Strengthening a school community with Prezi Video

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When my school, Great Valley Academy, in Modesto, California was faced with moving from classroom learning to distance learning, as the principal I was also faced with the challenge of fulfilling our mission: to create a safe and loved learning environment where all students develop foundational thinking skills and positive character traits to achieve their greatest potential.

My ultimate goal was to reach our school community (students, staff, and parents) on a daily basis in order to keep the human connection in our new normal and maintain our community and student growth. The principal at our sister school was using Prezi Video and with his encouragement, I decided to give it a try. I am not an overly technical person, but I was motivated to push boundaries and come up with an innovative way to provide consistent and clear communication with the school community.

This morning announcements highlights a cartoon to start, then continues to outline specific things to work on for distance learning at home.  It continues to outline our caring habit focus of the week, SUPPORTING, along with the quote of the week.  We end things with a few reminders and the sign off to give it some closure.

Besides being easy to use, Prezi Video provides a nice balance for my auditory and visual learners. I am able to support what I am saying with images, text, and other visuals. It is efficient. It adds depth to my messages and provides focus on my key messages without taking up hard drive space.

This morning announcement for April 13th carries a somewhat similar format and structure to increase clarity of communication. We highlighted a riddle to start and will answer the riddle the following day in order to give students a sense of anticipation, which hopefully makes them more apt to tune in the next day to find out what the answer is. We continue with announcements for yearbook purchases and a change in the lunch distribution schedule, then follow up with specific things to work on for distance learning at home. It continues to outline the caring habit focus of the week, ACCEPTING, and ends with the sign-off for closure.

School community and connection drives all we do at Great Valley Academy. Since I created the very first morning announcement on Prezi Video, the parents at my school have told me how much it means to them. My daily message provides a routine and structure for their students and sets a positive tone for their school day. In these video messages, I include announcements, steps to success, and a character connection. I have even added a riddle or fun comic, too. But what I have discovered is that I am providing a common language for everyone to use. Parents can talk to their children about what I’ve said and teachers can carry my messages throughout their lessons and communications with their students.

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Even when we are back on our campus, I plan on continuing to use Prezi Video. I’ve even begun to think about how I can use it in other ways. I am considering using it to provide a monthly update to my school board. Our school counselors have started  using it to help students develop social and resiliency skills, and they are also planning on creating a bank of videos that highlight each of our 7 Caring Habits. I also want to use it to create videos that address common school behaviors like voice level. Having these videos will create a reference library that will help all staff carry the same consistent message throughout our community.

If you, as a school leader or a teacher, want to try using video to support your online learning, here are three tips I would offer:

  1. Keep it simple and short. A 3 to 4-minute video is the sweet spot.

  2. Don’t be perfect – your imperfections make your connection to the audience more human and you will grow and learn through practice.

  3. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be innovative. Find new ways to effectively grow your school community.

Prezi has some great tools to help educators get started with Prezi Video, including this Teacher’s Guide and this gallery of online teaching examples created by a diverse group of teachers with different classroom needs.

Despite these challenging times, it is now more important than ever for us as educators to rise to the occasion and push our communities for quality online learning. I challenge you to do the same, and most importantly, to stay connected to our students, as it is this connection that supports and enables each of us as learners, and as humans.

Mike Ruehle is the principal at Great Valley Academy in Modesto, California. He is a lifetime educator who believes in pushing the boundaries of what is possible and creating a caring connection with all learners. In his spare time, Mike is an avid gardener and has a fine appreciation for the oddities of life.

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