Teacher Idea Exchange

On this webpage, I want to display pieces by teachers who write about student publishing, share their secrets of success, and provide us with down-to-earth, practical advice.

Words of the Wise is collection of advice by award-winning journalism teachers, whose advice is relevant to any student publication.

Words of the Wise: National High School Journalism Teachers of the Year Share their Secrets of Success

Compiled by Jack Harkrider

From Regis Louise Boyle, Ph.D., 1980
Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, Md.

Give each staff member an alphabetical list of staff names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addressessaves communicating with the adviser after hours and aids in helping each other.

At the beginning of the year give each staff member and the principal a schedule chart for each issue, including: day and dates for the news meeting, ad list deadline and layout, news and photo assignment deadline, first drafts, revised stories, press nights, distribution, bills, and exchange papers out.

For ad copy, make a years chart by month---blanks for name of advertiser, size of ad, and in last columns, amount due, paid, total. This gives a panorama for the year and comparison of revenues from year to year.

Post a list of contests for the year and due dates in each month. Put a staffer in charge of keeping track and readying entries.

Have a regular reporter assigned to cover PTA meetings and write a report for the PTA newsletter. This reporter serves as a liaison between the school paper and PTA, which provides a source for funds or equipment for the school newspaper at the end of-year fund distribution.

Have a regular reporter assigned to cover the principal before each issueprovides a good source of news, makes principal more aware of paper and job
being done.

Develop a handbook with a job description of each position so a staffer knows his/her responsibilities.

Following the previous tip, formulate a contract, signed by each staff member at the beginning of the year, to protect the adviser if a student has to be fired.
Frame all awards and hang them on the newspaper office walls---establishes tradition and pride.

Build or buy a pigeon hole mailbox for the newspaper office and paste each staffers name on a box. This increases pride in work, provides communication with each other and is a means for the adviser to return corrected stories, etc.

Develop a list of sports verbs alphabetically, distribute to staff, and post one on the newspaper office bulletin board. Avoids overuse of beat.

Advisers, copy all fan mail letters, particularly those of parents, and put them in your official folder in the school office. When your evaluation rolls around, you have ammunition to counteract any quirky letters sent to the principal.

From Wayne Brasler, 1981
University High School, Chicago

Have a dream. All the top advisers in scholastic journalism history have tenaciously pursued an individual vision of student publications. Be aware of whats going on in the field, and do value ratings and honors as measurements of what you are accomplishing, but chase that dream. Its the adventure that gives flower to all else.

You need to know how to do it before you can teach your students how to do it. Beginning advisers need to get in there and do the work with the staff, experience the satisfaction, panic, disappointment, disorder, and triumph of doing student publications. Only when youve done it can you appreciate what your students are going through. As the years go by, you can remove yourself more and more from the process until you are strictly advising.

Know the past. The history of scholastic journalism is remarkably rich and often surprising. School papers of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s in some ways are equal to the best being done today. Theres a heritage there to build upon.

Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the future. In scholastic journalism, like pop music, youre only as big as your last hit. And you are always auditioning. When youve done something great, youve done it. Its time to do something else great.

Keep moving, keep changing, keep taking chances.

Its the students publication. Words we say a lot in our field, but dont often live by. You must insist on legalities and quality, but you really must let editors make the decisions about content, editorial positions and direction. You can argue all you want, but in the end, if its legal and it passes the quality test, the publications must belong to the students. Its the only way they really, truly learn.

Let students learn from their errors, but try not to let the errors be multiplied by the press run. Do whatever you can to catch factual errors, potential libel and bad writing so editors can tackle the problems and solve them before publication. They learn from the experience without you and them spending hours in the principals office, or worse.

Beware the cookie cutter. Has anyone else noticed that hundreds of high school papers today look the same and are virtually interchangeable? In a field once famed for being ahead of daily press design by some 20 or 30 years, following the rules has become the standard. But, interestingly, the best papers are often the most individual (Im thinking particularly of the Little Hawk from Iowa City, Iowa). Our field badly needs an infusion of fresh design. Maybe youre the adviser to bring it in.

Administrators are our friends. A friendly, honest and open relationship with your principal is well worth building and nurturing. Your principal has enough worries and pressures without student publications being one of them. The editors should be meeting regularly with administrators to talk over story ideas and get their reactions to and advice for student publications. Administrators need to be a part of the publishing team, not potential adversaries or censors.

Know the law. You do get the Student Press Law Center magazine, dont you?
Be of good cheer. Scholastic journalism at its best is a thrilling roller coaster ride for both teacher and students, an ever-changing journey, a voyage of constant new discovery IF you keep smiling, keep moving, keep excited. There are, believe it or not, advisers in their fourth decade of student publications still thrilled with their lifes work. You can be, too.

From H.L. Hall, 1982
Kirkwood (Mo.) High School

Maintain a positive attitude. Praise often. I once read that 90 percent of the friction of daily life is caused by the wrong tone of voice. Research has shown it takes 40 positive comments on the average to overcome one negative comment. People remember the negatives, but they tend to forget the positive.

Dont look for failures. Be Firm, be Fair, be Flexible. Those are the only three Fs an adviser should be concerned about. Good supervision is the art of giving someone a shot in the arm without letting him or her feel the needle.

Keep an open mind. Be an active listener. Every staff members ideas should be respected. Every staff member should have a voice in all decisions. A publication is not the advisers, nor is it the editors. It belongs to all staff members who are creating it for the readers.

Recognizing failure is often the first step necessary toward success. Help staff members learn from their mistakes. Most individuals who try something new usually mess up. Help them realize that a critique by some judge is not the end of the world if it is not totally positive. Learn and grow.

Maintain a good sense of humor. Laughter helps release tension, it promotes retention and it creates attention. It would be impossible to survive a year as an adviser without a sense of humor.

Do everything with enthusiasm. Its contagious! If an adviser loses his/her enthusiasm for a publication, the staff will also lose its enthusiasm. Being excited about every aspect of the publication is important.

Never give up on anybody. Continue to encourage those staff members who do not meet with instant success. Without encouragement, staff members may quit. With encouragement, hidden talent may come to the forefront. Patience is an important virtue.

Be a coach, but dont be a player. Make suggestions and critique the outcome, but dont make the plays. A math teacher would not solve the problems for his/her students. Neither should a journalism teacher solve the problems for his/her students. Students should do the work on a publication, not the adviser. The adviser should advise, not write the copy, create the designs, or take the photographs. At the same time, the adviser must be competent in all journalistic areas to be able to offer sound advice.

Help staff members stretch their minds. Urge them to try something different, something they have never ever seen done in another publications. However, always urge them to do everything journalistically well. A successful adviser is a planter of ideas and a developer of imaginations. Staff members should create and finalize their ideas; not the adviser or some other adult like the yearbook company representative.

Be a motivator. Have fun! Lead the staff in a rousing cheer. Celebrate birthdays. Dress up for special occasions. Make up words to songs and sing them. Shake a pica, shake a pica. Shake a pole, shake a pole.Takes a mighty fine publication to satisfy my soul! Get a little bit crazy.

From John Bowen, 1983
Lakewood (Ohio) High School

Student working knowledge of law and ethics should be evident in all areas of student learning and production, from information gathering, reporting and coaching, to visual creation and production.

Encourage student journalists to question authority in all they do. How else can they gather adequate information?

Encourage, reinforce and recommend. Positive support fosters student growth.
Help students think as a team. Written, visual and design journalism all play an integral part in educating readers. Provide an atmosphere of we, not me.

Establish the desire for more information in terms of what you produce. Encourage a thirst for more ideas and access to them.

Stress content above image. Create designs to supplement and enhance the content.

Your publication is the guardian of the First Amendment and not just for those students. You give life to the parchment its written on and help readers know its importance.

Student success comes in many guises and at many levels in journalism. Give all students a chance to reach that goal.

Create a forum for all to voice their thoughts, desires and philosophies. Then, listen as well as comment.

Lead not only editorially, but in coverage. Challenge your readers to be informed.

From John Cutsinger, 1987
Westlake High School, Austin, Texas

Make a wish. Every year set realistic, attainable goals with ways to measure your personal and professional growth success.

Make a difference. Know that your involvement with your publications staff(s) members changes their lives and that they reciprocate in making you a different person.

Make friends. Nurture a kind-spirited, mutually respectful relationship with staff members, their parents, fellow teachers, administrators and peer advisers across the country.

Make time. Never get so caught up in a moment that you dont have time for the little things that mean a lot---things like a thoughtful word, a random act of kindness.

Make lists. Keep yourself and your staff organized by making to-do lists. Reward yourself by checking off those items accomplished, so that at the end of the day you feel good about what you have done.

Make educated choices. Think through as many consequences of a decision and weigh how all the individuals it touches will be affected before making it final.

Make do. Thats right. Use what you have or do something constructive about it. Complaining rarely resolves inadequacy in people, time, equipment, or supplies issues.

Make sense. Say what you say, do what you do for all the right reasons. Dont let anyone ask why? Build that into your reasonable approach to advising.

Make waves. When it bests your program and your staff members, move to the cutting edge. Read everything on the subject, go to conventions to raise the quality bar of your publications.

Make merry. Above all, create and maintain an environment in which you and those around you feel good about themselves and what they do.

From Jack Harkrider, 1987
Anderson High School, Austin, Texas

One of the best things about teaching journalism is we have the opportunity to teach so much more than subject matter. We can teach life! Take advantage of it! Always find something to praise in every student. You'll be amazed at the results . . . or maybe you wont, but it will make a difference in their lives.

Dont try to accomplish it all in one year. Success is built over a number of years. If you can improve just two or three things a year, youre doing a great job.
Understand youll never get done all you need to get done. Just do the best you can and the rest will take care of itself. The rest probably wasnt important any way.

Do things for yourself on a regular basis. Attend an opera, read a sleazy paperback, have dinner with a friend, build a hang glider, smoke a cigar, start a garage band, whatever. If you dont, youll turn into an old grouch or witch, then you wont be worth a flip to anyone, especially your students.

Write, photograph, design for your audience, not judges. Work to produce the best and be the best, and the awards and recognition will come. Trust me on this.
When it stops being fun, its time to do something else with your life. That goes for your students as well as you . . . but sleep on it first.

You have to have a staff manual that includes a production schedule, organizational chart, job descriptions and responsibilities, and a style sheet, or you and your staff will produce mediocre publications and yall will go crazy doing it.

Build rewrite time and screw-up time into your production schedule cause nothing ever goes the way you plan it, so you might as well plan for it.

Dont be afraid to ask for help or seek a shoulder to cry on. All of us have been there, done that, and the greatest times in our lives are when we can help others. We carry extra tissues.

Your students will learn more from what they do wrong, than what they do right. But dont play gotcha. Encourage their creativity and effort, then, when they screw up, help them learn from it, get over it, and encourage them to rush on to the next mistake. After all, whats high school for, anyway?

Dont be afraid to make a mistake yourself and dont be afraid to get weird at times. When youre willing to display your warts in public and laugh about them, it
encourages students to accept themselves, with all their faults and humanness, and they feel at home. And thats the best learning environment you can create.

From Bob Button, 1988
Grosse Pointe (Mich.) South High School

Have fun! There is nothing more exciting than watching young people grow and mature, at least partially because of your interaction with them. When work, even work as demanding as journalism, is fun, no one notices that its work.

Readers come first! The best publications serve the staff because they really serve the readers, not because they are built on the staffs interests and friendships.

You have to know the school. If you are going to serve the entire school community, you have to know who those people are, where they come from, what
they need to know, what they want to know. Get acquainted.

Good journalistic writing is built not on what the reader knows, but on what the reader does not know. When publications come out long after the news has already reached the readers, the why and how are often the only angles really new.

While officers in student government often do little more than plan homecoming and their own re-elections, the student newspaper should be students strongest voice in the leadership for the school. Often that leadership comes more from information than from opinion, but editors might find more success with editorials if they think less about criticism and more about problem solving.

At a time when moral and ethical values are under assault, publications offer one of the very best opportunities to teach values. The question is seldom, What can we print? but What should we print? and How do we best serve our readers?

No matter how great the challenge or excitement of modern technology as it relates to publication design, the content comes first. The purpose of design is to draw attention to content. Its backward when the content is planned to fill the design.

One of the greatest failings in advertising design is that too often ads are designed for the advertiser, rather than for the reader. Good ads think reader first, advertiser last, building on a plan to attract, sell, clinch and support.

Dont rely exclusively on the schools best and brightest. Yes, if committed, they can bring tremendous talent. But a student who really wants to do it is far more valuable and will gain more from the experience than one who dabbles in everything the school has to offer.

Sometimes, the best staff members are unwilling to put themselves forward and needs encouragement to get involved.

A staff that reflects the diversity of the school is much more apt to produce a publication that serves the diversity of the school.

From Candace Perkins Bowen, 1989
St. Charles (Ill.) High School

Emphasize press law and ethics so students learn not only what they COULD publish or broadcast, but are able to evaluate what they SHOULD do as well.

Be a role model for everything from writing with multiple drafts to treating others with respect.

Focus on the process and the product will take care of itself.

Set high standards for students and encourage them to do the same for themselves.

Teach students to critically evaluate their work and use what they find to keep improving.

Create an atmosphere that encourages students to thoughtfully challenge the status quo and take risks.

Provide opportunities and supply strategies for using teamwork. Emphasize the importance of collaboration in many settings.

Value the right of others to speak their minds and listen to what they say. Encourage students to do the same.

Reward the traits that matter: tenacity, dependability, creativity, adaptability, critical thinking, cooperation, etc . . . then learn how to bake turtle brownies as a tangible expression.

Continue to retrain and rejuvenate yourself and your students through workshops, conventions, classes, READING and studying other media.

From Steve ODonoghue, l990
John C. Fremont High School, Oakland, Calif.

Read everything you can printed on paper, regardless of format.

Use the best as models for students (e.g., Molly Ivins).

Keep your students focused; cover the news, not just the fads.

Teach tolerance, fairness, objectivity by example.

Youre the coach, they're the players; you dont go into the game to play for them.

When you and the students mess up journalistically, remind your administrator that it is a teachable moment.

Make a habit of tearing good models of writing and design from newspapers and magazines.You wont remember everything.

The First Amendment (freedom of speech) is most important when what students write is most offensive to you.

SAT scores dont necessarily predict the contribution a student will make to a publication.
Technology is not a substitute for intellect, compassion, insight, or enthusiasm.

From Gloria Olman, 1992
Utica (Mich.) High School

Advise; dont do. The publications must be the students work and their responsibility. If they know you will do it, they wont.

Stress professionalism in every aspect of publication activity. Set high expectations for staff and challenge them to achieve.

Remember that good enough is the enemy of excellence. However, know when to say when---for student work, and your own health and sanity.

Little things do matter, from small details to treats and small pats on the back.

Nurture ownership. The more students understand that the publications belong to them, the more pride and effort they will put forth.

Promote program successes. This will help to build the program, help the community to recognize the integrity of scholastic journalism and thwart censorship.

Join scholastic journalism groups. This helps to build a peer network, strengthen individual programs and identify a support system.

Take a break. Have a party once in awhile to celebrate the little things.
Send birthday cards and notes to staff members at home.

From Jack Kennedy, 1993
City High School, Iowa City, Iowa

Steal, or adapt, whichever term you prefer, from the best advisers you can find. Read all the professional journals, attend state and national conventions.You are not alone.

The number one responsibility of a school paper is to help readers be more effective students, better informed citizens and less confused humans. Your paper is the Readers Guide to Your High School.

Just like a football coach going over game tapes, you should carefully critique each issue with the staff. This is the single most important educational moment
of a publication cycle.

Find ways to distribute the paper without charge. And make sure hundreds of copies get into the community through grocery stores, banks, etc. How else can the
community know of your triumphs?

The standards for the use of our language dont change with age. Keep pushing for correctness of expression---and it doesnt matter if they are only sophomores.

Find ways to flatten your organizational chart. Theyre all high school students, after all, and they all deserve a shot at some power.

There had better be fun in the newspaper, fun in your class, and fun in your heart. The work is too hard if youre not having fun.

Buy two class sets of books: The Radical Write (Bobby Hawthorne), and Newspaper Designers Handbook (Tim Harrower). Make everyone memorize them.

Be tight with custodians and secretaries, the true powers in any school.

Be a true amateur, that is, love what you do.

From Merle Dieleman, 1996
Pleasant Valley (Iowa) Community High School

Dont use a textbook. Develop your own curriculum based on your needs for publications.

Dont require a journalism class in order for students to work on publications. Many students are prepared to do this without a formal class.

Make your yearbook or newspaper production a class with full credit.

Let students teach students. You dont have to be the only teacher.

Dont expect to be an expert on everything. Students often are more adept with computers or photography than you will ever be.

Let the kids do it. Students should have the responsibility of all aspects of producing a yearbook and/or newspaper. Relinquish control. Educate them and then trust them.

Dont censor yourselves. If someone wants to censor your publications, let him do it, not you.
Take advantage of all opportunities. Go to workshops and conferences, and enter all contests.

Advertise all successes. If a student or the adviser wins something, make sure it gets in the local media.

Dont sweat the small stuff. Both students and advisers should take their jobs seriously, but not themselves. Many people in authority positions in education take student publications much too seriously, as far as content is concerned.

From Kathleen Zwiebel, 1998
Pottsville (Pa.) Area High School

Honor kids on their birthdays with something simple, but do it in front of the entire staff so everybody hollers, Happy Birthday!

Run an awards PUB Board once a week. Editors nominate staffers for Staffer, photographers for Photographer, etc., of the Week. Ribbons are given out on Fridays.

Conduct leadership training sessions in the beginning of the school year for your editors, showing them how to organize their time and work, plus how to deal with various personnel situations which may arise.

Keep a graphic portfolio box. Have students clip best headlines, pulled quotes, oversize initials, etc., various graphic elements. Divide by category and keep on file. Designers use them for inspiration.

Conduct a Candidates School for new staffers after they are selected. Editors do basic training for them.

Form a parent booster group, Parents of Publications Students (POPS). They raise money for a year-end banquet and take care of all the details, plus provide
dinner/snacks on long work-session nights.

Editors compile a weekly update that includes deadlines by staff, coverage assignments, fund-raisers, sporting event shooting dates, upcoming convention info, and staff birthdays for the week. Distribute on Mondays. This will get you organized for the week.

Have editors turn in a weekly status report (what we accomplished, what we did not complete yet, editor comments, and adviser comments) for their staffs which the adviser responds to with positive reinforcement.

Maintain a sense of humor! You cannot exist as a publications adviser without one.

Compiled by Jack Harkrider, Anderson High School, Austin, Texas

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