How to Create an Authentic Class

How to Create an Authentic Class
Joshua Smalley

I want to talk about something important to me as an educator - the importance of a journalism “publications” program. I often make the argument that one of the most diverse, robust, and authentic courses that can be offered to students is a journalism program. Allow me to explain.

Once I’ve front-loaded the skills and knowledge necessary for journalism, what are my students doing on a typical day in the classroom? Here’s just a few things they’re doing:

  • Designing, using pro-grade Adobe CC suite products
  • Photo editing, using pro-grade Adobe CC suite products
  • Learning and developing workflow skills
  • Learning and developing skills around file management
  • Learning photography (photojournalism) storytelling skills
  • Learning advanced journalistic writing—caption and copy
  • Learning about the printing process (I usually take students on field trips to the printing warehouses when we print in-country)
  • Learning how to export documents and files that are officially print-ready
  • Learning to take risks
  • Learning genuine leadership skills
  • Learning project management
  • Learning time management
  • Learning how process and product are important
  • Learning how to write and design for a particular audiences and purposes
  • Learning formal grammar and punctuation requirements for Associated Press formatting
  • Learning how to tell stories responsibly
  • Learning about responsible and ethical citizenship
  • Learning journalism ethics
  • Learning how to fact check
  • Learning how to solve authentic problems
  • Learning to be more aware of their surroundings and be curious about everything around them
  • Learning true grit (the product is being published, so you have to undergo as many drafts as it takes; there’s no publishing an “80%-good” product; it must be “publishable”)
  • Learning communication skills
  • Advanced interviewing techniques and follow up (this is one of the most significant elements of training we currently provide)
    - Communication within the team
    - Communication with the adviser
    - Communication with teachers
    - Communication with leadership and non-teaching staff
    - Communication with the main office
    - Communication with the Communications Office
    - Communication with fellow peers
    - Formal email correspondence
    - Communication etiquette
    - Persistence and dedication in communication
    - Compromise, consensus, and negotiation
    - Professionalism in communication
    - Overcoming objections
    - Navigating misunderstandings
  • Business management (in pending years, once the program grows)
    - Marketing
    - Business plans
    - Balance sheets
    - Maintaining a positive balance in accounts
    - Contract negotiations


In essence, when run to its full capacity, such a program operates like a business. Students have a genuine learning experience with authentic problems to solve, contracts to fulfill, deadlines to face, people to negotiate with, and a real product to produce to a large and diverse client base, etc. It’s no joke. All while running a small ‘business’ on campus, they are learning how to be an active and responsible citizen.

Our current reality is that our program in the high school is only just beginning. It is in its infancy stages and so much more has yet to be learned and developed. Typically, students can take 4 years of publications and develop their skills to the highest level; we have yet to develop the program, scheduling space, or curriculum for this.

In prior schools, I’ve been used to having my seniors run the program, my juniors lead the day-to-day training and instruction, my sophomores carry the primary workload, and the freshmen work as interns. The incoming freshmen become hooked by the insane, authentic experience as they see how amazing it can be in a student-led classroom. After that initial impression, these publications students remain in the program over several years and merely rotate through the advancing roles each year until they are program directors as seniors. For the adviser (teacher), I no longer have to reteach everything each year; the students teach each other. I am then freed up to work with advancing the program and helping the students take journalism to a whole new level, winning international awards in photography and design and journalistic coverage (Kazakhstan 2013, 2014). This kind of program is possible; I’ve seen it first hand and it’s a profound thing to observe.

For now, it’s an uphill climb to build momentum and build the program until we start retaining students across multiple years. That said, the students have taken the skills and resources they have been given, and they have built upon previous years of success at ICS. They have created fantastic yearbook products in 2019-2020 and another very promising product is in the works this year. There have been growing pains instantiating a publications program as part of our ethos, but we are making progress.

Why do I push for a journalism/publications program? Why am I so adamant that a healthy school pursues such a program at all levels: elementary, middle school, and high school? Simply, it is arguably one of the most authentic and powerful courses that can be offered in school. The sheer breadth of learning potential and advanced work is limitless.

It will take time. It will take commitment. It will take further development. However, I believe that it’s possible to see this sort of program developed across all three divisions in due time.


Joshua Smalley is a High School teacher at ICS whose life's work is to show people the beauty in the world around them and experience it with them.