In December of 2013, I put the finishing touches on my doctoral dissertation, uploaded it to ProQuest, and prepared to bury my research topic forever! But as you’ve probably experienced yourself, the Lord rarely carries us through a task simply as an exercise in futility. My topic–using administrator-generated video content to increase parental involvement–started as a labor of love and the epitome of a “convenience sample.” My community was gracious as I made mistakes and honed this craft of video messaging. In this short post, I’m happy to share what I am learning and have included this short video directed specifically to the CACE community to show you my video setup and share a couple of bonus tips!
Be concise. Busy parents indicated that between 2-3 minutes was an ideal length for a video. Though difficult to accomplish without the video feeling rushed, a short video is more likely to be watched in its totality.
Make it relevant. Advocate for upcoming events, share parenting tips, and let viewers know in a clear manner what you are hoping to accomplish. Email generally dulls tone, but a video can accurately show how passionate you are about a topic.
Don’t waste their time! Avoid the trap of getting video-happy. If you make videos for every little thing, you can easily turn the medium into white noise, the very thing you are trying to avoid by sending a video! You want parents to be glad they took the time to watch what you had to communicate. You want parents saying, “Oh cool! Here’s another video!” Not, “Great. Another video.”
Produce a quality product. We are all accustomed to viewing a video that is well done, so a video with poor sound or picture quality won’t cut it. In fact, a poorly produced video could do more harm than good as it makes you and your school look incompetent. So if you are going to spend the time shooting it, do it right! Here are a few items production tips:
Lighting is key. There’s a bad pun in that title that only true “vidiots” understand. You don’t need to buy lights or make your own studio, although if you plan to regularly produce videos, it may not be a bad idea. You can start by facing a window and placing your camera between you and the window. Digital video sensors don’t like low-lighting situations, so they fill in shadows with grainy pixelation. If I’m videoing outside, I like to shoot in the shade with a shaded background. (Standing in the sun casts hard shadows on your face revealing to everyone just how hard being a school administrator is on your physical appearance!) A bright background will just confuse the sensor. So wherever you shoot, take a short clip and preview it before delivering the whole video.
Capture quality sound. Buy a lapel (lavalier) microphone. Yes, you can use your phone, but you need better quality audio than what comes from your phone. There are several inexpensive options online that will plug into your phone and clip right on your shirt–either wired or wirelessly. Just plug in the mic and hit record–nothing to it. This small investment will set your video quality apart.
Consider your background. We work in schools, so it is fine to have some movement in the background (kids on a playground, etc.), but make sure that you maintain enough distance from any distraction. Again, a lapel mic will drown out most background noise. I like to video in a different area of campus each time just to showcase our facilities. The background can be a subtle reminder of the good things we have going on at our school.
Stabilize the camera. Use a tripod or even a stack of books. A handheld, shaky image is a constant distraction. Get it situated and stable somewhere.
Use simple edits. I shoot my video enough times to get it all in one take. I fade in from black, fade out to black, and put my school logo and website up for 4 seconds at the end of each video. Simple. I do all that in iMovie, which is a standard install in all Apple products. Each step was super-simple to learn with the help of a couple YouTube tutorials. Don’t sluff these steps off on someone else: if you are reading this blog, then you have enough skills to edit your own video. I don’t advocate for slick video intros and other fluff. The product can be relational and professional video without being flashy and overdone.
Be you. The Lord made only one you. He placed you in your station on purpose, and at least part of that purpose is to lead the people He has entrusted to your care. Unfortunately, some people go catatonic when they hit the record button, putting on an act for their video audience. My suggestion here is to record by yourself and act like the camera is that one parent at your school who is always nice and loves most of the decisions you’ve made. Be sure to smile a lot and don’t be afraid to show your lovely affect, but be authentic. Do communicate emotion, as it is the silver bullet when it comes to video. Straight-forward information can be more simply communicated via an email.
There is so much competition for the attention of our students and their parents in today’s fast-paced and totally immersive digital culture. The competition for hearts and minds is being won and lost via video content, and your voice needs to be in the competition! Video is superior to email for the purpose of engagement; with the pandemic looming large, it may be irresponsible to prioritize face-to-face communication with parents. Even administrators like me who have a face for radio must get comfortable in front of a camera to compete with what the world is selling. Our confidence comes in what we promote: the kingdom of God.
Joey Richards is in his 20th year as an educator, serving in both public and Christ-centered schools. He has held positions as a social studies and technology teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, and associate head of school. Dr. Richards is currently an Associate Head of School at Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas where he leads operations, technology, and special programs. He has an undergraduate degree in education from Hardin-Simmons University, holds a M.Ed. in Educational Administration from Tarleton State University, and in 2013 achieved an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Texas Wesleyan University. Connect with Dr. Richards via email at firstname.lastname@example.org