In this wonderful age of ever changing technology, there appears to be a notion that staff membersin schools will be available 24/7 via email.
The idea that students, parents, leadership teams and even other staff members can email each other at all times of the day and night is becoming almost rampant. In fact, this constant bombardment via email is causing some serious issues for many of our members as there is an expectation that they will answer emails either almost immediately or at least within a short time frame.
It appears that common behaviour for school staff members is that they will now respond to emails, prepare for classes, respond to emails, teach/assist, respond to emails, do duties, respond to emails, attend meetings, respond to emails, do marking, respond to emails, provide feedback, respond to emails . . . get the idea?
For example, let’s say a student works on an essay or assignment, perhaps until late into the evening and then emails the draft to the teacher expecting a reply as soon as possible. The teacher happens to be asleep late in the evening (remember why we celebrate May Day: eight hours work, eight hours recreation, eight hours sleep) so doesn’t read any emails until arriving at work the next day.
Lo and behold, not only is that email there but there’s also one from the student’s parent demanding to know why the draft essay hasn’t been commented on and a reply sent before the next school day. Just what was that teacher thinking? Heaven forbid they sleep in the night when there is work to be done!
Another example is one I experienced as a teaching principal a few years ago. On my teaching day, I didn’t always have a great deal of time to read and respond to emails, so I gave myself a rule: read and prioritise emails at 7.30am; 1pm (lunch break time) and then after school. There was one day though that I didn’t do the 1pm quick read so completely missed the email from the CSO offering some additional PD, on a first in, first served basis. When I called the contact person to explain my situation and asking for consideration for my staff, I was told it was too late and that I really should read my emails in a more timely manner. What? Was I expected to say, ‘Hang in there my 30 Year 3 students’ while I read and respond to the emails my employer sends me during my teaching time? Really? No I didn’t of course, because teaching the students was my core business and I decided that was more important than any email.
So, what can be done about it? As an IEU organiser I now say to members apply the reasonable person test:
Is it reasonable for you to read and answer emails at 7am or 9pm?
Is it reasonable for you to read and respond to emails on weekends? Is it reasonable for you to have a conversation with your school leadership team and put some boundaries around emails, from them, students and parents?
Is it reasonable for you to expect that your school leadership team will inform students and parents about those boundaries?
My observations just scratch the surface of this issue, but I’ll leave it up to you now to have the discussions. Let’s just say, I know you’ll use your professional judgement in this situation!
If you want the assistance of the Union, feel free to contact your IEU organiser.