind of presentation complete with candid photos from throughout the year, plus completed layouts with loads of compliments to the designers. I’d put the cover case in their hands again to remind them of why we were doing all this. We’d do a bit of ‘remember-when’ and create a wall of post-it note shoutouts to each other. Then we did some guided meditation and breathing exercises to round out the ad hoc celebration. By the time the bell rang, there were smiles and hugs to share. And when we met again, we were a little stronger, a little less stressed, a little more encouraged.

These types of celebrations were always a surprise to my students. Yes, some years we needed more than one, between mid-January and the beginning of April. I kept a close eye on the health of my yearbook class. As I saw the signs of unease emerge, a Silly Me would show up in lieu of Ms. McHugh. Sometimes I made pancakes. I would do just about anything to disrupt the negative energies that could accompany the dash to the final deadline.

Yearbook deadlines are, for many students, the first real make-or-break pressure situation they’ve ever faced. Mom or Dad are not going to swoop in and say “It’s fine, I’ll handle it,” not anymore. In most situations, an adviser can pick up some of the pieces, but not all. The students have to come through.

Unexpected celebrations are one way to deal with pressure, and I would recommend them. But an even better way is planning.

Every year, I made sure that I planned what I called “All Hands on Deck.” It was my way of calling in all the resources we had and all the people we had built relationships with, from this year and from years past. It was a way to remind those people that we’d likely be calling soon, and it was also a way to show my students See? There are helpers out there! We’re not alone!

"Mom or Dad are not going to swoop in and say “It’s fine, I’ll handle it,” not anymore."

This was my list:

  • I made sure my deadlines provided breathing room from the actual drop-dead dates from the publisher.

  • I planned with my student leadership team, the ones I had developed and now leaned on. By March these bright, wonderful beings were sitting compassionately one on one with our strugglers. I was brought in only if they couldn’t manage, which was rare.

  • I planned with each staff member who needed a personal contact to complete their page spreads. We set up the details, dates, times and communicated these to parents. I was clear with students as well as parents that as long as the work was completed, the grades would reflect the student’s diligence.

  • I planned with the administration so they’d be ready to uphold their role in reviewing Senior Quotes and Senior Superlatives.

  • I planned with the registrar to double-check the names of each student in the class portraits, and I planned with the Athletic Director to do the same with the team sports photographs.

  • I planned with my department head and an English teacher to review the printed spreads for any spelling and grammar errors – this after my editors and I had already examined these pages ourselves.

  • I planned with my staff to review completed spreads to make sure all photographs were used only one time, and to find suitable plan B photographs in case we had duplication.

  • I planned with my staff to roam halls and gain access to classrooms for photographs that still had to be taken.

  • I planned with my staff to interview faculty members for filler modules on the faculty page spreads. Note: Always have filler content — content that you may or may not use — just in case.

  • I planned with each section leader to double-check captions to make sure they matched the photographs and that student names were correctly spelled.

  • I planned with editors, section leaders, and staff about who was making what corrections and when they’d be complete…and then those pages were printed again and reviewed to make sure all was well.

  • I planned workdays – always with snacks. With my student leadership I planned thank you notes and gifts of flowers to those doing an “above and beyond the call” job (or two!) for our yearbook staff.

"That tension, that sensation of something nipping at your heels, could be very motivating."

March could be an anxious month. But I needed to teach my students that not all anxiety was detrimental. Indeed, that tension, that sensation of something nipping at your heels, could be very motivating. By confronting the anxiety of meeting the deadline and unmasking the fear of failure, by leaning into the support network we’d created and by relying on the planned partnerships and processes for completing the work, we could get through it. In fact, we would do more than get through it; we could exceed expectations.

All hands on deck. That was actually a sweet call-out. When there was a common goal, when everyone’s efforts were valued, when empathy and compassion were in play, the work — albeit still somewhat frenzied — made its way down the home stretch.

Next week, I’ll share thoughts about a ‘Punch List.’

As you meet the fast and frenzied moments of this month, if you’d like assistance in any way, feel free to contact United Yearbook Printing. We will be glad to help in every way possible.

United Yearbook offers resources, curriculum, and on-site workshops on this and other topics. To learn more, contact us at or visit our website at


Miss Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing via a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former yearbook adviser at Xavier College Preparatory High School. She earned a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000. And in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy taught K-12 Art and was awarded the 2001 Nebraska Art Teacher of the Year, and in 2010 she was awarded Nebraska Elementary Art Teacher of the Year. Most recently Lucy was awarded the 2017 CA High School Art Teacher of the Year.


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