When the Struggle is Real, Adapt
Erinn Harris had everything figured out. She ran the well-oiled machine that was the yearbook program at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. And, she had a system in place.
“Tell them what needs to happen, print at 100%, conference, and everything will get done. Because it always gets done,” the Alexandria, Virginia adviser said.
It was like magic.
That was the plan for five years. And it was the plan at the beginning of the year. But then, she said, 2018 became the year of, “Oh So Real.”
“My class was comprised of two sophomores, two juniors and two seniors,” she said. “Even though I knew only two of these six had a year of class experience under their belts, this is how I started the year. And as of December, we were behind by 49 pages and more proofs than I’d like to admit.”
It was winter break and she needed to start over. The plan from the past five years was not going to cut it anymore. So, she changed.
“The key to adapting to the circumstances of your year is to know yourself and know your kids and figure out what they need to be successful, understanding success may just look different year to year,” the master journalism educator said.
This year, she said, the staff needed structure. In January, she created it.
“At the end of every class period, my students fill out a Google form exit ticket. On it, they tell me, among other things, three items they want to accomplish before the next class period, something they are worried about and something they are celebrating.”
The form dictated how the class ran. Each day, she used responses to create individual goals. Then, in class they followed a new agenda. They shared celebrations, moved to a short lesson, spent 30 minutes on goal work, then 30 minutes planning for upcoming deadlines. To finish the period, staffers filled out their exit tickets.
No longer a, “Here’s what needs to get done, now do it,” adviser, Harris focused on celebrations.
“When you’re having a rough year, that’s what’s going to get you through,” she said. “The knowledge that the experiences we’re going through are so thoroughly relatable. All you have to do is find a way to adapt to what life throws at you.”
Erinn Harris has advised student publications for 12 years, three at Lee High School in Springfield,Virginia and nine at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Recently earning the Virginia High School League Savedge Award for Continued Excellence, these staffs have earned NSPA Pacemaker awards and CSPA Crowns.
Walk into Evan Williams’ classroom at Clay Middle School in Carmel, Indiana, and you might think you’ve walked into a professional journalism office. There’s not a desk to be seen.
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