Tackling Email Culture in Schools

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Email Culture


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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How can teachers manage their emails better?

Originally invented to help us communicate better, today you would be forgiven for thinking that emails are unhelpful and a workload burden.

In 1993, I recall sitting alongside my head of department, observing them typing a message on a computer to another colleague who worked in the same building. Sending a message electronically was quite the revolution at the time, particularly in schools. Gone was the need to walk to the staffroom and post a slip of paper (memo) in 80 or 90 different pigeonholes. One email now did the same job, and I remember him feeling quite smug about the fact that his workload had improved. As a new teacher, I looked on with a sense of wonder…

Email research…

Fast forward almost 30 years and today, with the outburst of social media, mobile devices in everyone’s hands and application notifications 24/7, you can start to get a sense of why so many human beings are wishing to disconnect and where we have gone wrong with our email use. 

Time and time again, research into teacher workload suggests that teachers, working in independent and state schools in England are working in excess of 45 to 55 hours per week just to keep up with the day job. With most full-time teachers tied into the classroom to deliver ~20 hours of teaching per week, and with an endless pile of marking to do, trying to keep on top of an endless supply of email messages is an additional burden yet to be taken seriously.

An extra day’s work?

Over the last two decades, technology has entered the classroom with little consideration of a teacher’s contact ratio. Teachers are more and more connected to online software to provide rewards, registration and access to various pieces of technology to help improve the quality of teaching and learning.

I have used what functionality email apps provide to analyse my email behaviours to optimise the way in which I work. Over a three-month period, I analysed how many emails I sent and received as a deputy headteacher. In total, I was sent 2,063 emails by 493 people. One can get a sense we are more and more tied behind a desk, rather than with teaching staff or pupils. So, what can we do?

Email tips for teachers

  1. Think twice before sending an ‘all-staff email’…
  2. On that note, if you are copied into a ‘reply-all’ email, does everyone really need to read your response?
  3. Subscriptions: Conduct a monthly check and unsubscribe to any emails that you do not need.
  4. The next time someone stops you and asks face-to-face: “Have you seen my email?”, assume you can delete their email immediately…
  5. If your school doesn’t pay for your mobile phone contract, is it time to stop using your personal devices? If we don’t take a stand, we are all accepting that we are happy to pay for our contracts ourselves and read and reply to work emails to and from work, and at home! It’s not a matter of keeping your job or staying informed – something has to change!
  6. Based on my initial email research, messages sent during lunchtime and around the start of working hours Tuesday to Thursday received the best response rate from colleagues.
  7. To elicit any kinds of response from the reader, the sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words.
  8. Subject lines are a critical step in writing an email that will have a high open-rate. The ideal subject line only contains three or four words, excluding email conventions like Re: and Fwd: Asking a number of questions in an email also elicits a response. Ideally, the optimum is 1 to 3 questions in one email gave me a 50% response.
  9. Shorter sentences like this one also work.
  10. Finally, for goodness sake, switch your email settings to ‘pull’ not ‘push’. This means you choose when to receive emails rather than when the sender decides to interrupt you.

If it takes 5 minutes to compose an email, two or three minutes to read and that the average teacher is receiving at least 20 emails per day, over the working week, this equates to 10.5 additional hours work.

5 thoughts on “Tackling Email Culture in Schools

  1. Scheduled send, if available, is also worth a mention. Although you may be writing it at unsociable hours (I have a young family so often work late), it, at least, reduces feeding the ‘after hours work email’ culture.

  2. I do mails 3 mornings a week – the other two are higher order thinking mornings when I address strategic issues – this stops you from being a slave to your mail

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