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Building a House or Building a Book: Punch Lists Keep Things Moving Forward

A dozen or so years ago, I had the occasion to build a house on a small lake. The location was idyllic. It was the home of my dreams. And as I was to find out, it taught me a lot. I discovered that one of the essentials of the construction industry, the punch list, was fundamental to the ultimate success of both the house on the lake and — believe it or not — a yearbook.

Often in construction, a rolling punch list (1) is used to keep the work moving forward. If utilized well, the rolling punch list constantly checks to make sure each of the many, many tasks meet their firm deadlines. Many of those punch lists began with written mini-contracts for each task, contracts that included language like “by such-and-such a date, such-and-such tasks need to be completed by such-and-such person.” If the work was completed, great, it was on to the next task. If there was a delay or the work was not correctly done – true story, a subcontractor installed a light fixture where it would block the door to a room! – then notations were made as to who was responsible and how and when corrections would be made.

In other words, having a carefully-outlined list of tasks, responsible persons, and deadlines — along with guarantees for satisfactory completion of those tasks — became as important as the blueprints in bringing the house of my dreams to fruition.

Teachers are funny, and as one of you, I say that in the most affectionate way possible. Inspiration for our classrooms can come from anywhere, and I recognized that the way my project manager and I worked together on that house could translate to the yearbook classroom. Core to our working relationship was the construction industry punch list. The carefully-outlined tasks, names of persons responsible for the task, deadlines and guarantees of the punch lists made total sense. We analyzed what the task required, then the correct steps were put in the correct order, and appropriate deadlines and responsible parties were attached to each step.

In terms of project management, I was sure this punch list approach would work in my yearbook class. However, before I could implement a program of rolling punch lists, there were structural and organizational changes — in the forms of a hierarchy of responsibility and a yearbook style guide — that needed to happen as well. And implementing those had to include my staff’s voices.

A Hierarchy of Responsibility

I’ve always liked the motto that Harry S. Truman had on his desk in the Oval Office, “The buck stops here.” That idea is foundational to a punch list. Each page spread, each section, and the entire yearbook remained the responsibility of my yearbook staff editors. These students were the end of the line.

However, that did not — could not — mean that every task and every decision landed on their desks. Instead, a team spirit across the entire yearbook staff was cultivated, and team members each had specific responsibilities to the team, and in turn, the team held each member accountable.

And that accountability often took the shape of those wonderfully, weighty “my word is my bond” punch lists. This is the main difference between punch lists and checklists. A checklist is a list of tasks that may or may not have due dates included. But a punch list requires the name of the person responsible, with that responsibility explicitly stated and accountability included. Commitments and “giving your word” was put down on paper for others to see.

This culture of responsibility was initiated at the start of every year. Every year, without exception, each yearbook staff listed and defined the kinds of jobs they expected to be necessary parts of the yearbook’s student leadership. We spent quality time describing the characteristics necessary in strong peer leaders. We then created job descriptions, followed by students’ declarations of intention to be considered for whichever job they felt called to pursue.

We also defined together what the selection process would be, which varied depending on how many students I had, and how many roles were needed. Regardless, it was my student leadership, along with the yearbook staff as a whole, who determined their own processes for the work and the methodology through which they’d all be held accountable.

Punch lists assumed many formats. For example, since it was pertinent to the entire team, the classroom whiteboard served as a monthly reminder of who was going to cover which event. Substitutions for coverage were negotiated with at least 24 hours notice (if possible) and recorded on the board in red. Staff members were honor bound to cover a certain number of events per month; this was a graded expectation that was spelled out in the syllabus and signed by the parents as part of their student’s yearbook staff responsibilities. I communicated these responsibilities frequently, but it helped to have them visible every day in big print on the big board at the front of the room.

The ladder was the single most important punch list for my editors, my staff and me. This spreadsheet recorded not only the topic of each page spread, but who was responsible, the deadline, the section leader’s name and a date of approval, the editor’s name (if you had more than one) and their date of approval, and when they rolled the spread up to me. If for any reason a page spread was not going well and neither the section leader nor the editor in charge could make a difference, or a big story broke late in the year and needed room, as a team we could meet and reorganize the ladder to resolve any issues.

Your Style Guide Should Work Hand-in-Hand With Your Punch Lists.

Both section leaders and editors had punch lists to aid in determining whether a page spread was completed. To a great extent these punch lists reflected and managed all the decisions that were collectively made at the beginning of the year and were recorded in our style guide. A style guide ensures that staff decisions made at the beginning of the year about theme, style, color palette, and fonts (and more!) would be followed consistently and intentionally throughout the book, from the cover case to the index.

So the “what” and “who” and “when” for each task came from the punch list; the “how” came from the style guide. All punch lists referred back to the style guide and helped keep these decisions in front of us as we worked. It produced a nice recursive workflow.

Punch lists are also valuable after the fact; that is, after the work on a section is complete and you are reviewing and editing it. In this situation, some punch list specifics could include:

  • Evidence of theme and style

    • Layout and alignment

      • Use of special effects

      • Headlines and subheadings in proper font and alignment per section

    • Colors and Fonts

  • Photographs and captions–including correctly naming identifiable students, faculty, staff

    • No faces in gutter

    • No faces facing gutter

    • Diverse student population represented in photos

    • Consistent caption alignment

  • Spelling and grammar across all copy including Headings, subheadings, captions, copy or text body

  • Checking to make sure there were no innuendos, double entendres or ‘private jokes’ within the captions, copy or text body

And regardless of the punch list format or purpose, the responsible parties were identified and signed off with the date when their assignment was complete and ready to be passed up the staff hierarchy for additional review.

It was interesting that every year without fail my students wanted an additional level of accountability to be provided in the yearbook. Some years they wanted their pages credited to them only in the colophon, but some years they wanted their names directly on the pages – “designed by so-and-so.” There was no doubt some pride in that, but it also created a heightened level of concern, a motivational practice that engages accountability according to the Madeline Hunter Model of Mastery Learning (2).

Don’t Invent Your Own Punch Lists; Borrow Someone Else’s!

If you’re thinking about using punch lists, please know that you never have to reinvent the wheel. Teachers Pay Teacher, Pinterest, even a quick Google search for yearbook checklists can bring a world of options to your fingertips. These all can be modified to fit your particular scenario – always remembering the key difference between a checklist and a punch list is the personal guarantee of work done by a specific deadline.

It’s surprising how much building a house and managing a yearbook class have in common. I am forever grateful to that very patient project manager as that house by that small lake was being built. I learned more than I even knew I was learning. I really liked the unseen depth of the punch list tasks: who’s responsible, their personal guarantee, and the deadline that mattered.

Thank you for letting me share what worked for me. It’s March. You are very busy. If you need anything, please reach out. United Yearbook Printing is at your service.

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


1. Keup, M. (2021, August 24). What is a punch list? checklist ... - What is a Punch List? Checklist & Items Included. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

2. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2022, from


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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