Channeling my inner Mr. Rogers

pink treeI’ve always liked talking to students, even if they’re “in trouble.”  I find it healing for me and for them.  I “channel my inner Mr. Rogers,” and try to see the world from a kid’s perspective.

When we moved to remote learning last month, I knew we had use video to bring our presence to the students—our inner “Mr. Rogers.”  We scheduled bi-weekly video conferences with classes (“office hours”) and taught teachers how to make video lessons.

However, at the beginning, a few teachers were camera-shy and made video lessons without their faces showing (the “screencasting” program we’re using gives the option of presenting a lesson with or without a video image of the presenter, so kids might just hear a voice narrating a Powerpoint).  I made two points to the teachers: one, in a school of English Language Learners, it’s crucial for kids to both hear and see the language being spoken.  Two, the kids miss us.

Teachers really heard me on these points, and within a week, all teachers were inserting themselves into their videos, rather than just having their voices speak over slides.

Then there was the matter of me making a video for the students.  As the principal, I felt I should do some kind of video to help the kids make sense of their new online education.

I was just stuck on how to start.

Let me start by explaining some of my advantages: I live with a professional filmmaker.  My boyfriend, Sathya, produces his own web series, works as a video editor for a financial institution, and has over 20 years of experience doing all aspects of video including camerawork, directing, editing, and writing.

Then there is me: I actually majored in film in college.  I just hadn’t made any videos in 20 years.  Maybe because of these advantages, I was holding myself to an extremely high standard.

With Sathya’s encouragement, I wrote a script.  When it came time to record, I fussed over my hair and retied my scarf several times. I felt stiff speaking and as I watched the footage, I was incredibly critical of myself: “Why did I flip my head in that weird way?”

That first video took a few days to complete.  The end result was fantastic due to Sathya’s filmmaking skills, and we even made Spanish and Arabic-language versions that we could share with parents.

And getting started was all it took.  In the past two weeks, I’ve made four videos* for our students on my own, each one easier than the last.  I used the same screencasting program my teachers are using.  The videos were less professional than the one I made with Sathya, but they were clear, fun, and kid-friendly.  I didn’t fuss over my hair or clothes, and I spoke from the heart.  I even got my teachers together on a Zoom call, and we recorded a message as a team to inspire our students.

I also see an evolution in my teachers’ videos.  More and more, before they get to math, or English, or a home cardio workout, they take the time to express how much they miss their students, or they start with some silliness and humor to lighten their students’ day.   I’m touched by their sincerity.

When I was a film major in college, I had the idea that that to be a “legitimate” filmmaker, I needed to be cutting-edge, highly original, maybe even dark.  I would never have pictured making kid-friendly videos and using Mr. Rogers as my inspiration.  Through remote learning, I’ve re-discovered how much I love speaking to kids, expressing compassion for who they are, communicating their own greatness to them.  And as I edit my videos, I’ve found that I like the person speaking as much as I like the people I’m speaking to.

Photo credit: Stanley Zimney, Creative Commons License

*Here’s a link to one of my videos.


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