Cooperative, collaborative classroom

by Lauren O’Connor,, yearbook adviser
Norcross High School, Georgia

We are a democratic staff. Of course, we have editors who make some important decisions, but most things are decided by the class as a whole. Over the years I have found that if class doesn’t have a say in the way something is done, they are less likely to make a whole-hearted commitment to the book.

Because of this, I always have a stack of index cards on hand to distribute in order to get a group consensus. My staff also knows there is never a bad idea.

I encourage them to share everything they think of. For example, we may not use their idea as the theme, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a page or module idea. We also have an open-door policy. I encourage the staff to share their feelings about what they like and don’t like.

The class as a whole sets the ladder the first week of school. This lets the new members feel involved rather than “adopted.” One of our first ice breakers we do is the Color Jacuzzi (see the bottom for the color explanations). I used colored paper and ball it up. We pass the paper around to find out the staffers personalities.

We follow the first few days of introductions with marriage vows. I have all staff members repeat after me the vows that they will commit to the staff and book. Once we are done, I give them all ring pops to symbolize the commitment.

I also assign a “Big” (veteran member) to each “Little” (new member). The experienced staff members are there to guide the inexperienced ones through the year. The very first deadline is distributed based on bigs and littles. It’s very much like the sorority and fraternity structure. We also like to find a fun way to reveal the big to the little and celebrate the littles all year. It makes them feel special and included.

For the holidays, we do a Secret Staffer. We have choose one week and each day has a theme – sweet treat, socks, toy, break time fun, and a gift with thought. The final gift we purchase for the staff member we think they will enjoy. It can be something we know they want or something we think they should try. The best part about it is that each staffer seems to know their teammates so well by the holidays they don’t have a problem finding something for them.

When all else fails, I use good old friendly competition. I am good friends with the neighboring high school’s adviser. She meets my staff every year at yearbook camp. I constantly update them on what the rival school is doing and how we can do better. Right now, I am pushing the kids to finish pages for the deadline and have informed them that the other school has finished more pages than we have. It ALWAYS works as a motivator. It also makes for a good time when she calls during the class period and the kids can heckle her from the background.

Color Jacuzzi
The object of this small group exercise is to get the group to quickly meet the other members. The facilitator calls out a color of the rainbow and each member of the class quickly responds:

• Red is the stop/turn- off color: What is the one thing (that you can disclose in public) that is really a turn-off to you?
• Orange is the motivation color: What motivates you?
• Yellow is the inspiration or creativity color: What was the best idea you’ve had?
• Green is the money color: What do you plan to do for money, or what’s the dumbest thing you have ever done for money?
• Blue is the sky’s-the-limit color: What’s your favorite fantasy about your future?
• Indigo is an intense color: What is the most daring thing you ever did?
• Purple: is the color of royalty: If you were ruler of the universe for a day, what is the first thing you would do?

Excerpt from Elements magazine “How’d You Do That?: Create A Cooperative Environment.”

Norcross High School’s yearbook can be purchased here.