Use the knowledge that transitions are rough to your advantage and prepare beforehand.
Do you find your yearbook staff making the same mistakes year after year? The transition from staff one year to the next is tricky, and many things can be lost or confused in the transfer. Use the knowledge that transitions are rough to your advantage and prepare beforehand. Build a solid structure into your system to make it happen seamlessly. At the start of the school year, I organized my staff members into teams. Through these teams, leaders felt the full responsibility to lead and mentor their fellow team members. I clearly explained to the leaders that our number one job was to raise up new leaders. It was never an afterthought. They’d have full ownership of their role as mentor and leader. Sometimes the other team members didn’t want to talk to me as an advisor, so they talked to their leaders. Student leaders were passing on ideals that were foundational throughout the year; principles of how to treat one another with kindness, respect, and care. These had to be lived out, not spoken words.
Traditions that pass on to the next staff group happen through mentoring, from a leader to a staff member. Your job as an advisor is to make sure the mentoring is happening, not just that the yearbook pages are being created. Sometimes I observed that it seemed easier for leaders to work by themselves because it was more convenient. But that was not their job. Their job was to train and assist the upcoming leader to do their work well. As an advisor, I mentored staff leaders who in turn mentored junior leaders. That was a year-long process.
Staff members need to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses
A key way to make sure that mentoring is happening is to frequently check-in. Through these check-ins, you’ll get a pulse on the team to see how they’re doing and what they’re struggling with. Staff members need to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses. I had to have a lot of these conversations with my leaders about how they were leading their teams. In turn, leaders would check in with their team members to hold them accountable and talk about their growth. Team members needed to know they were being cared for, otherwise resentment built up over time. In the past, I’ve given my staff some funding so that they could take their teams out to dinner to help form those strong relationships. They felt a greater allegiance to the team than to the yearbook as a whole, and that’s how I think it should be. They were investing in one another.
Next, focus next year’s leaders! Identify those people early on and pay attention to them, how they receive mentorship, and how they can pass it on. Nurture the future leaders and bring them into the leadership experience. Give them managerial responsibilities. That lightens the load of the current leaders, and allows current leaders to experience the fruit of their investment then, not after they leave.
A lot of students want to help but are never asked
Another key part of sharing this legacy is to ask others for help. A lot of students want to help, but they are never asked. It’s important to reach out to those students. Most are willing to participate, but feel awkward about asking, or do not want to intrude, second-guessing their abilities and skills. Seek them out, and give them an advisory role of some kind. You have to ask specific people without dumping the task on them. You have to mentor them.
Finally, It’s incredibly important to document what your staff has learned throughout the year. We started creating a document on OneNote. We would document things like, “What are some things you would do differently with sports photography?” “What was the budget? What did you do to make it successful?” And tips like, "When shooting ________, you need to do this_____________ ahead of time." They would document what they did, the planning process, the logistics, and all the specific steps. Ask your yearbook staff to create this detailed document, have lots of notes, and reflections of what they’ve learned, and what they would do differently. The more specific these documents are, the better. The next staff will be able to use this as a springboard for next year and learn from the past mistakes staff members made. Without documentation, the senior staff will simply take all of the knowledge they’ve gained and leave.
There’s a few weeks after the yearbook is done before school ends. Don’t waste that time! Start planning for next year. Have your leaders assist and guide in those preparations. Legacy is not something you just decide to pass on when you're gone. You have to prepare and share as you go, and the legacy will continue on to the next group of staff. If you have those key elements in place, then nothing is lost in the transition.
Contributor: Joon Kim is starting his 29th year as a public school teacher. For the first ten years, he taught English at Bellflower High School, and for the past 18 years, he has been teaching Graphic Design, Video Production, Photography, Yearbook and Journalism at Garden Grove High School. He received his B.A. in English from UC Irvine in 1991 and while his formal education ended then, he is always learning, sharing, growing, and mentoring.
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.