Today, one of my 2nd graders clicked on an ad at the bottom of my PortaPortal page and discovered a PBS Frontline video called “How Google Saved a School.” He watched the whole thing through, commenting at the end, “That was decent!”  I immediately found the video (using my PortaPortal page ad), Diigo bookmarked it and sent it out on Twitter.

Now, I could write a whole post about the unbelievable things going on in that school, but my mind turned to how Google might save MY school.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that my school is, well, how should I put it. Failing.  Our school culture leaves much to be desired, with students running through the halls, fights in the cafeteria and, unfortunately, much of the administration’s attention being focused on the ‘do-badders’ rather than the ‘do-gooders.’

We have been, since September, talking about starting an incentive program with ‘Bluford Bucks’ that students could earn for exhibiting positive behaviors at school.  They could then ‘buy’ prizes with the Bluford Bucks they had earned.  We talked, and speculated and talked.  Finally, in November, we received a sheet of 3 Bluford Bucks to photocopy with a short explanation of the concept in our boxes.  At the bottom of the explanation was a description of 2 ideas that our Climate Manager had in mind with a request for more ideas.  All I could think was “This is never going to work like this.”  Not because it wasn’t a good idea or wasn’t trying to be successful. It was just impossible that, by putting a sheet of Bluford Bucks in teachers’ boxes and saying, “Here’s this program, we’re not really sure how it’s going to work, but let’s do it!” that any program would work.

But I really want it to work.

We NEED an incentive program.  We need one with teacher buy-in. We need one that is well-thought out, well-planned and well-orchestrated.  That is something that one person cannot do alone.

In steps Google.

I decided, “Hey it’s my school, and if I want this to work, I’ve got to do something about it.”  I spread the word that I was starting a Bluford Bucks Committee and I set up our first meeting to be on a day when we had report conferences at night so I knew people would be in the building.

15 teachers showed up.  I was giddy.

The night before I had put together a Google Group for the committee, hoping that the committee would buy into it.  Anyone who works in a large school knows how hard it is to find time for people to meet, especially across disciplines and grade levels.  I figured a Google Group would solve that problem by allowing people to be part of the planning without having to find a common meeting time.

I collected email addresses at the meeting and made everyone a member.

At first, it was just me posting up discussions and sharing information.  A few people responded, and I knew that people were reading the posts because they would talk to me about them in school.  Then we went on Winter Break.

The group was quiet for a week over break.  This week, it has blossomed and bloomed.  People are responding to posts, responding to each other, taking on responsibilities and sharing them.

Tomorrow, thanks to the power of Google, we have a mobile school store on a cart decorated by one of our committee members, a pile of donated school supplies for the store, newly designed Bluford Bucks (in Photoshop by one of our committee members), volunteers ready to bring the cart around to show the students and explain the program, a script for the pitch and criteria for getting “Bluford Bucks,” administration support, and a team of teachers dedicated to making this program work.

Google might save my school.

I sent a message out to our committee members, quoting Angela Maiers: “Together we are smarter.” Were it not for the way that Google Groups allows members to share resources and communicate asynchronously (with a very user-friendly interface), none of this would have been accomplished.

It has been an amazing experience watching my colleagues step up and take the reigns.  It’s as if they’ve been itching for the opportunity.  What’s even more amazing is that all of this has been accomplished without the intervention (aside from offers of monetary support) from any administrators (they were made members of the group, so they’ve been able to follow what’s been going on).

Even if everything doesn’t pan out exactly how we planned it at first, the way we pulled together as a staff will have lasting effects in how we work together as a staff.

You can view our group here:


  1. Brian


    At West Philadelphia High School we are using Google Docs to the max! I set up a number of Google Spreadsheets so that each student in my academy has a log page with his/her name as the title of the Sheet. Whenever there is an event involving that student (positive or negative) the teacher who is involved records it in the google doc. That way, when another teacher wants to see how a student is doing, s/he can see any major events that occurred (like a cell phone confiscation, detention, phone call home, etc.). It started off slowly but now a number of teachers are buying in and it is really helping with the CSAP process.

  2. Brian


    We have all the students in our academy listed, so about 280. They are in separate workbooks, with roughly 30 students in one workbook (each on their own sheet).

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