Engaging Students With Ownership

Jostens Advisers & Staff

Lisa Stein, Bryant High School [AR]
Lisa, CJE, is the adviser of the Hornet yearbook at Bryant High School. She loves scholastic journalism, food, her three cats and her husband, not necessarily in that order.

No one in the school truly understands the work that goes into creating a yearbook. Sure, on distribution day, everyone gets to see the book and enjoy it, but they probably don’t grasp the sheer number of hours and effort that went into those pages. There is also a lot of pressure — while other students sit in class completing assignments that no one but their teachers will read, yearbookers are writing stories and taking photos that will be not only seen but purchased by their peers.

One of the most effective ways to motivate a staff is to make sure they know the book is theirs. As their adviser, we must ADVISE, not conceptualize the book, design pages, take photos or write stories. In my classroom, I give them the tools, but they have to do the work. The more ownership my students feel over the product, the more motivated they will be to make it great. If they know that I’m just going to tell them what to do or come in behind them and fix their work, they won’t feel that same sense of possession.


These simple activities create stronger relationships that make stressful moments easier and successes even sweeter.
Students also have to feel like they are part of something special if they are going to devote hours of time and effort to a yearbook. While stressful deadline work nights are definitely bonding experiences, my staff also has once-per-month outings, like a potluck or bowling, that have nothing to do with yearbook. They also have a monthly “buddy” system and give each other small gifts and notes of encouragement. These simple activities create stronger relationships that make stressful moments easier and successes even sweeter.
Yearbookers should work hard and play hard. Having high expectations for their work allows them to develop important habits and create something they are proud of, but it is important to balance those expectations with fun so they don’t get burned out. After every deadline, we have a celebration day with games and food to allow the staff to unwind before we start the process over again. Students will work harder if they trust that you understand their limitations and will not push them too far.

When you really think about it, what we ask of our students sounds a little crazy — they’re expected to put together a book for their peers and community completely from scratch while maintaining their teenage lives and obligations. However, providing opportunities for them to own their work, build relationships and have fun will make their yearbook staff experience rewarding and memorable. If they love what they’re doing, that love will be evident in the pages they create.