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Diffusing Drama With Kindness: Finding a Path Forward

I’ll never forget when the Cheer spread created drama for my yearbook staff.

It was subtle at first. It was based around the school policy of having to relinquish your spot on the Cheer team if you participated in another sport that semester. One of my yearbook editors, who was also a senior cheerleader, chose to participate in Girls Soccer her Spring semester, so after 3 ½ years on the team, she had to step away from Cheer.

One of my senior staffers, also a cheerleader, was assigned the Cheer spread and did a marvelous job. The layout design was well executed, and the captions and copy were all well-written. However, when the editor reviewed the spread, she couldn’t help but notice that she had been deleted from the Senior Spotlight section of the Cheer team.

Now, as can happen, much of the drama occurred outside of class. But I knew both girls very well and could feel the tension. As the editor and I looked at the page spread together, I identified two problems:

First, she was deeply hurt by what she felt was an unfair Cheer team policy. She pointed out there were a couple of other seniors in a similar position. We strategized a plan of action; she brought her concerns first to the Cheer coaches and then to the Athletic Director's office.

Second, she felt that the yearbook spread not only minimized her years of participation in Cheer, it completely disregarded her fall semester as a cheerleader. She didn’t feel that her love of another sport should keep her from recognition for Cheer. This student and I talked seriously about how, from the point of view of the staffer, she was only following what she knew to be school policy. We agreed that the page spread was strong, and the staffer had done nothing wrong and it wasn’t personal.

"She didn’t feel that her love of another sport should keep her from recognition for Cheer."

Dramas like this almost never stay private in a high school; it was important to the health of our team to clear the air and find a path forward. This editor and I had a relationship that was built on trust and respect, so I asked her if she would trust me to negotiate a solution with the staffer who’d built the page spread, and share the highlights of our conversations. The editor agreed not to talk with other students about the situation until she, the staffer, and I could meet again. She was, of course, still free to express her concerns over the Cheer policy with other appropriate offices.

In my conversation with the staffer, I discovered that there were hurt feelings on her side as well; she thought that her decision was being interpreted as an intentional, personal slight. I listened very carefully to her. I reassured her that her page spread was excellent, that she had done nothing wrong, and her grade would not be affected (this was one of her big concerns). I shared with her the editor’s frustrations, that the work she put into Cheer throughout her high school tenure would be ignored in her senior Yearbook.

The staffer agreed that the policy was hard. I asked her if there was some way the other seniors who participated in Spring sports could be given space somewhere in the page spread, if not necessarily in the Senior Spotlight. But I also assured her that the page spread and the decisions about it were hers, and that I respected and trusted her process, and that all of us — including the editor — would support her.

In the end, the staffer magnanimously found a way to integrate those seniors into the page spread. Then she, the editor, and I had a great conversation filled with “thank you’s” and hugs. The editor also had quite a showdown with the Athletic Director, and even though there were no policy changes made, she was definitely heard…yet she was tactful enough that the Cheer coaches and Athletic Director remained supporters and friends of the yearbook.

Drama and young people often find each other. Growing up is hard. Learning to navigate all the boundaries, pressures, and emotions just ain’t easy. I have found that having a heart that seeks first and foremost to understand this goes a long way. In the above scenario, I needed to intervene. However, that is not always the case. If I can offer some insight into Conflict Resolution, I’d offer these lessons that I taught my students:

"Drama and young people often find each other. Growing up is hard. Learning to navigate all the boundaries, pressures, and emotions just ain’t easy."

Breathe. If you have to practice breathing techniques with your students – DO IT! Here’s a link to a site with several techniques. Routinely inject your class with some breathing techniques to slow the pace when things get frantic, or start a class with a breathing strategy when the time of year may warrant it — like preparing for finals!

Count. If something or someone is getting on your last nerve, close your eyes and slowly count to 10 either backwards or forwards. See if this practice slows things down so you can think more clearly. Taking a minute can really work!

Move. The best advice I ever got from a friend was, if you are in a hard situation, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. So I let my students know that if they ever needed to use that same rationale, it was fine by me. A bit of a walk, maybe even some water splashed on the face, does wonders in redirecting the mind, heart, and emotions.

Confer. If a student ever needed to privately confer with me about a concern, you bet I made time — immediately and privately. It was part of my trust building with all my students, that everyone knew I would be available for each of them.

Also, I always had Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements posted in my class:

  • Be Impeccable with Your Word

  • Don’t Take Anything Personally

  • Don’t Make Assumptions

  • Always Do Your Best

Throughout the year, we unpacked each of these agreements and what they might look like in our class and in our relationships with each other. The agreements are big ideas with even bigger impact.

With all these tools, and with the knowledge that we were in this together as conflicts arose, we were able to find effective, sustaining, and compassionate resolutions. Having a heart for helping students find paths forward through life situations is the true essence of what it means to be a teacher.

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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