Take 5: Class in Session5 Tips for Videotaping in Schools

It’s that time of year when students return to the classroom with fresh shiny faces, new schedules and a plethora of activities to fill their calendars from now until June. Here’s a few tips to get you ready to hit the books, too.

1 – Defining Your Role

The most common types of videos in school are Events: plays, concerts, sports, etc.; Informational: public announcements, principal’s message; and Educational: daily or weekly newscasts conducted by the media arts class or class video projects. Which category you fall into determines your own involvement with shooting and editing the project. If it’s Events, whether for fun or profit, you simply need to know which ones to cover when and where. You and your assistant(s) will be doing most of the shooting and editing. If it’s Informational, you may be sharing the operation of the equipment with students and faculty. If it’s the Educational category, most of the gear will be operated by the students, and your position will be as a guide or trainer.


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2 – Be Prepared

OK. So that’s the Boy Scout motto, but it holds true to many things in life, and in video, managing your media should be a priority. You’re looking at nine months of activities, from school plays and sporting events to field trips and graduation. That’s a lot of shooting. So define your scope. Are you shooting just your own child, for one particular class, or for the entire school? Each has its own rules. Step 5 covers some of the legal. Being prepared can be as simple as having permission releases signed in advance and keeping track of school activities on a yearlong calendar. But most likely, you should take the time after every shoot to number the tape or media file, give it an obvious title – like 0109-sept, which means tape one, ninth month, September – and log it. Log it now, not in June!

3 – Go to the Head of the Class

If you’re going to be on campus for more than an occasional school activity, meet first with the school principal to explain yourself and find out what your limitations might be. Then ask to meet the teachers to explain who you are and what you’re doing. Determine how you will obtain school access, and know who’s in charge of each activity and defer to them at all times. Go to PTA or APT meetings and introduce yourself there. Protect yourself. Never allow yourself to be alone with any one child.

4 – Five W’s

Who: Don’t forget to get video of everyone associated with the project you’re covering: students, teachers and parents, including school support staff, like the secretary and custodian.
What: Video projects can be anything from a singular video like a chemistry demonstration, a compilation like a sports highlights reel or video yearbook, or something more personal like a thank-you to a special teacher.

When: You can edit your video in chronological order, September through June, or by event, Homecoming Dance, Spring Prom, etc.

Where: Opportunities aren’t always just at school. A field trip to a museum can be turned into a more extensive research project for the class.

Why: Kids can learn from the project by interviewing real people who witnessed history in the making or learning story-telling skills, composition and editing. Video works as a great teaching tool.

5 – Stay Legal

Video for just your own family’s use might simply require permission in advance to bring a camera to an event. For this, you should never hold a singular shot on any other child longer than a few seconds. Does this mean you can shoot only close-ups of your own child? Of course not. Do shoot lots of closeups of your child, but don’t forget to include variety in medium and wide shots, so the activity makes sense later on. Just be aware that in this age of internet creepiness, most parents are leery of video cameras pointed at their kids. If parents request that you don’t videotape their child, be polite and acknowledge the request. This is not an expos.

If you’re shooting your child’s class activities for the entire class, to be given to the students at the end of the term, then you need to get written permission from each child’s guardian on record. In this case, your final edited piece must include each child in the class. Don’t be exclusive, and don’t focus on just your own child or the popular kids.

If you are shooting for the entire school, written permission slips should be sent home to each parent at the beginning of the school year and to parents of children who join the school mid-term. Follow up with the teachers of children whose parents refuse to sign, so that you know which kids you have to exclude in advance. See? We told you it was a daunting task!

Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer and editor and Videomaker‘s Managing Editor.

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We recently received a letter from a reader in Washington, D.C., asking us to elaborate on this topic. Fredrick Weaver needs to shoot general scenes of children on playgrounds for a documentary and wants to disguise the kids’ identities, while adding a little more artistic edge to his video. Read our response here.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.