Email is a great, convenient way to communicate. In many ways it can be exciting, similar to how we used to wait for the postman to deliver us that special letter that we had been waiting for. While there are similarities, there are a whole lot of frustrations around email to the point that some are claiming that it is ruining their life. I probably would not go as far as that but, certainly, email, is creating a lot of frustration, especially for teachers and support staff in schools.
There are a number of articles and blog posts on the Web that discuss the topic of email frustration in business and ways to improve staff morale by addressing email concerns that are worth a read but how do we address this problem in our schools?
For me, three key areas to address are to:
Reduce the number of ‘group’ emails. While group emails are useful, they should only be used sparingly. Whole staff emails should go through a filter, with only a few people in the school able to send them out or authorize someone to send them out. The biggest frustration with group email is when a message is sent out and it does not apply to more than half the audience. For example, a few teachers are late with writing their student reports, the school admin sends out a group-staff email reminding all teachers to get their reports in on time. Why clog up the inbox of a teacher who doing the right thing? Leaders need to find a better way to address the problem, which means going to the source of the problem itself. If you have to send a large group email that does not pertain to everyone, the email title could indicate who should read it.
Be clear in when you do not expect teachers to reply to emails. Leaders and teachers in schools who are worried about 24/7 work email need to be given boundaries. These boundaries must be clear and communicated to the student, teacher, support staff and parent body. It is quite reasonable to expect that emails are not to be read after a particular time in the evening, such as 5pm. It is quite reasonable to expect that replies to emails are not expected on weekends. Set the parameters and communicate. Of course, there will be emails sent during these times, so perhaps install a ‘send it later’ style function on your email, so that the communication can go first thing on Monday morning, as opposed to 9pm on a Friday night. As a leader myself, I am not a supporter of sending emails to my colleagues late at night, so I choose to send it the next morning.
Educate teachers and support staff in your school about the difference between the ‘To’, the ‘Cc’ and the ‘Bcc’ fields and work hard to remind everyone how to use them properly. Schools with personnel that are adept in using these fields appropriately, can save a lot of time for their colleagues. As a school you may wish to define what the Cc field is used for, especially whether you wish for people to take action, as this is often the most misunderstood part.
I am sure there are other frustrations with email in schools that I have not touched on, such as the use of ‘Reply-All’. Hopefully, these few pointers may lead to the people in your school having a more positive experience with the use of email that improves school culture; most importantly trying to give teachers a break from a constant stream of communication.
Great blog entry Richard; you’ve highlighted one of the factors that gets in the way of effective communication in schools (which is kind of ironic, as email & technology in general are supposed to make communication ‘easier’).
Another aspect I can think of is to what extent teachers & administrators have the SKILLS to communicate effectively; far too often it is ‘assumed’ that somebody in a position of responsibility automatically ‘knows’ how to engage with colleagues/co-workers. I’m wondering to whether there would be viability in offering professional development opportunities to educators in general on how to write/speak in a concise manner, which would then help them to identify who their target audience is.
I think workshops on developing collaborative relationships through effective communication are absolutely vital.
I am a firm believer in the second point you make. As a leader everything you do has a message, so for me it’s vital that you make sure you are setting a good and balanced example – ie, not sending that 02.30 email.