Copy This NASA Trick to Improve Your Yearbook Coverage

One of the coolest things about working on the yearbook is that the printed version you get at the end of the year makes it really easy to take stock of what you and your students did well and to figure out what you could improve on.

The biggest bummer, of course, is that you’ve got to wait your entire summer break to make improvements on things like yearbook coverage, design ideas, and layout concepts. And—even then—those improvements just make the next version better.

There’s a way around that bummer of a situation, though, and it’s a trick that comes from NASA.

See, the folks that put a man on the moon and robots on Mars are in a similar situation to you: They can’t afford to wait until the next mission to make adjustments and improve their work.

So instead of evaluating their work after it’s complete, NASA teams evaluate their work during a mission. They call the activity a Pause and Learn, or PaL, and it’s actually the perfect way to keep assessing and improving your yearbook coverage throughout the school year.

Read on, because we’re going to walk you through how to take NASA’s brilliant trick and use it to your advantage.

What is a Pause and Learn?

A Pause and Learn is a group activity that NASA uses in the middle of projects when a team wants to break down what worked, and what didn’t work, during a specific aspect of the project. They’re short meetings (for NASA, anyway), and the goal is to get team members to “take off their ‘official hats’” and talk openly.

It’s sort of like an end-of-year review, but it’s way easier to conduct, way more flexible, and way faster to learn from. In fact, NASA organizes the entire activity around these five questions:

  • What did we intend to do?
  • What worked well, and why?
  • What didn’t work well, and why?
  • What did we learn from this?
  • What should we change?

That’s it. There’s no finger-pointing, no reporting, no blaming anyone for anything that didn’t go as planned. A Pause and Learn, really, is just an open group discussion among team members who are trying to get better.

Why You Should Analyze Yearbook Coverage Using a Pause and Learn

You can probably already see how having your yearbook team ask themselves those questions after wrapping up coverage on a major event (like Homecoming, say) could really improve the next major event they’re planning to cover.

This process doesn’t just let your students identify stuff they should improve on, it helps them see what they did well and it encourages them to remember that for the next time they’re in a similar situation.

Even better, maybe, is the fact that the last question (“What should we change?”) encourages your yearbook team to be problem solvers.

NASA says there are other benefits, to boot: They’ve found that Pause and Learns make teams stronger and build morale. We think that alone is worth giving this a try, especially since your yearbook students are probably obsessing over coverage angles and layout issues at the same time.

How To Run A Pause and Learn for Your Yearbook

If you’re like us, you’ve already thought of like a hundred different ways you could use a Pause and Learn this school year.

For this post, though, we’ll try to rein ourselves in and focus just on your yearbook coverage. Activities and events start and end all throughout the year, so you hardly have to wait to put this into practice. Here’s how to get a PaL rolling:

  • Define the coverage period you’re going to reflect on and summarize your goal by answering the “what did we intend to do?” question.
  • Have students fill out this template, which asks the “what worked” and “what didn’t work” questions, as homework or as an individual activity to get them reflecting on the coverage period in question.
  • Conduct a group discussion in which you encourage students to identify the answers on their grid, and guide the discussion through the “why” portion of those questions.
  • When you’re happy with the depth of the “whys,” shift the discussion to the larger goal of reflection and address what your team learned during the coverage period.
  • Make sure you leave time to identify areas for possible changes and to discuss how those changes could be implemented.

Of course, this could take awhile. That’s OK. If you’re pressed for time, streamline the activity by asking students to focus on one “win” (what worked) and one “opportunity” (what didn’t work). Alternatively, you could break your team into small groups, have them conduct the discussion themselves, and present a pre-determined number of lessons learned and recommended changes to the entire team.

PaL free template for yearbook coverage
However you do it, you’ll need to be there to guide the process. And that’s super-important, because, as NASA says, the person in charge needs to make sure the Pause and Learn stays on course, stays positive, and stays open.

You can make that happen by taking a few specific actions:

  • Create a poster or handout that lists all the things your team identified as doing really well.
  • When needed, rephrase discussion around opportunities so that it’s always presented in a constructive—never critical—manner.
  • Push for specific details on what changes are going to be made and how they’ll be implemented.
  • Create an action plan around those changes, and give each a copy to study.
  • Make sure there are snacks. (It always helps to have snacks.)

When it comes to running a Pause and Learn to discuss your yearbook coverage, it’s not so much the lessons learned and changes implemented that matter most. Though they’re important, it’s the process of getting there that makes all the difference.

Do this right, and your students won’t just think it’s some silly time-filling exercise. They’ll see it as a tool to make sure they’re on their way to making an awesome yearbook even better—without feeling like it’s rocket science.