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A brief guide to handling teacher emails

In my book ‘the elephant in the staffroom’ I briefly mentioned dealing with email, citing one interesting statistic from John Freeman’s that American corporate workers spend up to 40% of the day dealing with email, in the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot more about the teacher’s relationship with email and would like to extend my thoughts.

Email is almost always a disruption.

– You are in the middle of a lesson and you get an email reminding you of something you haven’t done.

– You are productively working through your to do list in the office when emails keep pinging – you just check because it may be important.

– You are sitting down to watch TV with your family and an email arrives at your device. Your mind is transported back to work.

Email is always a distraction from the thing that you are actually doing at the time. No one ever sits down and decides that their number one priority, the thing they are really working on at the minute, is answering email. So when an email pings in it stops us from what we are actually doing. How can we prevents email from wrecking our efficiency?

1. Like all other addictions try cutting down first. Check email first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. And perhaps at lunchtime if you really must.

2. Turn off email when teaching- don’t set a precedent of being constantly available and more importantly it is not fair on the class you are teaching. They need your full attention.

3. One of the reasons we feel we need to answer emails immediately is that we worry about forgetting them. In order to avoid this, create a ‘deal with me’ folder and move important/urgent emails to it so you don’t forget them. Deal with them when you have time.

4. Try to avoid email out of hours. If you do read them you don’t have to reply. Model work-life balance to staff and students; in some cases waiting will mean you give a better and calmer response. This week I received an email from a senior colleague that annoyed me. It was tempting to fire off an angry reply. By the morning I had decided he was right and was able to respond more logically.

5. Think about others. Don’t send email after hours (6-7pm) If you are tempted to email, use timed delivery or press save. I frequently draft emails on Sunday, save them and send first thing Monday morning.

6. Be polite. I have a friend who is a Deputy Head in a secondary school. He operates by the rule that if an email asking for something doesn’t contain a please or a thank you, then he ignores it. I rather like this.

BONUS : The other great interruptor is the telephone. A typical phone conversation in the staffroom involves the phrase ‘no, he/she’s teaching, can I take a message?’ I’m not sure what people think teachers are doing all day! (I wonder if there is a clue in the word ‘teacher’) One difference between teaching and other professions is that people’s lunch breaks are sacred in most jobs. How often do you ring an office to be told ‘Sorry, X is on lunch.’ Yet often in teaching phone callers get told ‘X is teaching. They have lunch at 12pm. Ring back then.’ Let’s stop dropping each other in it and actually respect each others lunch breaks.

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