Can you remember internal school communications before email? I can it was only 7 years ago in my career. If I wanted to give a message to a member of staff, I’d write a note and place it in their pigeon hole. If it was important, I’d staple the note closed and send a trusted pupil to hand deliver the message. If the message was to multiple members of staff, I’d photocopy the message and pigeon hole each one. Messages to the whole staff would entail lots of photocopying or the missive being placed on the staff notice board. As a senior leader in one school I even had my own section of the notice board.
I’m sure to many staff, the picture I paint seems to be one straight out of Mr Chips, so it is surprising how recent it really was.
One of the most regular complaints from my colleagues who are full-time teachers without a leadership role, hence delivering 26 out of 30 lessons in a week is the sheer volume of emails they may receive in a working day. Despairingly they will explain they just do not have time to read all the emails as they are teaching lessons. They do not want to have ‘outlook’ permanently on show on their computer as they are using the inter-active whiteboard and do not want emails flying across the screen as the pupils are working. Instead they will choose points of the day to read through their emails. The problem is that on some days there may be upwards of 30 emails to read.
Often the highest number of emails in the list are the ubiquitous ‘all staff’ email. I keep meaning to keep a record of the content of such emails over working week to quantify which are the most common messages: Lost personal items would probably be quite high on the list; car keys, a precious earring or a students coursework folder are all regularly emailed. Then there will emails of administration, report deadlines, focus of a meeting or a policy that I need everybody to have. Trips are often a source of email; who wants to go, who has been selected to go or a last gasp desperate plea for somebody else to help.
However there are also some emails that probably should never be sent. The teacher who has had a tough day and sends a impassioned plea about the behaviour of a certain group of pupils, the whole school activity that one colleague feels has been badly planned or the policy which has proved difficult to implement on that day. It is far too easy to sit there with steam coming out of your ears, to bash at the keyboard and press send. There are days when I can feel frustrated that a certain aspect of policy is not being kept to and I reach for the whole staff email but rather than pressing send, my resolution is to always wait to the next day and see if I still feel the same.
Once that email is sent, it’s too late to get it back, it’s out there. I’m sure that all school leaders will have had tricky conversations with a member of staff about an email that should not have been sent and there will be other colleagues who may have accidentally shared personal information by pressing that button. Plenty of such stories have made the national press, indeed one of my favourite current TV programmes ‘The Newsroom’ with former lovers in the main roles who shared their infidelity to the whole staff!
I often think the best solution is to remove the ‘all staff’ email address from the ICT system but instead give that responsibility to just one member of the administration staff who could send the email on their behalf. This would reduce emails and also ensure more controversial emails could not be sent.
Then I think of the missing pupil scenario even if it’s just a pupil late for a lesson, quickly sending an all staff email, means that such a child is rapidly found and potential safeguarding concerns can be dealt with. So removing the all staff email button remains on my list of thunks, yet to be resolved.
Paul Ainsworth is the Head of an 11-16 school. He has had four books published:
‘Get that Teaching Job’
‘Developing a self-evaluating school: A practical guide’