You’re a school leader who wants to mix things up and experiment with videos to get your message across to students.
Don’t worry. It’s really not as hard as you think, said David Schexnaydre, the principal of Harry Hurst Middle School in St. Charles Parish, La., who pivoted to weekly Monday morning videos five years ago.
Videos are another way for Schexnaydre to connect with his 750 students, reinforce the school’s core mission and values, and highlight students’ accomplishments.
TikTok and YouTube are often blamed for distracting students and fueling unhealthy trends, but Schexnaydre credits the move with improving students’ perception of their school, getting student buy-in for key initiatives, and reducing student discipline referrals.
Here’s how to use the tools to benefit your school.
1. Don’t spend a lot of time or money.
The videos can be recorded on an iPhone and edited using cheap or free software. There’s undoubtedly someone in the building—a teacher, paraprofessional, or student, perhaps?—who’s skilled at video editing. It takes Schexnaydre about an hour to plan, write, and film the episodes. They’re edited over the weekend and sent to teachers on Sunday for Monday viewing in students’ homerooms.
2. No, you don’t have to be an expert.
It’s one of those times when you absolutely shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and dive in. You’ll learn and improve along the way.
Schexnaydre’s early videos featured him primarily speaking directly to the camera. Now, he and Larry Spencer, the school’s tech-paraprofessional who films and edits the videos, use graphics and more sophisticated visual elements. Schexnaydre’s advice? Use some of that wisdom you dispense to teachers and students. “You learn stuff by doing,” he said. “When you walk into a math class on the first day, you don’t know how to do all this stuff. You’re going to have to try until you get good at it.”
3. Emphasize the school’s themes and focus areas.
If the goal is to improve climate and culture, use the videos to reinforce the school’s themes, mission and core values. Harry Hurst Middle School’s core values—honesty, unity, respect, self-motivation, and tolerance—are permanent touchstones in Schexnaydre’s video episodes. He finds ways to tie them to current events and other things in the news.
At first, students were skeptical when Schexnaydre was trying to get them on board with his mindfulness initiatives. “They were like, ‘You want me to close my eyes and breathe? That’s ridiculous. I’m not doing that,’ ” he recalled. But a clip of basketball superstar LeBron James meditating before an NBA game proved to be particularly helpful in getting students to see things a little differently, Schexnaydre said.
Mindfulness, he said, is now cool at the school, in part, because of the videos. Consistency and repetition also help. Schexnaydre ends each video with the school’s tag line, “Better Than Yesterday.”
4. Give others a chance to get involved.
While the principal is the main voice, find ways to include other members of the school community, including students and teachers, in the videos. Recognize students for their accomplishments. Find opportunities to get students involved and invested.
Schexnaydre’s school had a running competition this year to see which grades most exemplified the school’s core values, with weekly tallies and winners featured in the videos.
5. Keep it light, but don’t ignore the serious stuff.
The videos should maintain their light and breezy tone, but they can be used as a springboard to surface serious issues that will be addressed off-camera. When too many students were arriving at school without their IDs, Schexnaydre added a short, funny piece in one of the videos to bring attention to the problem. He did the same to remind students to take better care of their Chromebooks.
“If I do address the serious stuff on the video, I try to do it in a way that’s still tasteful and strategic,” he said. “You don’t want to ever do things that could come off as being resentful or mean-spirited. I may do a fun thing about it in the video, but I take action. … People don’t see that side of it.”
Remember: You don’t have to be an expert or even have that much familiarity with social media to try your hand at videos. If the newsletters and intercom messages are not doing the trick, why not try something else? Schexnaydre wasn’t on YouTube before he started his video messages, and he’d only heard of TikTok when students suggested that he post funny outtakes to the growing platform.
“I just thought that if I could record myself talking to kids, that would help me build a school culture that I wanted,” he said.
“I just believe that when you have an idea in schools that can benefit somebody, you’ve got to try it,” he added. “So we tried it, and we continued to get a little better, and a little better.”