Gold Standard: Support Your Schools in Video Storytelling

Dr. Steve Walts
Dr. Steve Walts

There is no doubt that videos are an effective way to tell the positive stories of our schools. And advancing technologies have made video storytelling more affordable and efficient. The increasing popularity of social media also has expanded the reach of video messaging.

In fact, according to, there are eight billion average daily views of videos on Facebook alone. So how do we best support our schools in using videos?

Educate and Inform Stakeholders

It is important to recognize how we can use videos. First, they should educate or inform. Ashland Elementary School in Prince William County Schools (PWCS) introduces teachers and staff to our community through video introductions. This is a great way to let parents and students know about staff members’ experience and other unique facts about them.

Another use for videos is recognition of staff and students. Check out how our district honors the teacher of the year through video storytelling.

Market Schools

Our district has discovered the effectiveness of videos in marketing schools and their programs. Cedar Point Elementary School has collaborated with Qualcomm to develop a tech lab that is available for field trips for all district elementary schools. We created a video to entice neighboring schools to visit the lab as well as to show our community the advanced technological instruction occurring at the school.

Because PWCS is a larger district (91,000 students and nearly 100 schools or centers), we can afford to support a centralized media production team. In addition to producing videos, our media production team members frequently reach out to schools. We provide guidance for schools when acquiring equipment, and train staff and students on basic camera operation, production techniques, storyboarding and basic editing.

Tips and Resources

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But even if your district doesn’t have a media production department, school principals and teachers can become video storytellers with inexpensive video cameras or a mobile phone. Some basic video tips:

  • Plan, prepare, perfect. It goes without saying, the more you prepare in advance, the better the finished product. Planning and preparation for a new project are sometimes neglected, and the product ultimately suffers. Spend the time upfront conducting a site survey, make notes of existing light sources and noise levels, and conduct pre-interviews with those you plan to feature. Make a list of needed gear and pack it yourself. This ensures that adapters, gaff tape, cords, tripods, connectors, etc. make it to the shoot.
  • Great sound is important. Think about it. If you’re watching a movie and you experience a random flicker here and there, or the image is in some way slightly degraded, you would probably continue viewing if the content had value. This is not true with audio. If the audio is not stellar, viewership drops off quickly, regardless of the content.

    Minimize background noise and use a microphone when you can. Many newer phones have great sound recording capabilities, and decent sound can be achieved following a couple of tips. Keep the phone as close to the subject as possible. Ensure any distracting noise is behind you or point the camera away from the distracting noise. Consider purchasing a phone-ready external lavalier or handheld microphone.
  • If the sun is out, use it. Any light source, including the sun, needs to be incorporated into your production plan. If outside, keep the sun at your back or use a reflector. A windshield sun screen with a reflective side works well in a pinch.
  • Use a tripod whenever possible. Minimize unwanted camera movement by using a tripod as much as possible. Monopods work well, too. If a tripod is not available, try the following: Keep a length of string, tied into a loop in your camera bag; insert one end of the loop under your foot and loop the other end over your camera; tighten and adjust the length as necessary to achieve an eye-level view. This back-up plan can really help stabilize a camera and makes it easier to hold the camera steady for long periods of time.

Additional resources include:

Tool for Principals

Andy Jacks, principal of Ashland Elementary School, is a great example of a school leader who has effectively created videos without the use of expensive camera equipment. Besides video teacher introductions (noted previously), he uses videos to:

You can find more video examples on Ashland’s YouTube channel.

Video can be a powerful communication tool for districts and individual schools. For more information on video storytelling, check out the Prince William County Schools’ 2018 NSPRA Seminar presentation.


Author Steve Walts is superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas, Va. He also is a past NSPRA Vice President at Large — Superintendent of Schools. Contact him at or