Teaching tip: Break out of the silo

August 29, 2019

The office silo

A longtime soapbox issue for me is that too often we journalism faculty silo ourselves and our programs.

It is natural. Increasingly colleagues on our campuses –and especially the administrators that run our schools– fail to understand our roles in teaching journalism. Administrators see our programs merely as public relations outlets rather than legitimate attempts to teach our students to report what is actually going on and what truly is important to them. (Increased administrative control at Liberty University story is an example.)

And when we get into the news publication classroom we are there to guide our students into producing a product. It is easy to put blinders on and focus on the task. Being a journalism teacher can be a lonely, unsung career.

We need to break out of those silos so that we can become better teachers. Journalism organizations such as the Journalism Education Association, College Media Association, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, Scholastic Press Association, Journalism Association of Community Colleges, California College Media Association intuitively know this and schedule conferences and conventions throughout the school year to bring like-minded colleagues together. These gathering typically are aimed at students, but they allow teachers to congregate, commiserate, and learn from each other.

But these gatherings are too few and are too far in between. More is needed. Not just for us, but for our students as well. And with tightening educational budgets, many schools are finding them too costly to attend on any kind of regular basis. As a young teacher I was excited when e-mail became a thing so that I could communicate with fellow journalism instructors at other colleges whenever I encountered a new situation. The Internet has brought us social media groups we can join for similar interactions.

Two other inexpensive ideas I tried work with during my teaching years were the Editor Exchange and Lunch Bunch.


One of the benefits of organizational conferences for students is that they get exposed to ideas and staffs from elsewhere. As good a teacher I believed I was, there is so much more students can gain. Mixing with students from other staffs will show them that the problems they face are not unique and the solutions they found are not universal.

But, again, conferences are too few and far between. And they usually come near the end of semesters. So I tried to work with area schools to set up field trips. I would take my editors –the whole staff was just too much– and have them meet with another newspaper staff for an afternoon. We teachers could leave the room and not worry about any specific agenda; the students could work that out among themselves quite easily. I found it helpful if the host school could supply pizza and sodas.

Then the next semester we would reverse it and the other school could send its editors over to meet with my staff. This was always harder as it is easier to host than to take an afternoon away from your college, especially if your students are producing a weekly publication. I often found that the home-and-home attempt fell apart when you invited the other school to join you … but not always. (And I always enjoyed seeing another school’s newsroom where I inevitably stole –er, I mean borrowed– an idea for mine. Not taking the effort was their loss.)

My students found these exchanges valuable and made new friends, some of whom they might run into when transferring to a university or working together on their first jobs. I actually tried to schedule more than one a semester with multiple schools. Finding a non-production day that worked for both schools was the tough part.


And if students could benefit from interaction with students from other schools, the same could be said for instructors. For instructors we set up what we called Lunch Bunch. Either monthly or every other month during the school year we’d schedule a lunch get together with instructors from as many nearby schools that made sense. Again, no agenda was needed. Just schedule a lunch at an area restaurant and those who can make it will. By holding it regularly you picked up some instructors who had to miss because of something extra scheduled that day. We became friends, shared what was going on in our programs, and commiserated. You no longer feel like you are alone. And, I believe, you become a better teacher.

– – – – – –

The whole idea is to break out of the silo of your program and your campus. I think you can take it further, by collaborating with other staffs to take on big stories that affect students on both campuses. But that turns out to be even harder to coordinate. The two ideas above only take a little time and initiative.

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