Jen Bladen

On the list of things I wish I had known when I was teaching, this is the greatest. 

Even if I knew it on some level, I didn’t know how to act on it. I didn’t know how to change my classroom so that I could act on it. 

Here is the truth: There is no such thing as a staff motivation problem. There are only staff training problems.

When I taught in Los Angeles, I had what should have been one big lab room but was unfortunately broken up into two rooms, giving students the impression they could hide. (Little did they know that teachers not only have eyes in the backs of our heads but also X-ray vision in both sets!)

As early as January there would coalesce a small group of girls in the deepest corner of that second space to shop online for prom dresses. So annoying. 

And try as I might, no task could entice them to abandon their prom-shopping ways. No amount of threatening, no amount of bribery, no amount of joyful invitation would bring them onboard. 

What I know now that I wish I had known then was how none of the grade threats, pass bribes and cheerful invites were ever my job. Never do anything someone under the age of 18 can do for you. I should have empowered my editors to engage those distracted darlings. 

Here’s how it should have gone. I should have taught my students how to teach each other. I should have responded to each incident of tattle-telling with a directive to train the (alleged) slacker. It’s so clear to me now that even our language needed improvements: apathy, slacker, tattle, online shopping. Not one of those things belongs in a yearbook classroom.

Learn from me, my dearest ones. Here’s what I sincerely hope you employ in your publications labs.

You Do Not Have A Staff Motivation Problem.

If it looks like a staff motivation problem and it quacks like a staff motivation problem, it is still not a staff motivation problem. No one sets out to fail. The same as no one signs up for yearbook — or even gets accidentally dumped there — to do nothing. 

Yearbook is awesome! What we do in yearbook is awesome! Everyone wants to be a part of it. Trust.

You Have A Staff Training Problem.

Staffers who sit around all period doing nothing do not know what to do. Seriously, take a look at the students being productive. What do they all have in common? They know what to do! 

The ones on their phones or shopping online or gossiping idly probably have no clue what it is they should be doing. Fix it. 

Train The Trainers.

The greatest thing you can give your students is to help them recognize themselves as leaders. When publications students are empowered to empower their classmates, the atmosphere improves exponentially. There’s a synergy that develops when an overachiever coaches an underachiever to become an achiever. One plus one no longer equals two — it’s more like 14! Teach your students how to teach each other. Encourage a culture of asking for help. One of my students proposed we start class with mini-lessons taught by students. It was a huge success and an excellent generator of exponential growth. 

Plan Your Work. 

https://youtu.be/gm9CIJ74Oxw

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The entire class should have a clear idea of what the plan is. Clear and visible reminders of deadlines, procedures and policies help keep everyone informed. Check out the elementary school section of your local teacher-supply store. Big bright posters with easy-to-read objectives will help even the most executive-function-challenged of your students know what’s going on. (See Dr. Dan Siegel present a hand model of the brain.)

Work Your Plan.

As a yearbook adviser, I always said that my only job was to prevent my students from burning the building down. And it’s really true. If you’re advising a student-run publication (a.k.a. a forum for student expression), then you’re really not doing much beyond literal advising. However, I think it’s well within our rights and responsibilities to keep our students focused on the plan. It’s okay to post annoying countdowns on the board. It’s okay to nag and remind and re-remind. As a staff, you worked hard to develop a workable plan. As an adviser, you should making sure it gets worked. 

Please learn from the mistakes of your friendly neighborhood consultant lady. Do not try to reshape your slackers into productive students. Rather allow your productive students to inspire them to become the yearbook rockstars they already long to be.