10 Things Every Yearbook Adviser Needs to Know

Pens and pencils on my desk

Pens and pencils on my desk

Being a yearbook adviser has been a big part of my life for 12 years. I’ve had my share of good years and bad years and I hope I’ve learned a thing or two. If I could offer any advice to other yearbook advisers out there, I would start with the list below.

10 Pieces of Advice for Yearbook Advisers

    1. Just because it worked last year doesn’t mean it will work this year: This belief probably comes from my class situation. Every year my staff is mostly new; I may have 1 or 2 people who were on the staff the previous year. In my 12 years doing this only had 2 students have been on the staff for 3 years. So, every year is like starting over. Just because one way of doing something worked for the last staff doesn’t mean the new staff can do it that way. One staff may need to be walked through every single little step for every deadline while the next one is pretty self-sufficient. One group may generate an idea and run with it while the next has to be handed an idea. Some groups will require you standing over them every class to get them working while another group will come in and get right to work without you muttering a single word.
    2. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong…at the worst possible time: I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law. And when it comes to yearbooks, Murphy takes steroids. The more crucial something is to a deadline and the nearer the deadline, the more likely something will go wrong.  Need the article to finish the last spread for the deadline? The student responsible for that article will be sick the entire week before the deadline. If you can only get to one baseball game to get pictures, the game will be rained out. Be ready to adjust. Always have a Plan B-plus a C, D, and E in place for everything.
    3. You are the only one who REALLY cares about your deadlines: The only thing everyone really cares about is if the book is delivered on time. So, do whatever you have to do to make that happen.
    4. Mistakes are going to be in the book…learn to live cope with it: I have a hard time with this and it has taken quite a few years for me to even think this much less write it down. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the yearbook and mistakes drive me nuts, but I have come to realize that there is always going to be something wrong.  My personal favorite is a headline in one of our books that had to do with our basketball team winning the district championship–the problem is that we didn’t win the district that year. Why is this the one that really sticks with me? That particular mistake wasn’t pointed out until 3 years later. After my staff of 22 had passed that spread around 4 or 5 times looking for every single mistake, after I had looked at it countless times looking for mistakes, after an entire school had looked at the book for 3 years, no one had noticed that particular mistake until that one person showed it to me. It doesn’t matter how many times you and your staff proof every single spread in the book, something is going to slip by. Just try to come to some kind of terms with it that works for you.
    5. Your staff will surprise you…if you let them: I’m not advocating turning the staff totally loose here–it is more about the adviser letting go. Give the staff some room to run while you set the boundaries on the field where they run. For a long time I insisted on handling more than I should have. I still struggle with some things, but I have let go of the reins on a lot of things I wouldn’t have let the students handle a few years ago. I think the staff feels more invested when they have more control.
    6. Identify your staff members’ strengths, and weaknesses, as fast as possible: Identifying who is good at writing, photography, design, captions, headlines, etc. as quick as you can will make everyone’s yearbook life easier. Know who is dependable and who is shaky when it comes to handling critical aspects of a spread or section.
    7. If you are going to change a “tradition” make sure you have a reason: When I took over as the yearbook adviser, there was a “tradition” of having “Senior Wills” in the book. What I saw was 12-16 pages of solid text in a size 6 font, single spaced, and running margin to margin. Plus, it was replete with hidden messages, codes, and insults. Just saying “We are not going to do these anymore” didn’t really work–I had a fight on my hands. It wasn’t until I began using reasons based on journalism standards that I was able to banish this particular “tradition.” Basing any changes on this or that journalism standard has helped me get rid of a few antiquated “traditions” over the years. There have even been times when I have explained the standards we would follow to the staff when they have suggested we get rid of something before I can even mention that particular item. This approach seems to work pretty well with parents too–at least the reasonable ones.
    8. The secretary/receptionist is your best friend: Whoever answers the phone in your school is the fount of all knowledge. Why? Because they are answering the phone with questions from parents every day. They know which team has changed its game schedule for the week. They have directions to any place your school’s teams are playing–and their directions are better than any you can find online. They know who that slightly out-of-focus kid in the photo is.  They can print out lists of students sorted according to any criteria you need because they have more system privileges than you. Do whatever it takes to get on their good side and stay there. You will need their help.
    9. Know when to be flexible…and inflexible: Does a staff member have an idea for a spread you have never done before? Does the staff want to try a theme you don’t fully buy into? Does the staff want to change something that had been in the plan for a long time? Be open to suggestions on new things if they are accompanied with good reasons. Have your standards and don’t stray from them.
    10. Accept outside help..just don’t count on it: Find out who all those parents with cameras are you keep seeing at the games. If you or your staff missed out on getting photos of some event, one of those parents may have shots you can use. Just don’t expect all of the shots to be usable. And don’t count on getting them in time for the deadline. Sometimes, though, outside help can save the day. If you want to go all out on really try crowd-sourcing, set up a Flickr or Picasa account where parents can submit photos for your staff to use.

What advice would you offer yearbook advisers? Have some advice from your experience as an adviser to offer me? Please leave a comment.  Input is always welcome.