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Maximizing Collaboration: How to Efficiently Critique and Finalize the Yearbook as a Team

Updated: Mar 8

Students sitting together in a circle critiquing their work together.

From the very beginning of the school year, introduce your students to the concept that they can objectively look at their creative work for the yearbook. Finalizing the yearbook requires levels of collaboration. One particular level is the group vetting process which involves critique. Critiquing allows students to realize that there is space between them and their work. When students create according to their assignments, their work has partial subjectivity and objectivity. Objectivity comes from the criteria the students must meet in their assignments. 

Students have already created the standards through the yearbook theme and appearance, the color palette and font, as described in their Style Guide, and the narrative they are trying to tell. Every assignment provides an outline that further affects objectivity. Through practice, the staff learns to view objectivity as the most impactful way to unveil the yearbook to the community. 

You are building their strengths as you are building their skills in all areas that go into developing a yearbook. 

Through the assignments that you give your students, you will be highlighting certain aspects of that yearbook narrative. You will be actively seeking your staff’s development as creative people, whether it's through writing, photography, or the layout and design aspect. You are building their strengths as you are building their skills in all areas that go into developing a yearbook. Critique is a natural part of that process.

In my classroom, we practiced something called “all alone together.” That means we're all together, but we're looking at and analyzing everybody's work individually. We learned how to speak about and how to accept what others saw in our work. We’d reflect on how to improve our work based on what others could see in it. By this point in the school year, we’d feel so comfortable, we’d flip through complete page spreads and have discussions. I'd explain the criteria and ask "What do you think?" "Where is the story in this section?" The students would take time to present their page spreads. The class would give their criterion-informed opinions and then we’d go back and work on them. 

When we practiced the process of group vetting, I projected and printed out completed page spreads so that students could make notes on the pages. Printing the page spreads was of enormous benefit. Physical copies provided permanence as opposed to the ephemeral quality of screens. These copies are particularly helpful when searching for narrative and alignment problems, as well as duplications. Even if it's in black and white, the printed version made a huge difference. Staff members were assigned the task of going through that particular page to make those corrections.

If you feel behind in the group vetting process, train a few staff members and make them your core edit group. It’s a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. You may have to reduce the number of spreads they create when you amp up the number of pages that they have to edit. In an ideal world, the editor would catch it and go back to the student. But the closer you get to the deadlines, you might have to have an explicit agreement with the class that when a change occurs, the editor will automatically make the change to the spread. 

With the volume of work you need to complete, take time to breathe, relax, and accept the fact that not everything will be perfect. My students and I had to learn this as a group. Our standards were a continuum. We were not going to let poor pages become a part of the book, but we had to be okay with some things being good and not great. 

Advisers must walk the difficult tightrope of knowing where their hands need to be in the book and where they should not.

In my time, we had a few perfectionists on the team. We had to lovingly gather around this one young lady who was very much a perfectionist. We got her away from the computer, and told her, “It's done, time to move on.” Because a lot of the students would be anxious about their grades, I would let those perfectionists know these kinds of difficulties were not reflected in their grades. There is the pressure to have the book be as perfect as it possibly can be. Advisers must walk the difficult tightrope of knowing where their hands need to be in the book and where they should not.

It is not just the students who have reason to be perfectionists, but the advisers as well. It's not just the pressure to make the book the best it can be, but also the pressure from parents and school districts to sell the yearbooks. In addition, there's the pressure of meeting the financial obligations for its production. And maybe the utmost pressure is the inner desire advisers have to not disappoint any of the students. At the end of the day, you have to breathe and applaud yourself for what’s done. Know that the best it can be is very good at the end of the day. Make sure you celebrate the fact that your staff has done the work and finished the book. 

Your students are learning to see what they create in a new light. They are learning to match their creations to the goals and the guidelines they set for the yearbook. The purpose is the work and learning to evaluate the work. Through that experience, a deep sense of self-confidence evolves, a unity among the team. Take a deep breath as you and your students get closer to your final deadline. You’ve got this! 

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 For more resources, check out our podcast episode on managing the stress of yearbook deadlines!

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Former yearbook adviser, Lucy McHugh.

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.

Article editor, Donna Ladner.

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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