The Next 26: Recruiting Staffers
Follow along beginning Nov. 19, 2011, as I begin to share 26 ideas over the course of 26 days to help you recruit students into your journalism program. Use these ideas in your school. Share these ideas with those in a school near you. Use the comments below to add other ways we can get more students involved in our programs.
We are all in different circumstances and situations, but I believe this challenge can be adopted and adapted anywhere. Recruiting students affects us all. Gone are the days when we can live by the motto “If you build it, they will come.” With everything from increased graduation requirements and competition with AP courses, we need to be actively recruiting to keep our programs healthy.
The days of simply putting up some signs around school are long over.
For the next 26 days I will offer some tips we can all use in recruiting efforts.
My expectation is that you all help. This isn’t my site. This isn’t about me having all the great ideas and thinking there are no others. This is our site. I expect you to chime in with other ways we can recruit for our programs, But mainly, I expect you to use the Next 26 as a conversation spark with others back home. We are all safer and stronger if those around us are safe and strong.
Use this challenge to start a conversation. Use it as YOUR spark.
The Next 26: Ideas for Recruiting Staffers
- Start on ’em early. Promote your program in the middle schools. One way to do this is to send newspapers over to the middle school each month. Send them a copy of your yearbook. Make a flyer of your website and URL, laminate it, and send it over for comm arts teachers to display. Getting them exposed early to the media at the high school they will be attending is one way to get at the forefront of their minds at registration time.
- Create a resource for local and national journalism scholarships. Parents and kids often see sports as one of the only ways to get money for college. Remind them there are other ways out there – journalism-related. For some, it will be a selling point for the program. Work to create a resource for them which allows them to easily find these opportunities. My staff let me have a page on their site to house just such a list. You can see it here.
- Put information in school announcements. While it might not be one of the best places anymore to target students and get them as its not very personal, putting a message in to the all-school announcements is helpful. It gives students and parents another way to find out the classes/credits available as well as when staff applications are due.
- Target underrepresented demographics. Our media program should be a representative slice of the school we live in. Work to target underrepresented groups by seeking out those students. Ask other comm arts teachers for names. Ask the guidance office for names. Ask coaches for names. Once you have the names, individually seek those students out and personally invite them to join your class or staff. Notes are much less personal. Go that extra mile and speak to them face to face.
- Speak to upper level AP classes. This is actually an idea I mooched from Paul Kandell when he gave his Dow Jones Teacher of the Year acceptance speech. I’ve relaxed my “intro journalism and photojournalism only” prerequisite a bit. I have opened applications to juniors who have completed AP Lang and Comp for example. They can join staff as seniors. While they can’t be editors, they can join staff for a year and have a great impact. I give them a bootcamp to start the year off to get them up to speed. They pick up quickly. It’s been a nice fit.
- Speak to students in specialty classes. Try speaking to students in classes throughout school that practice skillsets used in your room. Speak to students in web design to help with the site. Speak to students in graphic design to help with the design of the publications. Speak to art students to help with illustrations. Speak with business classes to try and find someone to head the business team. While you may want to make this the exception more than the rule (a tip on this coming later), trying this out might help getting a few new students into the program with specific newsroom skills needed on a daily basis.
- Heavily push/require the prerequisite intro journalism class. While the last two tips have been on seeking out students who are in non-journalism classes, I think it’s very important to bill the intro journalism and/or photojournalism courses at your school as a must. If you make exceptions where some kids don’t have to take any prerequisite and can just get on staff, it may look like you are playing favorites. Also, the more students you push the take the intro class, the more students you find involved in your program and the more sections of journalism classes you have. Finally, intro journalism classes do a great job easing students into what they can expect when they get on a staff rather than throwing them into the fire – which is still a bit overwhelming even for those who’ve had the intro journalism class.
- Plan for a newspaper to be distributed during the registration window. When planning your distribution schedule for the year, make sure you have a newspaper come out while students are trying to decide what classes to take the following year. You can use house ad space in the paper to promote the journalism program. It’s a great way to capture an audience that is looking to fill some holes in their schedule.
- Allow freshmen into intro classes and onto staff. I surprised that some schools only allow juniors and seniors to take the intro classes and be members on staff. Freshmen and sophomores can contribute a great deal to the staff if given the chance. Getting them involved on staff in their first year of high school is also important as many students are looking for something to be a part of. If you don’t allow them to be on staff until they are juniors or seniors, your pool to draw from will much likely be smaller as some students will have found other groups to be a part of that accepted them as freshmen and sophomores. Allow them intro the intro classes and onto staff as freshmen and sophomores so they prioritize journalism from the start.
- Work to get individual staff members to promote the journalism classes on their own personal social media. The best sellers of the program are the students themselves. Simply put, students listen to other students. Talk with your staff about promoting the journalism classes (in a conversational, non-robotic tone) on social media during the open registration period.
- Use the student media website and the staff social media accounts to promote classes as well. Talk with your students to see if they could put a house ad or two on the student site promoting the journalism program. They could also use the staff social media accounts to promote the program as well. They don’t need to be cheerleaders about it, simply give information about what kind of credits are available and the skills students can pick up. Information can remain factual. Often times, the staff site and social media accounts have a strong following and you may be able to reach students/parents that aren’t reached through the individual accounts.
- Ask other teachers, coaches and your current staffers for leads on individuals who would be good for your program. I like asking around to see who would be a good fit for the program. I ask comm arts teachers, coaches and current staff members. I explain to them the type of staffers I’m looking for that I think would be a good fit in the room and then ask them for names that fit the bill. I then work to talk to each of these students to work to get them enrolled in on of the intro classes so they can join staff afterwards. I don’t know everyone in the school so this is a great way to find some good staffers that I probably would not have crossed paths with otherwise.
- Have an open meeting about what it’s like to be in a journalism class. Have each staffer bring two people they know. Sometimes, all it takes is getting people into the room. Have meetings before and after school to give information out about what it’s like to be on staff and what the prerequisites are. Students are much more likely to take the class if they know someone who has had it and had a positive experience and they tend to gravitate to where their friends go.
- Send a postcard home to students during the registration period promoting the classes. This idea will cost you a little if your district charges you for postage, but your payoff could be well worth it. Send a postcard home promoting the journalism classes and what they have to offer. If you don’t have money to send it to all students in the school. Target current 8th graders who will be joining the school the following year as they will most likely give you your greatest returns and give you some early program exposure to those students.
- Speak to guidance counselors about your program. Schedule a block of time (or send an email if you don’t have time) to speak with the guidance department about the journalism program. Let them know your vision and your aim and answer questions for them. Let them know what goes on in your room and what skills students learn. Having an open line of communication with people who closely work with students on their schedules is very important.
- Make a video to promote the program. Make a serious video. Make a fun video. Make one of each. Post these videos to your website, share them on the staff’s social media pages, have the staff share the videos on their own personal social media accounts. If some videos make the room look fun and others show what students will be doing, it could be a nice 1-2 punch for recruiting. Sara Schlesinger-Whittaker shared this link of a promo video her staff created at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa. Does your staff have a promo video? Share the link in the comments below.
- Put up flyers around school. While I have said it’s 2011 and this shouldn’t be the only tool in your arsenal, it should be one of them. Some students do see these and they can draw people to your room. Just make sure it’s designed well and stands out among the other 400 hanging throughout the halls.
- Work to get Honors Credit for your program. While this tip might take some time, it’s worth looking into and getting the wheels in motion now. Getting your courses added weight on the grading scale is an attractive feature for some students. If you go here and scroll down to the heading “Curriculum Help” you will find a link called Honors Credit Proposal for Journalism Classes.
- Have an open door policy. Make it easy for kids (lots of them) to join. Too often I hear people telling me how they only want a staff of 10 or that they have these stringent requirements to be on staff. In the same breath many say they want their program to be larger. I’ve found that if you want your program to grow and be healthy, you need to let everyone from freshmen to seniors, from those with 1.4 GPAs to those with 4.4 GPAs into your room. Get them in the door. That’s the biggest challenge. Those who don’t belong will find somewhere else to go. I’d just avoid prescreening. I’ve found some students with 1.6 GPAs that have done much better for me than those who have 4-points. Give all students a chance if they want a shot. You’ll win some. You’ll lose some. You’ll find you win more than you lose though.
- Work to promote the program throughout the year as much as you can. Include information about your program in newsletters the main office sends out. Promote successes in your local newspaper. Send emails monthly to parents of students in the program. The more you keep the program out there, the more people will think about it, know about it, and want to get involved.
- Talk to targeted students individually. If you really have some students targeted that you’d like to have in your program, check their schedules, go speak to them for a couple seconds and personally invite them to staff or to one of the intro classes. This works well if you also have a handout to give them that explains some of what goes on on staff and what some of the benefits are of being on staff.
- Send staff members to speak with 8th grade comm arts classes. Send a few well spoken staff members to your feeder middle school(s) to speak to comm arts classes about what journalism opportunities are available to them in high school. Send the staffers armed with a few brief talking points, a handout for each 8th grader and some newspapers to pass out to the 8th graders.
- Use data to support your claims that Journalism classes are good for high schoolers. There is a lot of data out there, here’s a page that has compiled some of it for you under “Documented Articles of Support.” It’s got everything from links to the “High School Journalism Matters” study to the “Partnership for 21st Century Skills.” Parents and/or administrators often want ‘proof.’ Here it is. (If you know of a study not on this list, please contact me so I can add it for others. Thanks.)
- Conduct a workshop for middle school students. A great idea to get some of the high school students working side-by-side with potential recruits. Here’s what Cindy Todd has plans to do at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. Great plan, Cindy! “The middle school kids (we have two feeder schools) will come to the high school for a two-hour mini-workshop, where they can choose from photography, design and writing (probably). They may also be able to pull up the spreads they’re working on and get one-on-one advice from a high school staffer. Ideally, they’ll also bring copies of stories they’re writing, etc. The jChaps just thought it would be a good way to both advertise the yearbook and newsmagazine programs as well as provide a service to the middle-schoolers. We’ll do it in January before they choose courses for next fall. Oh, and I think the kids want to provide pizza. Of course. By the way, our jChaps group consists of members of yearbook, newsmagazine and online staffs. It’s a great way to pull them together.”
- Work to get in front of other classes in your building (you or a couple members of staff) that could serve as prerequisites. I used to have a very strict requirement on who was allowed on staff. Students needed to take the intro Journalism or Photojournalism courses. Since then, I’ve changed my stance a bit and extended an invitation to apply for staff to web design, graphic design, and AP Lang and Comp students. While I still have 90 percent of my staff come from one of the journalism electives, I have worked to increase overall staff numbers and brought students in with skills that can translate to work right away. As a result, those students aren’t so lost when they join staff and more potential for success.
- Create some sort of application process. You don’t need to kill yourself with this, but an application process to become a member of staff has its merits. If a student doesn’t want to take the time to complete the application, it’s probably a sign of things to come. More importantly though, on the other side of that spectrum, there’s a special excitement for all those who are selected for staff to see their name on a list that they made the cut. The day I post staff lists for the following year is one of my favorite as it creates some fun energy in the school. Here’s the link I share with students who are looking to apply. Within you will find the Google Doc forms I’ve created that they fill out to apply for staff. http://fhntoday.com/tellmemore/
BONUS: In March of 2013, Randy Swikle shared this on the JEA Listserv. I thought it was too important to not use use in it’s entirety. Great stuff here.
At Johnsburg High School we had great success drawing students to scholastic journalism. Once I checked the names of a year’s graduating class and discovered that one in five students had taken a journalism course during his/her four years at school. I thought that was awesome.
The partnership support of scholastic journalism stakeholders is the foundation of our recruiting success. That’s because community collaboration helped to build a dynamic journalism program that attracts participation. Beyond that, I attribute our success to the multidimensional, ongoing recruiting process that propelled interest in journalism and student news media. Our journalism recruitment strategy had subliminal, incidental and explicit dimensions. Sometimes “quietly,” sometimes loudly, we did what every good PR campaign does in selling an idea [ours, join journalism]: We made NOISE.
We know that some things below the threshold of a potential recruit’s consciousness can affect the way he/she feels about scholastic journalism.
• Simply reading a student newspaper that contains great stuff can make a person feel good. That good feeling is associated with a good newspaper, which is the product of a good journalism program, which is energized by good people. The reader’s good feeling eventually can lead to a good “signup” for our J-program at course registration time. (In recruitment, few things are more powerful than the quality of the student news medium.)
• Our student body sees journalism students having great fun and satisfaction as they do their “journalism things.” For example, J-students have coordinated “First Amendment Day (and Week)” celebrations involving the whole school with lunchtime activities, school assemblies, contests and other participatory events. Students may not consciously think about journalism as being a “hands-on,” making-a-difference course that inspires intrinsic motivation, but their brains record the “practical application” fun and the “inherent rewards” gratification shown by the enthusiasm of the J-students. (Those smiles and happy attitudes of our students are certainly more convincing than any recruitment button or poster.)
• Students sense things. They sense when journalism students are significant in influencing school decision-makers, community attitudes and school culture. They sense when journalism students have amplified voices and power, just what most teenagers want as their independence evolves. For example, the Johnsburg Weekly News was a designated forum with maximum First Amendment protection and autonomy within the parameters of scholastic press law. Because our school leaders empowered student journalists to deliver the functions of American journalism, those student journalists were highly influential, responsible and respected. Sensing that, who wouldn’t want to join such a winning team?
Even though recruitment is not a primary purpose of a journalism activity, it can be a peripheral benefit of the activity. Incidental factors can contribute to a student’s decision to join journalism.
• Every few years, I moved my newspaper students to a GIANT “classroom” for a day or two—the junior high school. They presented an all-school assembly, lesson plans in across-the-curriculum classes and contests that pit grade levels and individual students against each other—all in the name of teaching young folks why news media, the First Amendment and the skills of journalism are so important in their lives. My journalism students spent weeks preparing for the event, during which they learned not only much about journalism but also much about interacting, teaching, organizing and countless other things. They made lesson plans using the newspaper as a tool in delivering science, math, history, physical education and other course objectives set by the junior high teachers for that day. The event was always a huge success, because the focus was on making every junior high student a participant rather than a mere observer during each kind of activity. While recruitment is not a main purpose, the event does give the junior high students a taste of our scholastic journalism program. Some of my students told me that it was the junior high journalism event that planted the seed to join journalism in high school.
• When Johnsburg School District became a K-12 district in 1978, I moved from the junior high to teach at the new high school. I had met with architects to help design a “form follows function” journalism facility. Adjacent to the very large classroom were, on one side, a large office with a panel of glass windows showing the classroom and, on the other side, a computer room, also with glass windows. The facility design was appealing and functional, and it suggested the dynamics of our journalism program. I hung poster-sized photos of my students talking with and covering a number of U.S. Presidents, interviewing the Illinois governor in his office, going on night patrol with the sheriff, interviewing movie stars and other celebrities, listening to an Emmy award-winning story teller around a night-time campfire during our annual journalism family picnic and hayride in October, flying over the county to take aerial photos, etc. Anyone who came into our classroom area could feel the dynamics of our program. No recruiting presentations needed; just look around the rooms and absorb the inside and the periphery of scholastic journalism … Johnsburg style. Our classroom-office-computer areas inspired interest in joining our J-team.
• Seriously, what draws teenagers more than a refrigerator? Of course we had one! Certainly, the appliance is incidental to the work we do in scholastic journalism, but it is magnetic in more ways than one. And it’s sort of symbolic too. Journalism students not only work together, they “break bread” together … and with others. Journalism isn’t just a class; it’s a clan. And we break bread with every stakeholder group that is part of our clan: Our annual breakfast with administrators and school board members, our October journalism family picnics, our occasional faculty-lounge food treats that celebrate teacher contributions to our journalism success, our open house treats, etc. We appreciate the refrigerator as something more than an instrument to indulge our appetite. We recognize it also as an incidental recruitment device to nurture our camaraderie.
Our straightforward recruitment strategies were sometimes all-inclusive, sometimes aptitude-focused and sometimes a bit outrageous.
• OPEN HOUSE. Whenever the public attends an “open house” kind of function at school—including, of course, registration orientations—we do things to distinguish our J-program. For example, we don’t just tell about journalism, we show it. While the focus of visitors may be on a presentation, in the periphery students are working at computers— doing stories, infographics and layouts. They are circled around a table planning issues, assigning stories and discussing editorial topics. They are collaborating, socializing and thinking. Students help deliver presentations. Visitors are not entirely passive. We always have an activity to involve them. We often serve treats, have handouts and schedule “free time” for one-on-one interactions. Our open houses are not just a taste of journalism, they are smorgasbords.
• LETTERS OF INVITATION. While we welcome any student who has a learning style, work ethic and responsible character that are compatible with the design of our journalism program, we do target students with a special interest and aptitude for journalism. Based on teacher and student recommendations, the adviser writes personal letters inviting top prospects to consider journalism if they think it meets their interests and needs. Journalism students make personal contacts to give prospects insight about our program and the satisfaction and rewards of producing news media. We individualize instruction in journalism in order to best meet individual interests and needs. We take this initiative in recruiting so we can anchor our J-program with students who excel in leadership, innovation, community service and other qualities that strengthen scholastic journalism.
• CLASSROOM PRESENTATIONS. Student editors and their adviser make a recruitment visit to junior high English classes just prior to registration for high school. They present a photo show, engage students in an activity, take questions and interact in other ways. The classroom visits are outrageous. The momentum is fast. The agenda is diverse. The interaction is intense. We reward good questions with $2 bills and $1 coins. We tell anecdotes that get students laughing so hard they cry. We raise issues that raise their excitement. We tap their curiosity and ignite their interest. Then we go, leaving them wanting more. And when we get new class lists after the registration process, a few editors return to pass out a welcome treat to the new enrollees—hamburgers and fast-food items for lunchtime consumption. It’s a prelude: You may be asked to give more in journalism, but you get more back.
Recruitment is important. Here’s a bottom line: “People tend to judge the whole by the part they know.” Make some noise. Let students know some important things they don’t already know about how scholastic journalism can serve their interests and needs. Showing is better than telling.