The Beginning--What Needs To Be Done & By Whom

Updated: Sep 22


The first time I planned for a yearbook class, there were so many decisions that needed to be made in such a short period of time. I took a minute to breathe. Our high school was a new school–it had just hit 10 years of existence. The yearbook was finally being transferred from the hands of well-intentioned adults doing the work FOR students, to students creating the book FOR their peers. Thankfully, when I took on the teaching assignment of the yearbook for my school, I was nearing the end of a very long career. I knew I was paving the way for how this class could proceed, and I wanted to create a classroom culture that would flourish long after me.

The yearbook itself would be a collection of shared and individual voices from the classroom and across the campus

I began planning the class with the perspective of how I wanted it to end. Ultimately, what would be the results of my yearbook class? Throughout my career as an art educator, my primary purpose as I saw it was to help students find their voices. The yearbook class would be similar in that the yearbook itself would be a collection of shared and individual voices from the classroom and across the campus. Therefore planning was an exercise in creating enough of a framework to begin the work, and adaptive enough to be added to or taken away from, as the students’ voices became clearer and more directive.

I set the expectation with my students to have “planned” moments for continuous communication.

Planning in the online gradebook was only two weeks ahead of any given day due to making room for the students’ agency to form and then lead events in the classroom. The planning section of my gradebook was in a constant state of revision! To be clear, ambiguity in classroom direction was something with which I was comfortable; the nature of making art is a process of change and adaptation. Moreover, for these classes to work, I set the expectation with my students to have “planned” moments for continuous communication. This took the form of weekly meetings with student leadership to guarantee they were managing their teams and the yearbook processes. Together, student leadership and I designed interventions as needed, individual student meetings to check progress while they worked. I assessed how they were expressing their “voice”, and offered help to clarify what they were communicating. To improve their skill sets, students would participate in one-on-one sessions either with a peer mentor or with me, to boost appropriate application of design or software skills. The “all class” meetings, where we practiced shared decision-making, were the most important forms of continuous communication.

We learned about compromise. We practiced sharing thoughts and making decisions together.

Shared decision-making is especially important during those first weeks of school because important decisions need to be made about the appearance of the yearbook. During those first weeks I defined “shared decision-making,” what it looked like, how it felt to individuals, and to the whole group. We learned about compromise. We practiced sharing thoughts and making decisions together in three major ways before we even began to deal with the yearbook’s appearance.


  • What is a yearbook and who is the yearbook for? I did not assume students automatically understood or knew the answers. Therefore, we spent time exploring previous yearbooks, sample yearbooks, online research about yearbooks, interviewing others about yearbooks, and discussing what real and valuable functions yearbooks serve. Similarly, they engaged in discovering exactly who benefits from having a yearbook and how it is a benefit. Each year it was foundational for the class to grasp the importance of being seen and heard, as well as to understand the sense of belonging we all desire, and encapsulate that in the yearbook. It was an amazing journey every time. And every time I learned something new.

  • Our Yearbook Mission Statement–from the exploration and discovery of the aforementioned two questions, in both small and then large group settings, students crafted a straightforward, single sentence of their mission for the year. The Mission Statement was attractively designed and posted in the class to be referred to throughout the year.

  • Our Yearbook Vision Statement–again, using the knowledge gained from the exploration and discovery of what a yearbook is and who the yearbook affects, students clarified the ways in which the Mission Statement would be accomplished. Once the Vision Statement was completed, it was designed in a way similar to the Mission Statement and posted in the class to be referred to throughout the year.

I prepared students with advanced organizers, including specific criteria expected for the presentations, and we engaged in peer critiques.

When these three major shared decision-making processes were completed, I introduced students to the nuts and bolts of the Yearbook Appearance & Style Guide. These decisions loomed large. Sometimes, I had small teams create mood boards for yearbook appearance elements of theme, style, color palette, and fonts to be used, and at times, I asked the teams to create a pitch deck of those same elements. Inevitably, a presentation from each team was required. I prepared students with advanced organizers, including specific criteria expected for the presentations, and we engaged in peer critiques. Critique practices were also taught. All efforts were focused on the work. In true democratic form, votes were cast for the highest 2-3 ideas. All teams worked on revision, and presented their revisions. Final votes were cast. Shared decisions were made using plenty of compromise. The style guide, a record of all design and copy decisions, was then assigned to student leadership to design and print for all their classmates.


With appearance decisions finalized, the work on the cover case began. The class decided how they wanted to pursue the cover case design and what customizations they’d like. Sometimes, it was a process similar to the yearbook appearance process. Sometimes, they wanted to bring a student artist on board. At other times, they selected an in-class team to design an original cover. Whatever the direction, these were all time sensitive decisions, and my students began to realize that deadlines were important! We were working with publishers who in turn had deadlines. I loved this about yearbook class–the real world intersects the classroom in very real ways. We always met the cover case deadline–albeit sliding head first across the plate just as the catcher lunges towards us with the ball in mitt!


Sometimes it felt like I was herding cats; but it was always exciting and never the same. And worth every minute! The bottom line, I was assisting the formation of young people. It doesn’t get any better than that.


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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