I am incredibly proud to say that I am a teacher. I am lucky enough to teach photography, graphic design and journalism – subjects that many other publishing consultants also do.
“Oh, the fun stuff!” is usually the answer every time I say this to someone. I teach the fun stuff, but that doesn’t mean advising student publications always means laughter, sunshine, and happy students.
Whether advisors guided student journalists through theme building, deadlines, design ideas, photo shoots, writing assignments, ad sales, interview mishaps, fundraising issues and cover issues long enough, so they know that the joy of advising publications can be interrupted by frustrating, difficult and sometimes even tragic situations.
It’s those moments when you receive an angry email from a parent, a concerned call from an administrator, or the saddest news of all – the death of a student or faculty member. – that the need for coherent and clear policies can make a difficult situation all the more manageable.
Life isn’t perfect, even for yearbookers, and that’s why every staff member should have a policy manual. Whether it’s a manual, contract, standard operating procedures, or a combination of the three, a policy manual approved by your manager is the best way to prepare for any tricky situations that may involve student publications. I’m including my own policy manual for easy reference at the end of this article along with things to consider when creating yours.
WHY DO I NEED A POLICY HANDBOOK?
By nature, I am a planner and a worrier. I worry about how I planned a lesson. I obsess over the details of an email I’m about to send or a difficult conversation I need to have with a struggling student. Responding with consistent policies and standards, documented in a manual that is updated and approved annually, lessens the drama and indecision of a difficult situation and minimizes the anxiety counselors may face.
You might be thinking, “Great, another thing to add to my to-do list!” When I first heard about staff manuals, I thought the same thing. But over the years, I have faced several situations that made me so grateful for our politics manual at El Dorado High School in El Paso, Texas.
You probably already have policies in place that you rely on, whether it’s grading yearbook students, signing photography materials, posting images on social media, or creating job announcements. dedication for seniors. Maybe it’s time to bring these policies together in one place.
WHAT DO I INCLUDE?
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a list of topics and questions to consider when creating policies. This list is not exhaustive and I look forward to reading other policies that advisors believe should be included in the comments. As you read this list, consider existing policies that your campus or district may already have in place that you can implement.
Topics to include in a policy manual:
- Travel: Which students are eligible for end-of-year trips? How are these trips paid for? What are the expectations for student conduct while traveling, including what happens if a student needs to be disciplined?
- Staff Code of Conduct: What are the standards and repercussions for posting students who fail other classes, accumulate credit losses due to absences, detentions, expulsions, suspensions, etc. ? What would cause a student to lose an editorial position? What will be your parental involvement procedure?
- Death of a student or faculty member: How will you cover the death of a student or faculty member? Will this decision depend on the circumstances surrounding their death? Coverage can vary between suicide, illness, motor vehicle accident or victim of a violent crime. Counselors should create a policy that differentiates between coverage of public memorials at school or in the community and private religious or funeral services for the family. How will the cover reference details of an ongoing criminal investigation? To cover the death of anyone on campus, regardless of the manner of death, the permission and cooperation of the surviving family must be sought by the counselor and student reporter. The counselor and staff may also consider working with the family to create an unpaid dedication announcement. Staff must carefully balance the campus’ need to mourn and remember the deceased with the surviving family’s right to privacy. Also decide if younger students will be included in future yearbooks – for example, if a freshman dies, but the parent wants them included in the senior yearbook, do you have a policy in place to be able to respond to this request.
- Refunds and exchanges: How will you handle refund requests for a listing or senior signing directory? Under what circumstances would you allow a refund or exchange? In most cases, a refund should not be given unless the advisor and staff know that they authorized an error with malicious intent. If not, the counselor should try to correct the spelling of the name with corrective stickers from Walsworth. The exchange policy must also be clearly displayed during distribution.
- Use of equipment: How do cameras, lenses, laptops, etc. are they verified for use? Who is authorized to use the material? When does the material have to be returned? What happens if the equipment is damaged, lost or stolen?
- Maintenance : What are the expectations regarding interview sources? How will students record and store their interviews?
- Commitments and classification of staff: What are the expectations for working on the yearbook or journal outside of school hours? How are students graded? Do staff members and publishers have different expectations of engagement?
- Sharing and posting photos: How are photos taken by students on assignment with school materials shared, rendered and stored? Are students allowed to post images to their personal social networks or send files to classmates and parents? Do you need a watermark? How can parents and students request a digital copy of the images? Will you charge for these files?
- Senior Honor Cord and/or Stole Requirements: What are the requirements for Senior Honor Cords and Stoles? Are students required to participate in fundraisers, community service, or have a certain amount of after-school work for publications? What are the requirements for grades, LOC and discipline? Will you require students to ask for the honor cord or the stole?
- Senior Signing Announcements and Paid Spreads for Clubs/Teams: What are the logistical arrangements for how parents and teachers can book and pay for Dedicated Ads and Paid Streams? What is the content acceptance process for ads? How are you going to get signing announcements approved? Will you have a pre-review policy for coaches and teachers on their paid spreads?
- Staff Manual and Workflow: How will your staff meet deadlines and understand the editing process for their yearbook publications and journal assignments? What are the procedures for creating, storing and returning work?
- Portraits: Who takes the senior portraits from your yearbook? What are the timelines and expectations of parents and students for senior portraits? Will your publication accept senior headshots for the senior section of multiple photographers? If a student moves to your school mid-year, what is the deadline by which they can be included in the portraits?
For the program I am advising, I have created a Policy Directory document in my Google Drive with links to several documents and resources containing various guidelines and FAQs, as well as written explanations for additional policies. I recommend reviewing your policies annually to update, add, and remove as necessary. Be sure to notify administrators when you have updated student policies or contracts.
Even a mission as fun and rewarding as ours – to create a visual history of our campuses and communities – can present difficult times. A policy manual is an indispensable tool to provide consistent guidance to advisors, administrators, student journalists and parents.
Link to the EDHS Student Publication Policy Directory: EDHS Student Publishing Policy Directory