My first year as yearbook adviser began when I was hired a couple days before the start of the school year. I inherited the staff, the theme and everything done the way they did it the year before.
Before the start of my second year as an adviser, I decided to take a group of editors to camp. That single decision made everything go much smoother. It wasn’t that I had my first year under my belt. It wasn’t that my editors and I had a well-established relationship. It was the chance to get a head start on everything about the book away from the pressures of deadlines and the daily demands of life as a high school teacher. I vowed then that I wouldn’t go camp-less again and I’ve lived up to that promise.
There are so many reasons why I love camp:
Staff bonding. Yearbook camp is typically full of fun memories for students. For many, it’s the highlight of their summer. Some don’t get out of town much during their months off, and going to a cool campus full energetic teens excited about yearbook creates fond memories. Over the years I’ve sometimes taken students to camp who were only borderline in their enthusiasm for yearbook, and camp lit a fire under them. I sometimes get graduating seniors wistfully longing that they could go to camp once again. The process of producing a yearbook is always going to be stressful given the demands of deadlines, and camp provides a great dose of fun that sustains staffers when their love for the book is tested later.
Exposure to experts. Spring camps sometimes have an experienced Creative Accounts Manager to tell all of us about the latest yearbook trends, and we get a more rounded dose of that in summer camp. Like most things today, yearbook is constantly shifting due to technology and evolving fashion trends. You want a book that reflects NOW, not three years ago. Workshops and spring camp will help that.
Exposure to other advisers. Most of us work at schools where no one else does our job. We’re lucky to meet others who face the same challenges a few times a year, and workshops and camps are some of the best opportunities. So many times over the years I’ve found a solution to a problem just by talking with an adviser at lunch.
Passing the baton to the new leadership. At our school we let the graduating seniors pick the new editors from the applicants, even going through scheduled interviews. We try to time this process so that the selections are final before the Spring Jostens Workshop, and after the staff has selected the theme for next year’s book. It’s always fun to see the look in their eye when they realize they’re in charge now, and it typically happens at the spring workshop. They’re the Top Dog now. They have the levers of power.
Creative way to combat natural teen procrastination. It can seem crazy to be thinking about a book that’s more than a year away from arriving on campus, and teens already have a natural tendency to overestimate their ability to whip something together on short notice. Coming out of camp with a theme, design concepts and a ladder is always an achievable goal, especially in the intense “Yearbook is Life” atmosphere at spring workshops and camp. The deadline for our theme packet and presentation to other staffers doesn’t have the ramifications of later plant deadlines, but it serves to cement the message on our classroom wall: “Deadlines Rule.”
Exposure to other books and other staffs. The cross-pollination can happen at Editors Only sessions, book swaps or in the dorms. Workshops and camps we’ve attended have included a wide variety of schools, from consistent national award winners to struggling programs trying to get the ship righted. We help and we get help ourselves. It’s a wonderful process.
To be clear, we haven’t had a theme and look for a book come out of spring or summer camp and proceed without revision to the distribution party the following spring. Maybe we’re doing it wrong, but maybe we’re doing it right. Getting locked in and inflexible along the way doesn’t seem like a road to excellence. We like to tweak. We get input from our theme packet judges that we consider and implement. That’s as it should be. Creative endeavors benefit from a resting period, a spell of time away from it when you can acquire the perspective to see it fresh, flaws and all. Creating a yearbook is a process, and rushing seldom helps.
All in all, the benefits far outweigh any loss of time or inconvenience to the adviser. It’s an investment that pays dividends on every page of the next yearbook.