7 Yearbook Traditions we Love

Elementary yearbooking student putting up balloons for the year end yearbook distribution party

Building a yearbook program relies on building traditions with your staff and school community. When we build school traditions, we create a culture and expectations while transmitting values. That doesn’t equate with inflexibility, rather it provides a guide within which we ebb and flow. While the greatest tradition is the yearbook itself (more on that in a second), here are six others to build a lasting program. 

An American institution since George K. Warren took photos of graduates in the late 19th century and sold them as prints to share, yearbooks are the definitive school tradition. What started off as a college-only record book now extends to elementary schools

This adviser has watched students from world history classes grab yearbooks from the idea library and scour copies from other schools while awaiting the bell to ring. With no connection to the students, these school desk critics compared how our programs—such as ASB, athletics, and the arts—matched up with theirs. They evaluated the theme, mainly the visual components, and gave me a three-minute critique. [Pats self on back for not laughing.]

1. Staff Traditions

Yearbook Wedding

Trending with middle and high school staffs, yearbooks weddings are a pre-production celebration where students pledge themselves to the task. 

  1. The yearbook staff writes vows. This can be as simple as providing a positive atmosphere and completing assignments on time, or as specific as SMART goals for coverage and sales.
  2. The adviser invites parents and stakeholders (admin, student leadsherhip, coaches, parent org leaders) to attend
  3. At the ceremony, students recite their vows and receive a ring
  4. Everyone eats cake


First of all, yerd means yearbook nerd and it’s polarizing: people loathe or love it. (For those of you playing along at home, I’m the former.) Regardless, #yerdsgiving is the annual gathering of journalism students over food before Thanksgiving break. Some students lead crafts or games, some practice the art of gluttony. Most take the time to craft thank you cards to school staff and students as well as vendors and parents who helped the yearbook team gain momentum at the start of the year. This yearbook tradition is also an avenue to invite alumni to inspire your current staff or even families to celebrate.

Family photo during the traditional Yerdsgiving meal at a middle school.
Yerdsgiving doesn’t have to be a formal family affair. Think of it as a Friendsgiving for your students. When you invite families, you add a layer of trust between advisers and parents as well as more recognition for the students in your program. (Keep in mind, there’s always that mom who’s epically talented at event planning and may organize the whole thing!)

Holiday gift exchange 

While it seems like you have a gift exchange for every group with which you’re involved, keep it simple:

  • Hold a re-gift exchange where students bring in something they received and don’t want. 
  • Exchange variations on a theme such as socks or snacks
  • Put dollar store stockings up with 3×5 cards so classmates can write notes of encouragement

Yearbook Banquet 

Being on yearbook staff has to have perks, and one is a fancy-pants dinner before distribution. (Please note fancy is a relative term: we’ve done everything from a chain Italian restaurant to a steakhouse to a revolving sushi bar.) Think of your typical sports banquet: the coach (adviser) stands and speaks a few remarks on the team then hands out the awards. Traditionally, the yearbook staff unwraps their yearbook and shares it with their family. It’s special because they have the first copies and it’s individualized time for parents to see all the work their child accomplished. 

2. Thematic Marketing

Theme surveys are a fun way to raise awareness that yearbook sales began as well as get buy-in from your school on the theme. While yearbook purists believe a theme should apply to one year only, you may find several coveted visual aesthetics from Treering Yearbooks’ theme gallery

The big reveal can happen once you receive your printed proof and you can make videos and social media teasers with your staff. Some schools make it one of their back to school traditions to reveal the yearbook theme at the start of the school year and use it throughout to market the book and generate content by

  • Making T-shirts and wearing them when they are photographing events (remember that QR code to buy!)
  • Creating thank you cards, Google slide presentations, and posters via theme graphics
  • Asking related questions via social media; for example, with a theme “Give + Take,” ask for multiple takes on the fun run or invite athletes give their top five songs for warm up
  • Keeping everything yearbook-related in your theme colors

3. 3x Yearbook Coverage

Maximizing coverage should be a tradition for every yearbook staff. If we are truly telling the story of the year, it involves everyone on campus. From a yearbook marketing perspective, if students know they are in the book, they will want the book. If they want the book, parents will buy the book.

We love thinking of yearbooks as memory books—they are—they are also a component of the historical record.

4. Staff Recruitment and Announcement

Your yearbook team is a big deal. Say it with me, “We are a big deal!” Create yearbook staff traditions around recruitment and the announcement of who made the cut each spring. Some ideas include

  • Host a party and pass out applications
  • Crown your staff publicly (feather boas, sashes, and capes work well too)
  • Publicize who is on your yearbook team in newsletters, on social media, and in the front office so parents, coaches, and prospective volunteers can get in touch with you

After all, your yearbook team is a big deal.

5. Freeze time

You don’t have to be Doc and Marty McFly to time travel. Year after year, yearbooks create a personal history; the yearbook might be a few hours of reading during summer, and when you fast forward five or ten years, it will be so much more. Moms, let’s face it, our yearbooks give our kids license to laugh at our hair, clothes, and priorities.

The value of a yearbook does not end at graduation.

Couple reminiscing over their middle school yearbook tradition
How often do you revisit your glory days?

6. Dedication

Does your school have a tradition of dedicating the yearbook to a member of your staff or community? If not, skip to the next section. This gets political.

A yearbook dedication could

  • Thank a teacher for being a yearbook champion
  • Recognize an administrator who is retiring
  • Honor a member of the faculty who impacted the school community
  • Be a blanket statement to a group on campus, such as the robotics team who went to the national championship for the first time
  • Congratulate the promoting/graduating class

7. Yearbook Distribution Party Traditions

Many schools have a special, extended lunch or tie distribution to an all-school event to celebrate the end of the year. A word of advice: if this is a new tradition for you, connect with school leadership early to plan your distribution day.

The good

A simple party with pens, tunes, and tables is all you need. Always invite non-buyers to include them in the signing. More than likely, they’ll be the first to buy a book next year. (And if you’re using Treering Yearbooks to publish, parents can still buy a book!)

Pizza, a DJ, and pens that correspond to class colors take it to the next level.

The extra

One K-12 school I know used to have students line up outside a bounce house. After they climbed up and slid down, they’d receive their yearbook.

Another elementary school invites the middle school cheerleaders to the signing party. They perform and pump up the 5th graders for fall.

Whichever yearbook traditions you employ, make sure they match your community. If you’re just getting started, select one and own it. Once it’s routine, add another.

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