Bonding and building better books

One of my favorite things about advising as opposed to teaching classes without the advising component is the extra time spent with staffers working on our products. And one of the best parts about yearbook has always been summer workshop.

Since my second year, I’ve taken returning staff members to an out-of-town workshop where we spend a night or two in a hotel, attend workshop by day, eat out, work feverishly on laptops and develop tons of inside jokes by night. Bonding over all of this by staying up too late (well, they do – it’s their book, not mine), working and reworking ideas, having a few ideas shot down, learning who snores, who takes too long in the shower and who is a picky eater goes a long way in developing deep friendships and a team mindset. It’s amazing to watch a blank InDesign spread and zero ideas turn into a full-fledged theme with a cover, theme pages and section titles – bonus points for a regular spread design with headline treatments and a good start on the ladder. It happens, and it’s magic.

This year, however, scheduling conflicts kept us from being able to find a workshop to attend for our summer dose of magic.

One day I saw a tweet go by that mentioned a “yearbook retreat.” The term stuck in my head and it finally dawned on me why I was hanging on to it. As opposed to “workshop,” the word “retreat” seemed to connote a sort of do-it-yourself idea. I’d been doing this long enough to know what we needed to do. We could do this on our own.

I made up an agenda with goals for each day, made hotel reservations and vehicle arrangements. We made lists of what we needed to take: the mock book (printed pages of this year’s book in a binder), sample books we’ve collected the last couple years, idea publications from yearbook companies, pencils, pens, notepads and post-its. We took laptops and cameras. Editor in chief’s mom made us cookies for the trip.

Day one: We arrived mid-afternoon and got settled in our rooms. We met in the girls’ room, which was bigger and had a sitting area and spent an hour or so brainstorming theme ideas. A couple of them already had beginnings of ideas, but we looked through idea books, looked at publisher websites for theme lists, considered everything we could that affected our school this coming year. I had them each mark their top ideas, then pick one to do spin-offs for the different sections. This caused us to step back for a moment and discuss book organization. We’ve been quazi-chronological the last couple of years, breaking it down first by blocks, then by seasons. How would we break it down this year? Depended on the theme.
We took a break to walk to Cracker Barrel for dinner. While we waited for our food, we talked about transitioning to Google Docs instead of printed documents this year. EIC and business editor helped get the other two on board. We kicked around a few other ideas to make the year run more smoothly.

Their homework for that evening was to have the two ideas they’d come up with fleshed out a little more. They would pitch to the others after breakfast next morning.

Meanwhile, business editor and I set dates for ad campaigns and deadlines (display, senior and folio) and he got a start on some Google spreadsheets compiling ad clients for the past several years. I set submission deadlines on a Google calendar.

Day two: We met for breakfast in the hotel then back to the big room where the two idea makers each pitched their theme. After a few attempts to compromise and combine themes, I was proud when one said to the other that we really needed to just pick one, his feelings wouldn’t be hurt, but putting them together just didn’t work. He was also honest, even though it was a little tough, about the parts of her idea he liked and the parts he felt didn’t work as well. It’s hard for teens trying to work on a project together to be honest with each other sometimes. They don’t want to hurt feelings, but they realize the book is important and they can rise above the whole feelings thing. Those decisions made, it was time for an outing.

We had a purpose for going to the mall. We were font and graphic shopping. Our mission was to look at shop signs, T-shirt designs, anything where a graphic designer had produced something we could study, comment on, maybe use. We used phones and the iPad to take pictures of anything we liked. We discussed cool uses of kerning and leading and strokes. On the Apple products (one iPhone among us and the iPad) we were able to download an app called What the Font, which allows you to take a picture of signage to help you identify what font was used. We lunched at the food court and a couple among us bought things that were not fonts.

When we returned to the hotel, we declared it naptime, but no one napped. Each worked on her or his own for a while. Meanwhile, I made contact with a former EIC (2011) living in that city and she met us for dinner at Cheddar’s, over which we caught up and shared stories, while a nice July rain drenched the Oklahoma terrain outside.

Back at the hotel, parking was at a premium and it was still raining, so I dropped them at the door, for which I earned many brownie points, and parked a few rows away. Upstairs, 2011 EIC shared with us some of what she had learned on her university’s yearbook staff. We got a lesson on using social media and a web site to promote our work, to tease and increase sales. I had to take notes, she had so many good ideas. She helped the editors with the few rough spots they had in the theme idea. We laughed about the motivational ideas she had used while editor, and we laughed about some rough interviews she had gone through as she illustrated how important the interview is to the story. Turns out that without either of us realizing it, she was really one of my workshop presenters. Never underestimate the value of former editors as teachers and presenters. They are some of the best I have had.

Day three: We breakfasted again, cleaned our rooms and packed up. Using our fancy phones, at their request, we located a bookstore and headed out for our final stop before going home. Luckily, it was a combo thing, because Barnes and Noble had a Starbucks in it – another requested destination. Our small city lacks several spots these kids like to hit when we’re “out.” Three of them even ran next door to check out Toys R Us.

Next year, I hope to be able to attend my rep’s workshop because structure is a good thing and I value the knowledge that the presenters bring. But I know that if I need to, I have the tools and resources to help my staff workshop together and accomplish their summer planning goals.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

One Response to Bonding and building better books

  1. smacklin2013 says:

    In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.

    Walter Cronkite

    I just love how you give them the opportunity to see both sides of the work really come to love it that way

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