I've worked in a tiny middle school with nine classrooms and 180 students and I've worked in a large middle school with four floors and just under one thousand students. In both schools, communication was an issue. How do you make everyone aware of everything? Administrators can get on the public announcement system every time something comes up—but that wears on everyone's patience relatively quickly and if I'm in the bathroom or out getting a cup of coffee, I still didn't get the message.
What I always wanted was something similar to Twitter
for maintaining an open line of communication within a school. The big problem with using Twitter for school-related business is that it's public and out in the open. I don't want to broadcast the fact that Johnny was suspended for egging the principal's Vespa to the entire world, but I would like to give a quick heads up to his teachers who may or may not be wondering where he is for the next week.
Let's put a more positive spin on it, shall we? Let's saying I'm planning an event and I want to invite ideas and feedback. In all likelihood, I don't have the time to run into everyone's room and solicit suggestions. What I want to do is to start a conversation. I also, one again, don't particularly want to have this conversation on Twitter because I'm not looking for some outsider's perspective. I have a very specific audience I'm looking to target.
I tried Yammer
, which didn't really work for me. First off, it's commerical—as in they want money. That's all fine and good, but its a turn off in the exploratory phase. Secondly, it put you into a network based on your email address. I work for the New York City Department of Education, which is a very large school district—as you can imagine—were we all have the same email domain. I'm not looking to communicate with Mr. Smith at a school 13 miles away in the Bronx, I want to communicate with that person down the hall.
Next stop, Laconica
, which fit the bill in being free but lacked polish and wasn't immediately easy to set up. I have a short attention span; if it's not easy, it doesn't happen. I did like, however, that it was open source, which means that someone with a bit more programming savvy than myself could adapt the code to fit specialized needs. I also liked the fact that it has groups.
I hit pay dirt, however, with P2
, a theme for Wordpress—a platform that I absolutely love and the one that powers the weblog you're reading now. It has the finesse of Wordpress along with the flexibility of an open-source product. You can use Wordpress to password protect the page and manage all of the details. As an added bonus, it uses beautiful type faces in its interface. Threaded replies also keep conversations organized and prevent you from getting lost in the sauce as sometimes happens on Twitter if not you're not following everyone involved in the conversation or if you missed the first beat.
There's a great video on P2 that takes you on a tour of the software that I've included. I'll go more into how to adapt this software for use in a school environment. Before I let you go though, I just to plant some thought seeds into your brain. Teachers, you could use P2 to facility discussions amongst your students. They could ask your questions, but also reply to one another and be the teacher to each other. IEP teams, I know its hard to meet—especially when you have a full course load. Perhaps P2 could help you discuss student progress ahead of the meeting and weigh different placement options.