Having a Heart for Leadership


A group of students stand together with fists in the air. They are all shouting with excitement.

I loved the first weeks of school. So many new faces mixed in with returning students who were eager to catch me up in quick snippets of what happened in their lives over the summer. I had quiet kids, rowdy players, students who were anxious for that A, and those who did not care a bit about a grade or school. Every class with its own personality coalesced into an extended family of sorts. As fast as I could, I needed to know their names, and they needed to know who I was. I presented my ‘crazy’ self as authentically as I could, and I entered into that hyper-vigilant state most teachers are familiar with at the beginning of the year. I observed my class for any and all interactions so I could detect the direction of underlying currents of communication on any given day.


As my yearbook staff went through the process of shaping into the extended family I’d envisioned, we’d established student leadership as a valued commodity in our class. They’d already crafted their Mission Statement for the yearbook, and grasped their vision of how to effectively achieve that mission. Together they’d deliberated the kinds of leadership positions and crafted the detailed job descriptions necessary to shepherd the yearbook work to successful completion. And as a group, they’d managed the Cover Case design and the Style Guide. It was now mid Fall, and it was finally time to select and prepare a leadership team.

I wanted to see who was willing to step up. And I encouraged these staff members to consider leadership positions.

While observing my yearbook class in action across the many assignments necessary at the beginning of the year, I watched for talent and drive to emerge among the staff. Most of the staff were happiest to be given assignments and follow very specific directions. That’s really okay. But there would be a few that would rise up. I watched for them. I watched how they treated their peers. I looked for interactions that led with empathy and compassion. I noticed who volunteered their new found expertise behind the lens or with a software skill. I looked for those willing to cover events when no one was available. I wanted to see who was willing to step up. And I encouraged these staff members to consider leadership positions.


By late October, my staff knew more comprehensively what was in front of them in the work of creating a yearbook. They felt the weight of the responsibility to the school community. They understood their own personal demands and calendar obligations. So, following the leadership selection process the entire staff developed in the first week of school, I began the invitation for leadership positions. By the end of October, I had a leadership team. Every year the process and team titles were slightly different. But leadership teams were essentially this: Co-Editors (I believed we needed more than one), Section Leaders, Photography Lead, Design Lead, Marketing Lead, and Social Media Lead.

I organized mini workshops for my leadership team so that the characteristics of listening, empathy, building community, self-awareness, healing, and the commitment to the growth of people could be developed within the context of the yearbook class

It is not enough to have a team with clear job descriptions. Good leadership is intentionally developed. In United Yearbook Printing’s Curriculum & Resources No. 4, Organizing Student Leadership instructional guide, advisers are introduced to six characteristics of Servant as Leader, a leadership style wherein leadership values appear to be antithetical to cultural norms. I organized mini workshops for my leadership team so that the characteristics of listening, empathy, building community, self-awareness, healing, and the commitment to the growth of people could be developed within the context of the yearbook class, using the strengths and weakness of our staff as a group, and of our individual selves. The leadership development process was continuous, often with the leadership team determining the topic for a workshop session. We’d meet when challenges were a priority, problem-solving any issues using the leadership model we practiced on a day-to-day basis. The above characteristics were practiced so frequently that they became our natural responses.


A girl with a mic in her hand seems to be speaking about something important. She has a focused look on her face as she speaks to her fellow peers.

My leadership teams learned to trust and depend upon each other. They learned each other’s strengths and understood when to ask for support. I was always surprised by how these revelations occurred. The honesty these students were able to bring to the table and the willingness to be vulnerable for the good of the group and ultimately the yearbook project was a humbling experience. I believed their own mentoring capacities were enlarged by their experience developing as servant leaders.

I put a lot of effort into making partnerships or relationships with my students.

I don’t mean to present my yearbook classes as sugary sweet, no problems. They were regular classes. Some days were filled with more drama than other days. But the overall tone for my classes was highly democratic. I believed in the reality that without a partnership with the ones who were doing the learning, there was truly no way forward. I put a lot of effort into making partnerships or relationships with my students. I really trusted them. Most of the time, that trust paid off. My student leaders were proof. Every year they proved they could answer the call and provide the leadership necessary to get a yearbook they could be proud of into their peers’ hands.


Thank you for allowing me to share how the yearbook leadership evolved in my classroom. United Yearbook Printing’s Curriculum & Resources offers researched insights, directions, lesson plans, learning activities and links to web sites to further answer any questions you may have regarding creating a yearbook. Feel free to contact us at www.united yearbook.net.


Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, 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 enjoys her family, making art and gardening.


Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.


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