How One Texas School District Innovatively Uses Video To Train Teachers, Inform Parents, And Engage Students

Blake Minor, Assistant Principal of the James H. Baker 6th Grade Campus in La Porte, TX, turned to video in response to the growing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Using his iPad and Padcaster Starter Kit, Mr. Minor created socially distant teacher training videos to inform his staff while keeping them safe. Along with the new virtual teacher trainings, he saw video production as an opportunity to reshape the way his school shared important information with parents. Padcaster was lucky enough to speak to Mr. Minor about his virtual teacher trainings, how he uses the James H. Baker YouTube Channel to connect to parents, and his dedication to starting a video production program for his students.

Did you work with video before you started filming teacher trainings or was this your introduction into using video as an educational tool?

At the end of last year, I started messing around with video and that was the first time I got my hands on an iPad. I got used to using iMovie and doing a few things for kids but nothing major. It wasn't really a big part of any of the education of the teachers on our campus. I was really just kind of dabbling in it.

Then we went to the TCEA educational conference in Austin and after walking around and seeing all the different technology vendors, the Padcaster Starter Kit was one of the pieces of equipment that I knew I absolutely needed. I was already making plans to transition into doing a lot more video recording, like weekly announcements, and getting the kids involved before COVID even happened. Our high school has a huge video department so it was important to me to get a program started here and give the students the chance to start learning about video production. Maybe eventually we’ll even have an elective for it or a course they could take. That way when they get to the high school, they're coming in with some knowledge already.

Once I started using the Padcaster the two junior high campuses we have in our district came by and started asking questions about it. They’ve seen the videos I’ve posted and they said “Your videos look so much better than our videos. What are you doing?” And I showed them the Padcaster set-up that we have and they immediately said “we need to get on that”. I know they're talking about ordering the same set-up that we have and making similar videos because they’ve seen the things that I've been able to create with the Padcaster.

Tell me about your teacher training videos and how you got started.

When we first started talking about doing our teacher in-services, before the pandemic, the plan was to meet in the multipurpose room with teachers sitting four or five at a table, all grouped really close together.

When we started planning those trainings for this year we knew we had to figure out a solution so everyone could be socially distanced. We came up with the idea of the teachers staying in their separate classrooms and watching the trainings via videos. We then used the Padcaster to stream those lessons.

That's great! As You're streaming them are you also recording them for future use?

Correct. Once we record, then I take it, edit it, and post it to where they have access to the videos.

It’s going to be really great when we hire new teachers. Instead of them having to go through the whole training with me, talking to them, taking the time that I might not have, I can just give them the links to the videos. This way they can still have the same training that all our teachers received. 

These videos are especially useful for midyear hires because I’m usually super busy around that time and am not able to give them the same in-depth training that the teachers received at the beginning of the year. 

In the future will you continue to record teacher training? Even after the social distancing order has been lifted?

I will definitely continue to record everything and continue this process. The only difference would be that we would like to include the students as well and teach them to use the Padcaster.

How have the teachers been responding to the training videos? 

They enjoy it because they're able to be in their classroom. They can have the training playing on one screen while still being able to do other stuff in their own setting. Before when they would be all together in the multipurpose room, there would be 55 teachers altogether. Also, having the training over video allows them to pause and go back and listen if they need to. They've been really receptive and happy that we're giving them that option. 

Tell me about the James H Baker School YouTube Channel. I would love to know more about how you’re using the channel to communicate with parents and how they are responding to it. 

We started the channel as a way to get additional presence for parent interaction. When COVID first started and we were transitioning to virtual learning, we were sending a lot of emails. The parents complained that they were just getting bombarded with too many emails, too much text to read, and they didn't have time. 

So we started talking about how we could get them information digitally through video. YouTube just ended being the easiest platform for everyone to use. We still offer written versions of everything but YouTube is just so user friendly, everybody knows it and most parents already have accounts. This way they can subscribe to the channel and get updates that way as well as through the standard text emails from before.

Another reason we started creating informational videos was to give parents more options on how they are receiving information. For example, they can not only watch the videos but they listen to them while they’re driving, while they're cooking or what have you. They have a bunch of different options on how they want to access the information. 

Another great reason for us to use video for disseminating information is it enables me to film the video with a translator for our Spanish speaking parents and include an additional version of the video where a teacher has translated it into sign language. 

Do you have plans for videos besides the informational ones? Possibly student-made videos?

The plan is to have the student film the announcements once we get them all back on campus. Student-made videos were the main reason we bought the Padcaster Starter Kit. These parent videos were originally going to be a jumping-off point for our student announcements club, we wanted to have the kids be the stars and producers of the videos. 

The plan is to start them off weekly and release a video every Monday. Once they have that down, and the teacher gets more familiar with helping the students produce the videos, we'll move into where they’re releasing two to three a week, and then moving to every day of the week. Once we’ve reached the everyday phase we will make it an actual class because as of right now it’s just planned as an after-school club. 

Do you have any plans to film student events? Like sports games or plays?

We will definitely end up recording events. Our campus doesn't have any sports teams because we are just a sixth-grade campus, but I do know the junior high and high school in our district already do that. I definitely want to record our concerts. Once we're allowed to have them this year, I’ll start doing that but whatever we do, we will be recording a lot more stuff from now on.

Do you have any kind of advice for other schools that want to do the same things that you're doing? Were there any problems that you ran into that you could give advice on how to get past? 

My biggest piece of advice is getting the proper equipment, like a Padcaster. Having the correct setup, to me, is the most important part. The next part is understanding how to get your footage to where you’re going to edit it. I initially had to add a lot of issues with transferring the files from the iPad onto our computers, which are PCs. It was really frustrating in the beginning so I would recommend working closely with your technology department and make sure you know the exact method of how you're going to get your footage from the iPad to whichever deceive your editing on. Once you’ve got that down, you’re good.

Having the Padcaster set-up is what's made it easy for me and my team. The tripod is simple to set up and the sound is always good. I’ve already talked to our principal about purchasing more equipment because I’ve been able to show her how many different things we’ve been able to use this system for. 

Originally I was just explaining to her all of the different ways we could use the Padcaster and now I’ve been able to show her, and she sees the usefulness of it. We’re considering getting additional equipment, like the Padcaster Verse for phones. We are very interested in that and once we are able to use our set-up more it will further show her how valuable additional equipment will be. 

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