Let Them Lead

By Jenny Howe

It’s lunchtime on the first day of the Jostens San Diego National Yearbook Workshop at the University of San Diego. My four student yearbook editors and I are sitting around the table sharing our learning so far. The students’ ideas cross the table, rapid fire, everyone excited.

“Can Time Logs be online?”

“Let’s make first quarter really interactive.”

“Let’s get a fake bush that we can decorate for the holidays.”

“Can we not use Trello this year? It just distracts everyone.”

“What about that first day of school activity he talked about? With the yarn on the ring finger and the marriage vows on the first day of school?”

“Yeah, let’s do it later in the year at the theme reveal.”

I am excited too, listening to my editors lead. My editors can be more realistic in their vision of the yearbook than I am at times. According to Journalism Education Association (JEA) President Sarah Nichols, “It’s the editor’s job to decide where to go next. If they see something that’s not working, ask them, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”

Teachers plan the next steps for students based on student data they receive from daily observations or checks for understanding. However, in a student-led classroom like the yearbook room, my role as “teacher” changes to that of “advisor.”  My editors and I are in a unique position to build a collective leadership team. Sometimes there is a struggle between the delicate give and take of staying in control as the teacher or letting go as the adviser. The yearbook adviser must anticipate this student response: ‘No, Mrs. Howe, let’s do it like this.’

“So this year, we want to have each editor lead a mini-lesson. That way you can be relieved of teaching first-year yearbook students everything, and it will give you some time to work with the yearbook 2-4s because we need your help too,” continued my fourth-year editor.

“Oh!” I said. “Okay, what were you thinking about teaching?”

“We were thinking it could be one editor per day. Each lesson would relate to what the editor’s position is, so maybe Sara could do something about photography. The sports editors could do something on caption writing.”

“Okay, yeah, I love this idea. I’ve been working on my curriculum map, which is like the big plan for the year, because I have ideas about how to change up quarter one to make it more interactive for the yearbook ones. I’ll give you a timeline, so you know what the general lesson topics will be and then we can create a schedule for when all the lessons, including yours, will be implemented. How does that sound?”

They nod and smile in agreement.

Google Maps is a tool that helps people get to new places. It informs you of the best routes, the time each route takes, where one might experience traffic or other roadblocks, and it usually reroutes you if something occurs and a detours is required. That’s basically how a curriculum map functions for teachers. We map out the year, the quarters, the weeks, the days to ensure we help our students achieve the goals and standards that they need to navigate and fulfill the requirements of the course.

What is mine is actually theirs. My curriculum map shouldn’t be about me, it’s really theirs, so I should be jumping for joy that they want to teach our new staffers.

There is all this talk about ownership when teachers talk about curriculum maps, but the strongest maps and plans are those devised by a team.

If my students are diagnosing their needs and want to determine the routes of the class, then they’re deciding what’s next.

What am I going to do about it?

Let go.

Lose some control.

Let them lead.


Jenny Howe is a freshman English Language Arts teacher, Yearbook adviser, school-level mentor, and instructional coach at President Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt Complex Area. She has also taught English Language Learners, newswriting, arts & communication, digital media, and broadcast media. Jenny is a member of the Hawaii Scholastic Journalism Association and is the State Director for the Hawaii State Journalism Education Association. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the University of Washington and a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.