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Instant Messaging

Problem: It's not always easy for a superintendent or building principal to get a message to teacher

Problem: It's not always easy for a superintendent or building principal to get a message to teachers quickly without either calling and disrupting their lesson or disturbing the whole school with an announcement over the loud speaker. But one Missouri school district, which has 2,450 students and 378 staff members, has found a quiet and fast way to communicate with the staff in each of its four school buildings: instant messaging.

Solution: The Kirksville R-III School District in Missouri is using an instant message software program to contact teachers and staff directly. Staff members say they use the instant messages for everything from daily school bulletins to letting a teacher know a student is on the way back from the office or the nurse. At Kirksville High School the instant message system, called e/pop from WiredRed, is used to distribute the daily bulletin, the absentee list and the weekly athletic schedule. At Kirksville Middle School, the instant message system has replaced the intercom. At Ray Miller Elementary School and Kirksville Primary School, building administrators use it to communicate with staff and inform custodians of situations.

Randy Reynolds, technology education instructor and Webmaster of Kirksville High School, says teachers find the system helpful because they don't have to make or take phone calls in the middle of lessons. Nor do they have to walk down to the central office to retrieve written messages or information. All teachers in the district have a computer at their desk, he says. As long as the computer is turned on, the teachers have access to their instant messages. They can also control the instant message so if they are using an interactive whiteboard for a lesson, they can hide the instant message so it doesn't pop up in front of the entire class. Teachers and administrators can send messages to just one person, two or three people at once, or everyone in the district. They can also tell who is not online to receive the message. The system cost the district about $3,000 with the company's educational discount, Reynolds says.

Administrators say the instant message system is especially useful for security situations, weather announcements and to quickly quell rumors and keep staff abreast of developing situations. For example, the messages were recently used to notify high school staff members that police were searching the parking lot with drug-sniffing dogs but had found nothing in any cars.

" We'd be lost without [the] instant messaging program. It's just a great communication tool.I can IM the superintendent and I'm not invading his time and anyone can answer back whenever they have the opportunity." -Randy Reynolds, technology education instructor

Pam Wilgus, assistant principal of Kirksville Middle School, which has 560 6-8 grade students, says the instant message system is quicker to use than sending out e-mails and also saves central office staff time on printing and copying memos and bulletins.

"If we want to survey our staff we can put it out on e/pop,'' says Wilgus.

Kirksville High School Principal Patrick Williams says the instant messages saves valuable time.

"I used to have a secretary type all the bulletins and now she just opens up e/pop,'' says Williams.

Williams said he used it recently to inform a teacher about a student whose mother had been killed in a car accident that morning.

School Superintendent Eugene J. Croarkin Jr. says that districts need to be cautious about how instant messaging is used. There have been instances, he says, where a teacher or staff member who meant to send a confidential message to just one other person sent it to the entire staff instead. And there have been other occasions where teachers have written inappropriate messages across the network.

Fran Silverman is a freelance writer based in Norwalk, Conn.