Rediscovering Your District’s History through Video

This summer, our department received an interesting task from our human resources department. They asked us to create a video to encompass the history of our district for administrators and new employees.

It seemed like a simple assignment, until we started doing research and writing a script for the history of a district that went all of the way back to 1846. After weeks of script writing, filming and pulling photos from our archives, we produced the final video in late July. We were able to encompass nearly 170 years of district history in about 17 minutes! Admittedly, I am a documentary nerd, so I really enjoyed this project.

What we discovered through the process was the positive connection we could make with our employees, students and community through video and social media.

Our first official screening of the video was to our 800 employees during our annual district convocation. Ninety-six percent of our staff gave the video an excellent review in our post-event survey, and the anecdotal comments showed many positive comments from employees. Many said they felt a deeper connection to the district by better understanding its history.

A week later, we shared the video on social media, and within a few days had more than 2,400 views on YouTube. The video reached nearly 10,000 of our Facebook fans, which is an extraordinarily high amount for the Ritenour School District page.

The comments by our fans were even more humbling. “Fills me with Ritenour pride! And brought tears to my eyes,” said one fan. Another commented: “The things we learn about our past here on Facebook amazes me.”

We’ve had numerous requests to show the video at meetings within our community, and the overall positive response has been amazing.

The power of video is unmistakable. Who knew that one project introduced to us by our HR department could leave such a positive impression with so many people in our community?

Just in case you are interested and have about 17 minutes to spare, you can watch the video here:

Hyper Over Hyperlapse

That title might sound like space-age lingo, but many school communications professionals I know are beginning to get hyper about Hyperlapse, a new app created by Instagram that provides you with the capability to transform a normal-speed video into a time-lapse video.

Hyperlapse also stabilizes your videos, which makes viewers feel like they’re a part of the action. The app is currently available only on iOS, but is likely to be available on Google Play in the not-too-distant future.

The playback speed available on the app makes it fun to use. You can either use the default speed of 6x, or choose from 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 10x or 12x. At six times the speed, a 60-second video will be shrunk to a 10-second video, and a 90-second video will be shrunk down to 15 seconds — the maximum length of an Instagram video. If you plan to upload your video to YouTube or Vimeo, then you can make it a longer production.

Here are six cool ways you can use Hyperlapse to promote your schools:

1. Campus tour: Take your iPhone and videotape a walk around campus, through classrooms, playgrounds, the gymnasium, etc.
2. Get to Know Our Community: Give new or prospective families a quick look at your city or town. Travel to some of the landmarks, the parks, your schools, city hall, the mall, and create a time-lapse video of your travels. You can find a great example on YouTube, in this Hyperlapse look at the bridges of New York City.
3. Classroom activities: Use Hyperlapse as a fun way to videotape classroom activities, things being built, discussions taking place and students in action.
4. Special events: Wouldn’t the school’s annual Halloween parade be more interesting as a time-lapse video? What about the homecoming parade? And spirit week? What about videotaping the construction of the set for the high school musical in time-lapse?
5. Field trips: Recording highlights from class trips would be fun using Hyperlapse and Instagram. Take a look at how the National Aquarium in Baltimore recently used the app to film its Blacktip Reef.
6. Sporting events: Not everyone wants to sit through a full-length video of a football or basketball game. Using the app, you can produce a cool, sped-up video of much of the sports action in a thoroughly entertaining way. The routines of the cheerleading squad would be a super subject for a time-lapse video.
7. The arts: Hyperlapse can be used to videotape students as they’re painting a masterpiece, sculpting a ceramic bowl or rehearsing for the next concert.

You can find Hyperlapse on the iTunes store.

Testing the Common Core waters using social media

As the new school year begins, preparation for the new Common-Core-aligned tests is a hot topic across the nation. Our local newspaper did a feature article about the tests and how teachers are preparing, complete with examples of test questions for different grade levels. What do parents think of all this?

In PR, we always start with research. I decided to take the pulse on our district Facebook page, posting the article and asking, “What questions do you have about the Common Core curriculum and the Smarter Balanced tests?”

Parents responded with some thoughtful concerns and questions. Here’s a sample:

  • “I’ve forgotten all that high school math! How can I help my child?”
  • “My worry about the Common Core is that it is too much, too soon. Our kids need to learn how to learn, how to think, and how to problem-solve before all the memorizing starts.”
  • “What kind of 3rd grade math problem requires an hour to complete?”
  • “There is a serious problem when officials predict that 2/3 of students will fail the first year. I sure hope our kids are prepared to pass these grueling tests.”
  • “Where can I find the Common Core curriculum for my child’s grade level?”

People fear and speculate about what they don’t understand. To address misinformation and answer their questions, I built on our website a new Common Core FAQ on our website, and used social media to guide parents to it.

Next, I shared the FAQ with principals, helping them anticipate questions at Back-to-School night events.

As momentum builds toward the spring tests, I will continue to check in with our community to see what they are thinking about Common Core assessments. This two-way dialog will be an essential tool in preparing our community to understand what the tests entail, how our schools are preparing students to meet this new challenge, and what to expect from the first round of scores.

Has Your Supe Done the Ice Bucket Challenge Yet?

Unless you’ve been in a complete media blackout the last few weeks, you know that the ice bucket challenge to benefit ALS is sweeping social media.

This is a great opportunity to tap into a cultural moment and show how caring your boss is.

My superintendent’s video on our district Facebook page showed his daughter dumping a cooler on his head, while he stood below in his weekend casual T-shirt. My community got a glimpse into the man behind the title and how he is a family man and a good sport.

The post got 100 likes, and more importantly, it got a page reach of 4,308. People really wanted to see this side of him.

He challenged all our district administrators, and all the response videos from principals and their teams around the district are positively engaging our families.

What do you teach? The school PR person as lead teacher

As school communicators and marketers, our jobs are many times separated from the day-to-day educational elements of the classroom. Dealing with the media, working with vendors, spending time in the community — it can all feel so overwhelming. We sometimes forget the value in being the lead teacher on topics to do with social media, communications and digital citizenship. While time is sparse, school communicators should take stock in the value of providing professional development to teachers and being a resource to students. The bottom line is this helps create a team of responsible content makers and communicators (remember, you can’t be everywhere at once), and it helps you showcase the value of your knowledge, expertise and place in the district’s organization even further.

Teach Digital Citizenship
Provide professional development to administrators and teachers on the importance of responsible social media usage. Digital citizenship should be taught around nine key areas: online privacy, digital communications, etiquette, personal branding, digital health and wellness, copyright, plagiarism, digital access, and cyberbullying. Many issues school PR people must face result from fallout over inappropriate online activity. By becoming the lead educator on this topic, you are helping solve this problem. Teaching responsible usage to your colleagues can then be passed on to both students and parents.

Teach Social Media For The Classroom
We know that social media is a powerful tool of outreach to our audiences, but that can become even more powerful when teachers use it in the classroom. Social media are effective platforms for both student learning and a personal learning network for teachers and administrators. Moreover, these platforms can open up the classroom to parents and community and truly showcase student learning at its finest. From creating classroom YouTube channels that stream live Google Plus Hangouts On Air to hosting Vine and Instagram open house tours to showcasing student work in a science fair via Twitter, the meshing of student learning and social media can sometimes be the best PR of all. But teachers have to know how to effectively use it. Add value to your role by providing professional development on this. Be the go-to expert.

Teach Parents And Other Constituents
Hosting parent universities or senior citizen digital events can be valuable in creating digital literacy among key constituent groups. If you are using social media as a communications tool, it will become even more effective if your core audiences know how to consume the content you are putting out there. Parents and community members need to learn, too. Since we can’t do it alone, why not use students to help teach it? One of the best examples of this is the subject of a new documentary called “Cyber Seniors.”

Customer service is key, even on social media

Customer service is the root of PR.

Do you know who your customers are? Are they parents? Students? Staff? When we deal with them, do we do so with a smile? Whom do they come in contact with when they come to our schools? Does that person treat them with respect and kindness? We need to ask ourselves these questions to ensure our customers feel a part of the system. More pertinent to this blog, how do we deal with them on social media platforms?

It is easy to change your tone or slack on your customer service skills when you are not having a face-to-face conversation. It is important to remember, even when commenting, tweeting or sharing a photo, your presentation and response once it starts spreading, is equivalent to great customer service. Be helpful, positive and courteous. Share your message, but listen. Thank your followers, posters, friends and likes.

Hutto ISD reached out to fellow school PR pro Brad Domitrovich, from Georgetown ISD in Georgetown, Texas, who got us thinking about what customer service means to us and taught us some basic lessons on customer service, which we have been careful to follow on our social media pages:

1. Keep customers the priority: It’s important to make sure your customers’ needs are being met, especially on social media. Be sure to respond thoughtfully and completely.

2. Over-deliver when possible: Tone can come across in writing. Be sure your customers can read the smile on your face while engaged with you on social media.

3. Offer choices: Help your customers with their questions or concerns by offering several ways to communicate, providing several solutions or asking others to help.

4. Be access-approachable: Being on social media is a great first step to being accessible. Be sure you are approachable online. Encourage customers to engage, be kind and courteous and helpful.

5. Use logic, not emotion: It’s just as easy to lose your cool online. Remember, every customer deserves for you to pay attention and follow the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Image Excellence

Compelling, high-quality images make all the difference in whether viewers pay attention to your posts. And the better your images are and the easier they are to share, the more likely it is that someone will retweet, post, or share your content.


The Social Media Examiner provides a great resource, titled 15 Resources to Create Images for Social Media.

To summarize the key points:

  1. It’s a visual world — people expect to see high-quality images.
  2. Photos (free or purchased) are easy to find online.
  3. You can take better pictures by following some simple tips.
  4. Tools are available that can improve your images after the fact.
  5. Photos combined with quotes are very popular and generate increased engagement.

The recipe for social media success is equal parts creativity and technology. Taking advantage of these resources will ensure that your visitors enjoy what you serve.