5 Email Protocol Tips for Schools

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What email advice could you offer your school to help reduce workload?

How familiar is this corridor conversation?

  • A) Have you seen my email?
  • B) No, I’ve been teaching.
  • A) Well, in a nutshell … blah, blah, blah.
  • B) [thinks patiently to themselves as they step more and more backwards] I will read it.

Nicky Morgan chose to highlight the issue of emails, focusing 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 in my school. How about yours?

After posting We Must Protect Our Staff From Emails online to safeguard teachers’ workload, I received a great response from assistant headteacher, @JamesMichie. I have decided to gather Michie’s tips and provide two of my own, to make this a workable policy for all schools to adopt.

Michie said, “we do not have an explicit ’email’ policy, but with the changes we are implementing with regards to email use, I think we will [curate]. Our current policy re: sending and replying to email is as follows …”

1. Checking Email:

During the school day, staff should only check email when they are not teaching. Outside of the school day staff are free to check and read their email at any time, to suit their preferred working pattern.

@TeacherToolkit says; is this possible? I know as teachers we need to be focused on teaching, but with the 20-50+ emails that some teachers may receive each day, is there anything wrong with a quick ‘sneak-peak-delete’ to help workload? The jury is out …

2. Sending/Replying to Email:

No email should be sent between the hours of 7:30PM and 7AM. This curfew is applied to encourage a better work-life balance and to make staff think more carefully about the emails they are sending. During the curfew, staff can draft emails and replies, but these must not be sent until 7AM the following day. Moreover, in terms of replies to both staff and parents, a 24 hour response time is expected from 7AM. Any emails that arrive in staff inboxes within the curfew are to be treated as though they arrived at 7AM.

@TeacherToolkit says; what is your policy for parents and students? Is there a priority over colleagues? Another suitable suggestion, is to provide staff with a ‘delayed email’ function. This will allow staff to work to the hours that suit them – should they wish to use email from home – which will help them keep on top of workload and information. An even better solution, is not to use your personal devices at home, for any work-related matters. End of story. But, is that the solution?

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Image: Shutterstock

3. ‘All Staff’ Emails:

Only the PA to the Principal has the ability to email ‘All Staff’. We have removed this function to cut down on the amount of unnecessary email that was coming into staff’s inboxes. Moreover, we have sought to encourage greater ‘intention’ when it comes to email. Only send email to the relevant people. Use the ‘CC’ correctly, which is to keep other people ‘looped in’ with no expectation of a reply from them.

@TeacherToolkit says; in our school, we have a daily ‘QK Today’ bulletin which captures all school life, news and events. It is a must read and significantly reduces the number of emails members of staff need to read.

4. Server:

@TeacherToolkit says; a serious alternative, is to programme the school network to only ‘push/fetch’ email from the ICT server between certain periods of the day. This would be very beneficial to all, but would be an extreme measure and would restrict emergency information being sent overnight for sickness, extreme events and so forth. Maybe staff encouraged to think better about emails is needed, with one person filtering out the ‘guff’? For example, speaking with individuals who send unnecessary emails to all staff.

One other issue with server restrictions, would be that it would force staff to use other methods of communication, such as their personal mobile phone if it meant an urgent message having to be shared. This would obviously be a no-no, but it does happen (sadly)!

5. Forwarding and Bcc:

@TeacherToolkit says; be clear about email etiquette. Do you need to reply and just say ‘thank you’? Have you got permission to forward someone else’s email onto another colleague? Why do you need to Bcc (Blind Carbon-copy) another colleague into an email? Does the recipient deserve not to know someone else is being informed?

Secondly, there is nothing worse when you see a reply you have written, forwarded onto to another colleague who you had not intended the email for. This is no fault of your own, but due to poor email etiquette on the part of the person who first received your email. Rather than editing original content, they may have lazily forwarded your email with ‘see Ross’ response below’, which may also have said something ‘not for their eyes’, or something that would have been better-said, face-to-face.

@JamesMichie I goes on to say; “these are the actions we have taken so far after years of it being ‘out of control’. The next step is to work on the professionalism and courtesy in emails; and to also do some training on some of the finer points of Outlook with staff to further improve the ‘intentionality’ of their emails For example, using ‘appointments’ where appropriate. It needs work and I imagine that we will eventually implement one policy, but we are at a stage where we are testing the waters and taking feedback from staff to refine and improve our approach.”

shutterstock_236592949 Men get depressed PC email computer

Image: Shutterstock

So, back to our familiar corridor conversation. Let’s try this;

  • A) Have you seen my email?
  • B) No, I’ve been teaching. [doesn’t stop walking] But I’ll read it tomorrow. Thanks! [walks off]

This is one way to eradicate pointless emails and duplicated corridor conversations. Either don’t respond to the email, or don’t catch yourself saying, “have you seen/read/thought about my email?”

We don’t want our teachers sitting in front of PCs all day. We want them in front of students! If you don’t need to send that email, don’t send it. Why not go for a walk around the school and speak to the member of staff face-to-face? You’ll feel better for it …

What do you think? What does your school do?


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