Stem the email avalanche - here's how!

In the July issue of Newsmonth, I wrote an article about emails as a form of communication in schools that appeared to resonate with many members. The feedback I’ve had about it has been amazing – both in positive and negative ways.

The positive things I’ve been told about are how some schools have already tackled the issue of emails by having clear and definite policies in place, detailing what is acceptable and not acceptable at staff and community levels. Some schools send a letter home to parents or have regular snippets in their school newsletters, detailing the expectations about using email as a form of communication. But some members told me about disabling the email function on their mobile phones to escape the dreaded ‘ding’ at all hours of the day and night.

There are still some schools where there is no regulation about emails as a form of communication, so I thought I’d share with you some examples of what you might be able to do at your school if emails are still the stuff of nightmares at your workplace.

Break up the email avalanche

A good starting point might be to determine if the email avalanche is from parents, school staff, students or somewhere else. I always knew when Year 2 students were learning about email at my last school, because they soon cottoned on that Mrs Forbes had a similar email address to them (firstname.lastname.domainname) and that as they knew my first name, they could email me lovely little comments. I also knew that they’d give up after a while when they realised it was nowhere near as much fun emailing the principal as they thought it would be!

But, in all seriousness, you need to know where the bulk of the email is coming from to determine exactly what needs to go into any policy.

Parents and emails

With parents and email, it’s good to be able to provide a simple letter at the start of the year, or in the school newsletter each term, which clearly outlines how email is to be used at your school. Because let’s face it, while emails might sometimes be a good source of communication, it’s when we have to deal with more confidential or complicated matters at school level, or in an emergency, that we’re much better off having a person to person chat than allowing a message to be misconstrued via email.

I’d suggest that a two to three day turnaround in answering parents’ emails would be reasonable – but that can certainly be up for discussion in a staff meeting. With that in mind, parents might also have access to information via a school website or blog; through newsletters and class notes or by simply calling the school office for a quick chat rather than always reverting to email.

Emails from colleagues

If emails seem to be coming thick and fast from your colleagues at school, including those members of the leadership team, then sometimes all it takes is a simple request for them to send fewer. As a chapter, you can meet and work out how you want to do this, perhaps with a gentle reminder that your day is taken up with school activities, so setting a timeframe for when you might read and respond could go a long way to letting you get on with your core business at school.

If all else fails….

For those of you working in classrooms, if all else fails, turn on the ‘out of office’ function each day, then see how long it takes for someone senior to actually come and see if you’re in your classroom teaching or not!

Karen Forbes