• 5 Tips for Creating Instructional Videos that Engage Students

    Posted by Kammas Kersch, Educational Innovation Specialist, Molly Schwemler, CCIU Communications on 3/29/2021 9:30:00 AM

     5 Tips for Creating Instructional Videos

    [Estimated Read Time: 2:30 Minutes]

    Over the last year, many educators have turned to instructional videos as a method for delivering content to students asynchronously. While our current circumstances may have increased the number of teachers using this strategy, using pre-designed video content to share important educational ideas, lessons and skills has been around for quite some time. Khan Academy has been using videos as a source of instruction since 2008, which initially began when Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan, began posting videos to YouTube to help tutor his cousin.

    To help you start implementing video content or improve the instructional videos you are creating, we have 5 key tips for creating engaging instructional videos for your students!

    1. Keep it short!
      It is more effective to record multiple short videos than a single long video, especially for younger students. A great rule of thumb is to use the grade level as the maximum number of minutes for your video (ex. 5th grade - 5-minute max video). Research from the University of Wisconsin supports shorter videos and encourages videos to be no longer than 15 minutes. If you keep the videos topical, they also become a great review resource for students when they need to focus on a particular concept.

    2. Make it topical
      One of the best parts about creating instructional videos is that your students can go back and refer to the videos any time they find themselves in need of a refresher on a particular topic. It is much more difficult for students to do this if each video attempts to cover multiple topics. When you outline the content to be covered in a particular unit, consider each piece of content as its own video. This will make it easier for you to create the videos you need and for students to utilize the videos.

    3. Plan it out
      Before pressing the record button, plan out what you want your video to include. This could mean sketching an outline, creating slides you plan to voice over or doing the calculations for practice problems you plan to cover. Some educators prefer to write out a script, others do not. How should you prepare? Consider how you would prepare to deliver this information if you were in front of your students and take a similar approach. Effective preparation will make recording much easier and faster!

    4. Be yourself
      When you teach face to face, your students enjoy the unique ways that your sense of humor and personality shine through in each lesson. The best instructional videos include your personality, too! It is a great idea to include the same puns, jokes and anecdotes that you would have if you were teaching the lesson in front of the class. Doing so will help your students remember the information and stay engaged with your instructional video.

    5. Leave room for imperfection
      When you are recording your instructional video, it is very possible that a dog barks, you misread a number or you have to rewrite a word. All of that is okay! When your students open your video to hear their very own teacher explaining a concept, they expect to hear your voice and your explanations. They are not expecting a perfectly produced Hollywood movie. You can edit and adjust your video as needed, but give yourself grace if there are imperfections.

    How can you utilize these tips to provide the best instructional experience for your students? Share your ideas in the comments!

    If you are interested in learning more about designing engaging asynchronous instruction and video content, the CCIU offers, you’re invited to participate in our STEM and Educational Innovation network.


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  • Leading from Afar: Strategies for Establishing Presence Even at a Distance (Part Two)

    Posted by Kylie Hand, Online Learning Coordinator and Molly Schwemler, CCIU Communications on 3/15/2021 8:00:00 AM

    Leading From Afar (Part 2)












    [Estimated Read Time: 3 Minutes]

    As the pandemic, and most recently, the winter weather, continue to throw twists and turns regarding returning to in-person learning, principals’ commitment to steady leadership and flexibility have been paramount for providing a sense of consistency and hope in their schools. Despite the potential of additional in-person opportunities on the horizon for students, many students will continue to engage in hybrid or virtual schooling. In our first post for school leaders on leading from afar, we established the need for principals’ instructional leadership presence among students and gave some strategies for virtual visibility.

    Whether your students are mostly virtual or beginning to return to in-person instruction, it is important to continue evaluating your current strategies for connecting with students and communicating their sense of belonging within the school culture while they are at home. While we know that school principals have a vital impact on student achievement, now principals truly can be two places at once - in students' at-home learning environment and in school buildings. Consider these additional strategies for leading from afar below and let us know what has worked well for you!

    1. Plan a Virtual Talent Show to Celebrate Student (OR Teacher) Talent
    2. Facilitate a Schoolwide Service Project
      • Getting students to feel part of something bigger than themselves while helping others can go a long way for connection right now. Collaborate with your student council or parent teacher organization to develop smaller teams and find worthwhile projects.

    3. Virtually Shadow a Student for a Day or a Week
      • Get insight into the online learning experience and bond with students who may need extra encouragement by participating in class with them. Take a look at Stanford school’s Shadow a Student Toolkit for guidance.

    4. Bring School Community to Students Wherever They Are! 
      • Although this doesn’t count as an entirely “online learning” strategy, having local, personalized presence within a community or neighborhood goes a long way in helping to increase student attendance and engagement. You don’t have to organize a car parade like some schools did in the spring 2020, but consider the positive impact of delivering simple recognitions, such as certificates or yard signs, incentive prizes, school materials and books. For an example, check out what Avon Grove School District did.
      • If you and your staff are making deliveries, consider including a meaningful momento: a framed 4x6 picture with a word of encouragement, a new book or a special bag with school “swag.” You can see what the Reading School District did in August of 2020.
      • You could also plan an outdoor neighborhood pop-up bus with giveaway information, school materials, on-the-ground tech support, books and fun! 
      • Don’t forget about sending surprises in the mail to students, too!

    5. Leverage Data to Help Determine Your Reach
      • Whether informal conversations or formal analytics, revisit data to see if you can better discern which strategies are reaching students. Are you having consistent participation? Are students watching your schoolwide announcements? Are you asking students for feedback? You’ll discover what strategies are working and which ones you may not want to continue.

    Give these ideas, or those from our previous post, a try and let us know how they worked for you in the comments. We also invite you to continue sharing any of your ideas and strategies for building relationships and instilling connection at a distance – we come up with our best solutions together!

    If you would like to connect with fellow Chester County principals, consider joining a cohort of the Principal Study Council for collaborative study and discourse! The Principal Study Council may already be well underway for this year, but you can learn more or email your interest in a future cohort to council leadership by visiting our information page.  

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  • Tips to Help You Ace Any Job Interview

    Posted by Amy Thompson, Human Resources Generalist, Molly Schwemler and Bill Freeman, CCIU Communications on 3/8/2021 8:00:00 AM

    [Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes]

    Interviewing for an exciting job opportunity can often feel very stressful, but it doesn’t need to! Referencing the following tips for before, during and after a job interview can help you feel less anxious and ensure that you make a good impression.

    Before the Interview: Preparing for Success
    The best way to set yourself up for success, calm pre-interview anxiety and get in the right mindset before a job interview even begins is to prepare in advance. If you’re wondering what should be on your Do’s and Don’ts for interview preparation, we’ve got you covered!


    • Wear professional or business casual attire appropriate for the position
    • Research the position and the program
    • Be able to briefly summarize your background
    • Prepare examples of relevant prior experience from recent positions
    • Know your strengths and weaknesses
    • Be honest, but find a positive spin for your weaknesses
    • Prepare two-three meaningful questions to ask about the position that demonstrate your passion and interest
    • Bring a few copies of your resume
    • Come with a notebook and pen in case you want to take notes and to show that you are very invested in the position


    • Wear hats, torn clothing, jeans (most of the time) or attire with offensive language or images
    • Transform a discussion about your strengths into bragging
    • Ask questions about compensation and benefits in the first interview

    During the Interview: Approaching it as a Conversation

    Alright, you’ve prepared for the interview, you’ve gone over the Do’s and Don’ts and your outfit is ready-now it’s time for the real thing.

    Approaching a job interview as a conversation with a stranger at a party may also sound like a stressful situation, but thinking of your interviewer(s) as regular people who want to get to know you really does help. Yes, they want to get to know you so they can evaluate if you would be a good fit for the position you are seeking, but if you can project confidence and articulate your strengths, you’re sure to stand out from the crowd! Take a look at our tips and strategies below to learn how you can effectively showcase your expertise.

    Introductions and Initial Communication

    • Remember to make eye contact, shake hands and be engaged 
    • There is often some small talk as you settle in to help create a more comfortable environment. Take a deep breath, get settled and relaxed (while remaining professional), turn off or silence your cell phone and have your notebook and pen in front of you

    Listen Carefully and Answer Clearly

    • Keep your answers on topic and thoughtful without being long-winded
    • Explain why you are interested in the position, answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses (remember that positive spin), talk about overcoming challenges, team and collaborative experience, and your flexibility and positive attitude (back these up with EXAMPLES)
    • Most of all, own your story and experience. Be honest, be you!
    • Ask a few final questions about the position and the organization as a whole
      • A great final question is “What are the next steps from here?”
    • At the end, thank the interviewer(s) for their time and show your sincerity and continued interest in the position

    After the Interview: Following Up

    You did it! Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and play some of your favorite music. Taking the steps to start off your career, seek a promotion or change your career are not easy, but whether you aced every question or you just did the best you could, you did it! Now, just one final step to leaving the company and the interviewer(s) with a great impression. Following up reminds interviewers of your interest (especially if they’ve seen a lot of candidates) and is as easy as the final tip below!

    • Send a brief thank you email or note

    Virtual Interviews: Applying These Tips to Virtual Interviews

    The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many events, activities and meetings to shift to a virtual format. Job interviews are no exception, as many interviews are now conducted through virtual meeting software like Zoom and Google Meet. These platforms can sometimes seem tricky and add an extra layer of stress, but the following tips should help you effectively connect through the screen.

    • Check your Wi-Fi and make sure you have a good, quality connection
    • If possible, use earbuds for better sound and microphone quality
    • Pick a location with no distractions for you or the interviewers
    • Make sure your name tag is your name. We aren’t sure it is you if it says “Dr. P. Epper” and it comes off as unprofessional.
    • Don’t try to hold your device and interview and please don’t drive during the interview
    • Be mindful of your background (i.e., offensive or unprofessional items, bed, clutter)
    • Ensure that your face is well lit
      • The light source should be in front of you, behind and above the camera
    • Have a backup device just in case
      • Zoom and Google Meet both run on smart phone apps if necessary, just make sure to stand your phone up so you are not holding your phone
    • Remember that the same dress standards as in person interviews apply

    Do you have other tips and tricks for acing a job interview that you would like to share? We want to know about it! Leave us a comment below. If you feel ready to interview with the CCIU, we’re also looking for passionate, dedicated candidates to fill critical roles that benefit children, families and the community. Check out our jobs database at!

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  • Leading from Afar: Strategies for Establishing Presence Even at a Distance (Part One)

    Posted by Kylie Hand, Online Learning Coordinator and Molly Schwemler, CCIU Communications on 3/1/2021 1:00:00 PM

    Leading From Afar











    [Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes]

    Throughout the pandemic, school principals have defined the term resilience. They have consistently restructured school schedules; remained positive; checked in with teachers, administrators and families; coordinated complex transportation needs; performed contact tracing; engaged with students in person and virtually and, on some remote learning days led from buildings with empty classrooms.

    Pandemic aside, establishing presence and principal leadership within a building of hundreds of students can be challenging. As school leaders, teachers and staff continue to work tirelessly to ensure that COVID-19 risks are mitigated and policies are followed, it has become even more challenging to be present. For many principals, some or perhaps all of their students are not even within physical proximity to greet upon arrival at school, connect with during dismissal or see in the hallway. Although online learning is important for keeping the community safe and continuing education at this time, many students engaged in at-home learning may be experiencing social and emotional disconnection from their school community.

    In Baruti “Principal Kafele’s” 2018 book, Is My School a Better School Because I Lead It?, he writes:

    "When I served as a principal, I was always very much aware of what my presence meant to my students. There was nothing accidental about it; my presence was very much by design...

    ...Your leadership presence conveys a message to students whether you want it to or not; the question is whether you are in control of that message. You must get a firm handle on what your presence should mean to your students and convey that with every word you speak and action you take.”

    Since presence is crucial for building relationships with students and instilling school connection, community and culture, we are sharing 10 effective strategies that school principals can use to establish presence even at a distance. Here are our first 5:

    1. Share Daily or Weekly Schoolwide Video Announcements
      • Create a schoolwide “classroom” in your learning management system and record announcements in advance. Schedule announcements to send to all students in your schoolwide classroom or be posted in the same location at a consistent time. Consider virtually co-hosting the announcements with some students.
      • If you don’t have the option to create a schoolwide class, ask teachers to post a link to your announcements (such as a Flipgrid page) in a prominent spot in their virtual classrooms.
      • Host the announcements from multiple locations within the school or even while you’re “on the move” to remind students of the place and people waiting for them to return. Consider adopting a #1minwalktowork like Dr. Joseph Sanfelippo!

    2. Post Engaging Questions for Your Students
      • Encourage students to interact with you or each other on discussion boards and give them different response options such as posting via video, audio or text.
      • Post polls that allow students to vote or answer fun questions. These can be huge hits when they involve the principal doing something “silly” or obscure like this example: Prairie Point Elementary surprise students by dressing up.

    3. Pop into Synchronous Classes to Walk Your “Virtual” Hallways!
      • Speak to your teachers about potentially popping into a class, co-teaching or being present as a special guest in the classroom on culminating project work sessions or presentation days.
      • When you do join a class, say “hi” to students in the chat upon joining and acknowledge strong questions, comments and effort.

    4. Drop into Asynchronous Classes, Too
      • Let your teachers know that you would like to randomly participate in discussion boards and potentially leave feedback on some students’ work or questions as a surprise to students.
      • Look at what students have been learning and send an announcement to the class complimenting their efforts and creative thinking.

    5. Host Virtual Lunches, Clubs and Meetings to Connect with Your Students
      • This could be done in small or large groups. You could even host a special guest like North Putnam High School did in their Lunch with the Principal.

    Stay tuned for even more ideas for effectively leading from afar coming your way soon! Give any or all of these ideas a try and let us know how they worked for you in the comments secton. We also invite you to share any of your ideas and strategies for building relationships and instilling connection at a distance.

    If you would like to connect with fellow Chester County principals, consider joining a cohort of the Principal Study Council for collaborative study and discourse! The Principal Study Council may already be well underway for this year, but you can learn more or email your interest in a future cohort to council leadership by visiting our information page.  

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  • Real Protection in a Virtual World: Five Key Cybersecurity Solutions for School Districts

    Posted by Jim Lukens, CCIU Systems Administrator and Molly Schwemler, CCIU Communications on 2/8/2021 3:00:00 PM

    [Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes]

    The past year was comprised of countless, previously unimaginable shifts in everything from the way we go about our daily lives to the typical ways we connect and learn. While students, families and education professionals throughout Pennsylvania have participated in virtual learning to some degree, it is fair to say that no one could have predicted that we would all be teaching, learning and connecting completely online for almost a year. Seemingly overnight, educators needed to rethink instruction methods, administrators had to devise solutions to keep the community safe and district technology professionals were tasked with connecting all of the dots, or rather wires, so that all students and educators would have an accessible virtual world of knowledge on their screens each week. 

    While virtual methods of connection and engagement have enabled learning to continue and remain vital as we all continue to navigate the pandemic, the safety and security of critical school district data, files and records and district systems are also a top priority for all technology professionals in education. Neglecting these crucial areas can leave sensitive district and student information open and vulnerable to cyber threats, including malicious software attacks, intentional overloading of servers and platforms, accidental deletion of critical records and more.

    As we work diligently to maintain virtual, hybrid and in-person learning systems and data, here are our top five tips for ensuring the security of all vital district and school data this year.  

    Regularly scheduled backups of heterogeneous platforms and physical servers over a secure infrastructure are critical for avoiding data loss in the event of an attack, server failure or deletion. To save on bandwidth following an initial full backup, try the fast backup approach in which only changed data is backed up after a full backup. Programs like Rubrik use this technique, also called an "incremental forever" backup model, to ensure maximum data and system security.

    Regular and fast backups are critical, but so are multiple backup copies! Consider backing up data to an offsite location and replicating to a remote location so that it is securely accessible in two places. The extra piece of mind offered by multiple backup copies cannot be underestimated.

    You’ve scheduled your backups and made multiple copies in secure locations, that must be enough to ensure your information is safe, right? Take your safety a step further by securing your backups. That data that you stored in an offsite and remote location should also be encrypted and protected. Creating encrypted and protected backups enhance the safety of your data as it is now immutable (unable to be changed) once in storage.

    Develop customized actions and monitoring to help protect against Ransomware attempts. Consistent monitoring, as well as the attention of technical professionals, can detect and report potential signs of a Ransomware attack like unusual file changes (files added, deleted, changed, encrypted). Certain systems can also be designed to learn normal file activity over time so that typical activity is distinguished from unusual file activity.

    In the unfortunate event of an attack, be prepared for the recovery process. If the previous strategies have been implemented, it will be much easier and faster for your team to recover compromised files, either to their original location or to a completely new location.

    Although cyber-attacks can appear to impact our systems when we least expect it, practicing and incorporating these strategies and tips into our usual security process can help us to not only react more effectively when our cybersecurity is threatened but also to prevent issues before they occur.

     Do you want to learn more about securing your district’s information and technology? Are you and your organization located in or around Chester County, PA? The CCIU offers reliable, cutting-edge services and continuous support capable of handling your needs! To speak to our Director of External Technology Services, Bryan Ruzenski, at the CCIU about our technology solutions and how you might benefit from our services, email or call: 484-237-5026. If you are specifically concerned about any of the cybersecurity threats or lack of existing districtwide solutions to the issues detailed in this article you might also benefit from discussing our Rubrik solution.

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