Managing student-led yearbook teams: The basics

(Jo Tilton from Bonn International School gave this presentation at the November 2013 ECIS Conference.)

Thanks all for the privilege of sharing experiences at the recent ECIS conference. Below is a brief outline of what we covered in the presentation, and a link to some resources on Google drive.

  • Building Student-Led Yearbook Teams is a long term process – don’t try and delegate everything in the first year – work within your own comfort levels to begin with. There is often a great deal of shared knowledge among students as well – find out what you are working with – there may be hidden skills and experience in your midst!
  • Your perspective on the task changes when your aim is that students learn through the process, rather than the aim of just getting the job done (realistically, this is always held in tension).
  • Students benefit greatly (personally, socially and academically) from being involved in extra-curricular activities
  • There are many different ways to manage files – depending on what your school setting is. A key element of managing these choices is that you as the advisor have an overview of where each aspect is at – and to keep things simple – whether you use a school server or cloud storage.
  • Making participation in the Yearbook a privilege allows students to see that it is a commitment that should be honoured, and as such they have a chance to show developing responsibility through their contribution (2 unexcused absences and I ask students to leave the team).
  • Even if your school does not use an online management system, there are plenty of free resources to use – this can be really helpful for students/advisors to collaborate and communicate.

 Google Drive Resources:


ECIS Pre-Conference Institute: Adviser Boot Camp

ECIS Pre-Conference Institute: Adviser Boot Camp

An experienced educator and instructor, Shannon will address everything from project, time and classroom management tools and 21st century content knowledge and skills, to helpful technology hints for Photoshop and InDesign. Advisers will leave with the tools they need to help establish successful scholastic journalism programs or take existing publications to the next level.

On Resources and Leadership

One of the first posts for the original version of this blog was a brief list of resources that I had found most helpful in my work as a student media teacher and adviser, particularly in my first few years. In fact, sharing resources and ideas – and making sure that scholastic journalism teachers and advisers never felt alone in their work – was the main reason I started this blog. One of the most important lessons I learned early on was that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel – and, thankfully, there are a whole host of teachers and advisers who have come before us and are more than willing to share their own contributions to “the wheel” for others to use and adapt as they see fit.

Though I still regularly find myself consulting the same resources, more recently I have found that Twitter can offer a wealth of ideas to incorporate into the work we are doing with our students every day. Often times, I will read something via Twitter on a Monday night that becomes the central feature of a lesson I do on Tuesday morning; sometimes I’ll read a tweet five minutes before class that ties in perfectly with what my students are doing that day! I encourage you to follow @EuroScholJourn on Twitter if you aren’t doing so already (see the feed to the right). I endeavour to update the feed several times a day with links that I hope are relevant to your work or at least of some interest to you and your students. I also encourage you to get your students on Twitter to advance their own work as journalists, designers and photographers outside of the work you do in your classroom. Check out the list of accounts @EuroScholJourn follows as a starting point and build your own list from there, tailoring it to specific interests. It’s amazing how many times I find that one tweet often leads to several other accounts that provide useful resources.

Two recent tweets served as the inspiration for this post. An article from Time magazine and another by John Kotter from the Harvard Business Review blog, while not directly related to our work with student journalists, reminded me of a lesson I learned a few years into my career as an adviser.

Many of us work with students in leadership roles as editors of student media. I have found over the years that there is a certain type of student who is drawn to these roles and, more often than not, they are taking on leadership roles in other aspects of their academic lives as well, perhaps in student government or on the athletic field. The assumption I made for the first few years of my career was that these students must know how to lead – they’ve come to me with some experience leading other students in one capacity or another, and most appeared to exhibit that “natural-born leader” quality; therefore, I had high expectations for them but I found that I was being let down consistently. They weren’t really doing an effective job as leaders and we were running into problems among the staff and with the production of our publication. While I was experiencing this with my newspaper staff, my colleague was experiencing something similar with the editors on her yearbook staff.

It wasn’t until that same colleague went to a session at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association’s (U.S.) Fall National High School Journalism Convention (another amazing resource and experience for teachers AND students) that we realized exactly what the problem was. And, thanks to an adviser willing to share his own experiences, and we also saw that there was a solution.

The session was with Aaron Manfull, the 2011 Dow Jones News Fund Teacher of the Year and a teacher/adviser at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, MO. Manfull had made the same assumptions about his student leaders and was experiencing similar problems, until he realized what was missing: our student leaders are rarely taught how to lead. Manfull developed a list of tips for his editors and would email them one each day. Through the tips, he would tackle issues that would help the students deal with him, other students on staff and the task of managing the “newsroom”. He emailed the tips for the first six weeks of school and saw that they worked. Over the years, many student media advisers have taken Manfull’s tips and adapted them for their specific needs and classrooms; all have reported success.

In addition to the tips, I have incorporated other materials that have helped my students become stronger leaders. In particular, I have found that readings from Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Challenge provide great starting points for discussions on leadership. I will usually assign a reading or two on leadership for my editors over the summer and we come together for a retreat day before the start of school to outline our goals for the school year; included in those are specific goals outlining what they hope to achieve in their own development as leaders. Throughout the school year, I will meet with them at various points to check in on their goals, perhaps assigning more reading or another task to help them tackle specific challenges they face as they work on their own leadership skills and styles.

As Kotter said, “Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior.” It’s important our students know that leadership is a behavior and a skill which must be developed over time, even though they may have always been considered “natural-born leaders”. They should also know that they can’t be expected to possess these skills just by virtue of being given or earning a leadership role, and that they can come to their adviser for direction in this area. In fact, I believe teaching our students skills for how to lead is one of our most important responsibilities. It will make for a better experience for everyone involved – the student leaders, they students they are charged with leading, and their teachers/advisers – as well as a stronger student media product.

Scholastic Journalism Week: February 17-23

The Journalism Education Association (U.S.) sponsors Scholastic Journalism Week every February; this year, it will be celebrated from February 17 – 23. This week serves not only as a great reminder to celebrate the work of journalism students in your own classes, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to make your school community more aware of the work they are doing. Or, if you are hoping to start a scholastic journalism program in your school, this could be a way to build some interest and excitement among the student body and administration.

JEA has set up a Facebook page as well as a website that offers ideas for lessons and ways to promote scholastic journalism in your school. If your school has divisional assemblies, morning announcements or any other way of broadcasting information to the student body, invite interested students to come together to develop a plan for the week. They could deliver a message about something of interest related to journalism, devise a game and invite other students to play during lunch or other break times, invite members of the school community to work with your journalism students on a graphic design project or show a journalism-related movie.

This year’s theme is “Anything Can Happen” – use this week to show or remind your school community just what is possible with scholastic media!

Manti Te’o: Lessons Learned

The inspirational story of an American football player at the University of Notre Dame, who seemingly overcame heartbreak and tragedy to excel on the football field, took a rather strange and shocking turn this past week as it was revealed that most of the “tragedy” had been completely fabricated. While the facts surrounding the story and actual people involved are still being uncovered, there are several important lessons for teachers, students, parents and journalists to take from the developing story.

Manti Te’o’s story, one in which he experienced the death of his grandmother and his girlfriend within a few hours only to go on to have personal best games has been building and growing in popularity over the past few months. He was first featured in the local newspaper of South Bend, Indiana, where the University of Notre Dame is located, and then profiled on the national stage, most notably by Sports Illustrated magazine and by ESPN, the most popular sports multimedia outlet in the United States, with a growing international audience. Stories about Te’o also appeared in The New York Times and on CBS This Morning. The story goes that Te’o’s girlfriend had been in a car accident and was diagnosed with leukemia shortly thereafter. In September 2012, he received word of his grandmother’s death and within six hours he learned his girlfriend had also died; a few days later, he went on to post some of his most impressive stats on the football field. It was the type of human interest, triumph over tragedy story that audiences love to read and hear about. And many media outlets obliged as Te’o started to reach national hero status.

The only problem is, as Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of proved in their revealing investigative piece published on 16 January, there are questions as to whether Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who he claimed he met in 2009, ever actually existed. Though there is evidence of their interactions through social media sites, who was actually behind the usernames proclaiming to belong to her is unknown at this point. And whether or not Manti Te’o was involved in what appears to be a hoax set up to bolster his profile is also unclear.

Undoubtedly our students will be aware of this story given the coverage it has received from various national and international news outlets over the past week and its growing popularity in the social media realm. For those of us responsible for the care of young people – whether as parents or in a professional sense as educators – using this as a teachable moment seems like the most logical next step. From the outset, elements of the story serve as yet another reminder to educate them about being aware of exactly who they are communicating with online. Though this has been an ongoing issue for many years, it appears it is not going away any time soon and may, in fact, be on the rise. The 2010 movie Catfish, which documents one young man’s deception by a woman via Facebook, illustrates just one example; the popularity of the movie has led to a new MTV show (premiering in the UK this week) in which the deceived, Nev, helps others, chosen from the hundreds who have emailed him, discover whether or not they have been “catfished” by their online love interests. Many have commented that Te’o himself has been “catfished” as he maintains that he was not involved in the hoax and fell for someone he has now admitted he never actually met in person.

It’s one thing for young (and not-so-young) people looking for love to be duped into believing in the existence of someone they have only “met” online – but what of the journalists, many from reputable and respected news organizations, who were responsible for reporting the “facts” of Manti Te’o’s story? How did they miss the surmounting evidence? It seems they simply did not do an essential part of their job – check, and double check, their facts. Had they done that sooner, rather than get swept up in the emotional triumph-over-tragedy story that will sell newspapers and magazines, and gain viewers and website visits, perhaps the truth would have been revealed sooner.

How can this translate into our work with journalism students? One idea is to take one of the early stories on Te’o and have students highlight the facts that they would need to check in order to run the story. They could then list the various sources and resources they would use to verify each fact and start checking the facts to see what they can find. If you are not already doing this with your students, the next step could be to have students go through the same procedure with a recent piece of work from one of their peers.

It’s a good lesson for scholastic journalism students – and their teachers – to ensure their facts have been verified and their work is truly ready for publication.

It’s a good lesson for all that, in this day and age especially, transcends the work of journalists. Don’t always believe what you read or hear or who you meet online. Check the facts.

And then check them again.

Establish a Student Journalism Program and Help it Flourish

Certified Journalism Educators Colin Bridgewater and Shannon Miller, journalism teachers and student publications advisers at The American School in London, will present “Establish a Student Journalism Program and Help it Flourish” at the London International Schools Association (LISA) Day on Friday, January 20 at King Fahad Academy.

Colin and Shannon will share their experiences and resources, and discuss what has helped them over the years to establish successful and award-winning student publications programs, both as a curricular and extra-curricular activity, at ASL.

Registration is through the administration of participating schools.

Commitment to Scholastic Journalism

A tradition for the first day of school for our newspaper staff is to read aloud the Commitment to Scholastic Journalism, published by the Journalism Education Association.

As a student journalist, I will be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. I will always remember that certain responsibilities come with my right to free expression. Among these are accuracy, conciseness, source identification, diverse coverage, and being accountable to myself, my publication and my readers.

After reading the commitment, I ask each editor and writer to sign their name, publicly acknowledging they’ve made this commitment before we get started on the first issue of the year. The signatures and a large print-out of the commitment hang in a prominent place in our classroom, visible to all who enter the room.

– Shannon Miller