2016 IJEA Fall Conference in Review: Empowered staffs, empowered advisers

Read story by first-place Feature Write-Off winner about keynote speaker Mitch Eden

With more than 320 Illinois high school journalists and their advisers in attendance this year, the 2016 IJEA Fall Conference is now in the books, or yearbooks, as the case may be.

Students were able to attend a number of sessions — from social media to reporting to advertising — as well as explore the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and its student media.

The day, however, started off with a keynote address by Mitch Eden, the 2015 Dow Jones News Fund’s National Journalism Teacher of the Year and adviser of the award-winning Kirkwood Call, at Kirkwood High School (Mo.). During his speech, Eden emphasized the need for unity in the high school publications classroom, providing both philosophical underpinnings and practical ideas for how to bring a journalistic staff together in order to both enjoy publications and create great, ethical work.

Beyond “getting married,” team-building activities and trips to workshops and conventions, Eden encouraged Illinois staffs to go one step further.

“If there is one thing everyone needs to do this year, it’s giving back,” he said, in reference to his call for staff service projects that provided meaningful or compassionate service to the community.

After his keynote, representatives of student publications participated in a Feature Write-Off competition based on Eden’s talk and a short interview session with him afterward.

The results:
1st place: Leo Garkisch, Prospect High School
2nd place: Aditi Katwala, Conant High School
3rd place: Michelle Lenz, Marist High School

To learn more about Eden’s message, read the first-place story by Leo Garkisch from Prospect High School:

Some teachers begin the school year with a syllabus. Others jump right into the material. But Mitch Eden, media adviser at the Kirkwood Call newsmagazine and website in Kirkwood, Missouri, begins the year with a wedding ceremony.

The entire media staff, 198 students, make their vows of commitment to Eden and to each other. They accept their responsibilities for the upcoming year, which include everything from making deadlines to accepting Eden’s ban on country music in the classroom.

But the idea of commitment was just one of the points Eden made Friday morning during his keynote speech at the Illinois Journalism Education Association Fall Conference. The speech, titled “Empowering Your Students,” aimed to inspire other high school journalists and advisers to raise the standards of their programs and to create student-empowering, student-driven cultures.

“Once you sensed the kids are ready, once you give them the keys, some amazing things can happen,” Eden said. “Once kids realize (their publications are) theirs, they take pride in what they’re doing.

Eden condensed his philosophy into what he calls his “Four Keys to Success.” At the top of that list is ensuring there is authentic communication between the staff members.

Eden said he achieves this at the Call through humor, which is evident in everything from a baby picture contest to its playfully themed late-night work sessions.

But Eden recognizes that play needs to be balanced with work, and another are of his keys to success aims at creating an environment where that balance is maintained; the staff members should love and trust one another.

“Connect with kids more,” Eden said. “Kids know when you’re genuine. Kids know when you’re real.”

Thank you to all participating staff members and advisers for an inspiring conference. We hope you learned much and will take it all back to your schools to guide you this year. Take a look at our social media #ijea2016 for more images and stories from the 2016 IJEA Fall Conference.