Why should we protect our teaching staff from emails?
Three years ago, I ‘thunked’ that all staff emails should be banned. They were just filling up staff inboxes with too many emails, ranging from the trivial, the lost item to the stressed out teacher sending out cries for help in the middle of the night.
At the start of this academic year, Nicky Morgan chose to highlight the issue of emails, focussing on the idea that teachers should not be expected to answer emails after 5pm each day. After lots of publicity around these comments, little seems to have happened as a result.
I currently support headteachers and senior leaders in a range of schools and certainly one of my key concerns is the stress they are under as they strive to raise the performance of their schools.
I talk to many leaders about the stress of opening an email at the wrong time. It would appear that the Friday night email can be worst. This is the email that derails a leader’s whole weekend and cause sleepless nights. Sometimes just knowing that email is there without even reading the concern can be enough to cause real stress.
Leaders explain that it is in the early morning hours that the issue can begin to swirl around their heads. They can be caught in a perpetual cycle of sitting down to answer to the email and over and over again, typing a reply and each time they press send, the nightmare starts again. I can vividly remember the sleepless nights of being a headteacher and recognise that the health and well-being of our staff is vital.
Turn It Off!
Some schools have looked at ideas from the continent, such as turning emails servers off at certain times. You could still send an email, but they would sit in ‘the ether’ and only be pushed at certain times. In many ways this would appear a good solution to protect well-being.
Some people say that this is an artificial act, which doesn’t replicate other walks of life. However I would argue that in teaching, this is due to circumstance. One of the issues that I see is the smart phone culture. We often say about students in our care that today, they can’t escape bullying. They are constantly linked to social media via their smart phones. The advice we give to many parents is to turn the phone off and to not be afraid of blocking people.
To some teachers, the constant work emails can also be a continual pressure, especially as many staff link their school emails to their personal phone. In industry as a matter of course people are given a work phone for work emails. I heard about one Multi-Academy Trust, which banned staff from placing their school emails on their personal phone. I’m sure this was probably more around e-security than staff well-being, but it does give staff the choice as to when they choose to look at work emails rather than it being constantly there.
One piece of advice I always give to new headteachers and senior leaders, is to request a work phone, which they have their work emails on. Their own personal phone is not linked up to work emails. For teaching staff, why link your phone to your work emails? If your school does not give you a phone, are they not saying that you should not answer work emails out of reasonable office hours? We need to remember, it is only those on a leadership spine whose working hours are governed by a reasonable request from the headteacher.
As a profession, we recognise that stress is such an issue amongst our colleagues and we need to continue the debate as to how we can manage this. We need to consider how we can protect our colleagues out of the classroom as well as within it.
How do you mange your personal devices and work emails?
If you are a headteacher, how do you manage this in your school and what solutions can you provide? Leave a comment below.
Written by former headteacher, @pkainsworth; Paul Ainsworth is an Academy Advisor for a Multi-Academy Trust.
His new book ‘Beginning Middle Leadership – Bloomsbury CPD Library’ is published in January 2015.
He’s written five previous books.
- Get that Teaching Job
- Developing a self-evaluating school: A practical guide
- The Senior Leader’s Yearbook: A handbook for implementing outstanding school systems
- The School Partnerships Handbook
- Tackling In-school Variation
Thanks to Gmail, I have uploaded my analysis of emails at work.
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