Accountability is challenging. In my class, it was a deeply layered concept, with nuances affecting individual and group considerations. The layers were filters of how we see ourselves and our classmates, as well as how we choose to be within the context of the classroom. There were so many variables for every student and each class as a whole. However, regardless of those facts, I needed to establish and cultivate accountability within a growth mindset. For example, I could arbitrarily assign a set of rules. A majority of students would comply. But then there would be those who would not easily take on the yoke of those rules. Confrontation would become the game of the day. I didn’t like to operate like that. It was not my classroom, it was OUR classroom. I wanted my students to choose to actively engage in work before us. If I wanted cooperation and individual accountability, then I needed to share the ownership of the classroom and the learning that occurred. Respectful behavior, active listening, invitational strategies, relevant material, authentic choices in learning and finding ways to partner with my students were how I kept myself accountable to my students. I scaffolded my class in a number of ways to encourage their abilities to hold themselves accountable.
Course Overview, Expectations, and Syllabus
Undeniably, this “beginning-of-the-year document” is vital to laying a foundation for accountability. It lays out what will be learned and how it will be accomplished. It lists norms like grading policies and expectations. I used this document as a teaching tool. I gamified the content with Scavenger Hunts or Bingo, but I made sure that from the family to the student, we would all be on the same page–have the same understanding of the course outcomes and everyone’s part in it.
A Shared Calendar
One of the first tasks of my yearbook class was to create an online calendar with events to be covered and by whom. All of the yearbook staff used the official school calendar, their planners, the athletic calendar, a record of the weekly announcements, etc,. anything to help make sure all events were listed on the online calendar. My staff selected which events they wanted to cover, knowing a minimum number was required. The staff determined a substitution policy and procedure. Everyone had contact numbers. Reminders were emailed by the Editor(s) through the online calendar, and the weekly events were posted on the board in the room. We had backups for our backups through the calendar, reminders, and the weekly posts in the classroom.
A Photograph Storage System
Photographs quickly became a pressure point. As a teacher, I had access to a huge storage bank for photographs through Google’s Education Workspace. I used this space with my students, and created a shared folder in my space for Yearbook Photographs. My Editor(s) and I could create event folders within this space. This system was not unlike a Russian nesting doll with folders within folders. Each folder had a unique url, and that link could be shared with the community at large for uploading photographs. Those urls were shared, as we needed photographs from coaches or family members or friends for events we could not cover. My staff had complete access to all photograph folders through the single shared Yearbook Photographs folder. Google’s history feature with names and time and date stamps was an excellent accountability support tool. We could all track when something was added or moved and by whom.
The Ladder was a flexible scaffold for the entire yearbook, and the Editor(s) owned the Ladder. This spreadsheet listed the book’s topics by page number and included who was responsible for which page. Each page spread assignment listed its deadline side by side. The hierarchy of responsibility was deployed with Section Leaders’ names above the page spread designer’s name at the Section’s beginning. The Editor(s) had a place for comments. The Ladder was able to shift spreads around when necessary to make room for the unexpected story. As each deadline was met, the strikethroughs demonstrated how close the book was coming to completion. The Ladder was a visual reminder of our individual accountability for each page spread for which we were responsible. It also reminded us of our sections’ accountability to all those students, faculty, and school staff who appeared in those sections, including the shared stories we told there. It was our collective accountability to provide a comprehensive yearbook that was a truthful representation of our school community. The Ladder organized our efforts to do that.
The Style Guide
This was the single, most important accountability tool to establish consistency throughout the yearbook. The entire staff developed the Style Guide; any questions were usually resolved by it. If not, the question was put to the Staff Leadership to resolve. In both Appearance and Writing, the Style Guide performed the job of a referee. The Style Guide looked at
Theme & Style/Vibe (i.e., Theme Surfer Culture & Style/Vibe 60s)
Color Palette (3-5 Colors which can be used in different combinations depending on the section)
Typography (3 font styles that can switch dominance depending on the section)
Credit for Photographs
Credit for Page Spread Design
Layout (alignments, spacing, photographs/graphics vs. text, visual hierarchy)
Voice & Tone: What will readers feel as they read through the yearbook?
What is the personality of the book? Conversational casual? High energy fun?
What words and phrases project that personality?
What words and phrases should be limited or not used at all (i.e., very unique)?
Consider using the AP Style guide as a baseline editorial guide. Please note: this is a subscription service. It is possible your school or district may already have the service as this is the standard writing style guide for journalism.
Make sure to agree on formatting. Think about bullet points, hyphens, pull out quotes and quotes in captions or stories
(Students’ preferred names were a subject that needed some research into district policy. For further information, please review this Student Press Law Center (SPLC) response: Can we use a student's preferred name in the yearbook?)
Of course, developing accountability as part of a growth mindset was a process. It was not 100% successful 100% of the time. We hit the reset button a few times. But by and large, accountability worked. From the beginning of the year to year’s end, there was progress! Involving all students in the process brought success to my students.
United Yearbook has resources to assist you in the development of your staff and their abilities. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or needs you may have. We are ready to serve you!
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.