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Recognition, Celebrate, Gift Ideas

A group of students celebrating mardi gras together. They are all in complete costumes!

An atmosphere of teamwork, and community evolved much like a family.

Years before I took up the mantle of Yearbook adviser, I initiated my school’s first Advanced Placement 2D Design art class. Like the task of beginning a yearbook class, it took some convincing of the administration. I drafted and submitted the curriculum to the appropriate governing agencies for approval, recruited the brave souls and, finally, everyone successfully crossed the finish line. In similar ways to the yearbook class, I believed the AP 2D Design Art class offered students a meaningful, personal entry into a real-world experience. And like the real world, the year encompassed both frustrations and moments of tremendous satisfaction.

The AP 2D Design students had a triple threat finish line: 1) the submission of their portfolio; 2) the subsequent formal academic presentation of these portfolios to a room filled with family, friends, teachers, administration, and invited guests; 3) and an afternoon opening at a local art gallery where students sold their work. In contrast, the yearbook class’s finish line was a quality, comprehensive and inclusive, sold-out yearbook. While both the AP 2D Design students’ formal academic presentation of their portfolios and the gallery space art opening were catered, and we enjoyed the companionship and refreshments, the yearbook class did not have those formal occasions built into the curriculum.

I learned a lot about personalizing celebrations and closure from these AP students and those who came after them. When the students pushed themselves beyond what they thought they could do, and when the goal became so much more than a grade for the grade book, an atmosphere of teamwork, and community evolved much like a family. This deserved recognition and respect. In turn, I applied what I learned from my AP 2D Design art classes to my yearbook classes.

The following practices were all pulled from the AP art classes and modified for my yearbook classes:


Good teaching includes recognizing students’ successful efforts when it matters most–as it happens!

Recognizing someone’s good work in the moment matters. Good teaching includes recognizing students’ successful efforts when it matters most–as it happens! I remember working with students who struggled to learn about a nuance in layout design or to write a better caption or a more catchy heading. As we talked it through, I’d purposefully walk away with an encouraging word or gesture and return sometime later to review the work in progress. I’d find another way to encourage their efforts. Walk away and return again; encourage and repeat. Once the student was satisfied, and the page spread met the standard they desired, I made sure they knew I recognized their efforts with their work.

A picture of a bubble about to fly away.

As a class, we’d verify page spread readiness by sending it to be proofed and put to bed. The spreads were projected for all to see, and as we voted to send off a spread, the designer or designers would be recognized by name and given a round of applause, snaps, bubbles, or by everyone eating a chip or a cookie in their honor. Additional recognition for each page spread design was provided in the Colophon at the end of the yearbook. Every page spread a staff member for which a staff member was responsible was listed under their name and photo. This was especially important to staff members!

When we experienced challenging times of year–tensions high due to the end of a grading period, a long stretch without a break or holiday, deadline frustrations–we might take a “Post-It Note Compliment” moment by answering these questions on a post-it note and placing it on the desk or computer of the person for whom it’s meant:

  • Thank you for…

  • I appreciated you doing________when I was having a hard time

  • I like how you…


Celebrations were a part and parcel of the year. I’d plan some silliness like special efforts to meet deadlines by celebrating with noise makers and a drawing from the special awards jar that included such freebies as: a 5 minute walk with a ‘pardon me’ pass, selecting a classmate to yell out the window “____ met deadline!”; or the class singing the Congratulations to You song (to the tune of Happy Birthday).

Or ‘Pancake Day’ all day long with my trusty griddle and spatula, bowl and whisk, “add water only” pancake mix, butter, syrup, paper plates, compostable forks, and paper towels. This was a ‘just because' celebration, and the staff never knew when to expect it. It was cheap for me and an easy clean up.

Of course, all birthdays were recognized by either sweetly or crazily singing the Birthday song–the birthday person’s choice.

Even though a more formal catered celebration was not a written part of the yearbook curriculum, we planned one with the Editor(s) in Chief and me presenting the Best Page Spreads for each staff member with a commentary about their accomplishments throughout the year. We invited family, friends, teachers, administrators, and invited guests (like ad supporters) who filled the room and celebrated with us. This was a good time to present the actual yearbook to the principal as well as honor Seniors.

A close shot of potato chips
I recommend that whichever and however you can, recognize and celebrate your yearbook staff!

Gift Ideas

Nothing solidifies a group faster than a t-shirt! Especially if the students have a voice in the design of the shirt. And if it is a gift. Or is of the lowest cost possible. The yearbook staff planned their ‘t-shirt’ days.

Dollar stores have loads of inexpensive outdoor toys like bubbles, pool noodles, and foam gliders that can add to the fun of the classroom. Silly award certificates to accompany the silly toys can be a great way to level up a classroom recognition or celebration. Bubbles and pool noodles (jedi fights with desks moved out of the way) were the number one stress busters in my class. These were TIMED, SILENT events.

And then there were Favorite Snack Days. These were held at least once a quarter. I kept a running list of favorite snacks, and these would magically appear during a week that seemed to have a lot of stress attached.

These were just a few ideas. Many of these ideas are free or low cost. If yearbook sales afford you a budget to cover costs, great! If not, fundraising may be required. Or, if you can, ask for a dollar amount in your departmental budget to offset some of the costs. I recommend that whichever and however you can, recognize and celebrate your yearbook staff!

United Yearbook has other blog posts on this subject. Click on the titles for more thoughts and suggestions!

Feel free to contact United Yearbook Printing with any questions you may have. We would be glad to help you and your yearbook staff in any way we can!

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.

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