Emma Gleadhill is an ATL Rep and a Teacher of English at Wimbledon High School. She is also a Wellbeing in Schools Consultant, Speaker and Trainer.
In my work as a speaker and trainer at schools across the UK, email is frequently discussed as a source of workload pressure and stress. As an ATL rep, the damage ill-conceived emails can do to relationships on the ground in school is clear.
All teachers, form teachers, subject leaders and heads of year lose sleep over email bombs from disgruntled parents sent at the Chardonnay-fuelled witching hour. (And I should know, as a parent myself, I have been guilty of late-night email venting!). Teachers lose precious time and focus repeatedly checking bulging in-boxes. Sometimes this is relief from marking pedestrian assignments, or escaping the toll on the invention of report writing. For others constant checks arise from a Canute-style anxiety to feel ‘on top’ of the incoming tide of emails.
Various reports have indicated that the average office worker receives in excess of 120 emails daily. Email takes up 23% of the average working day. Numerous companies are now checking the impact of email on productivity. Of course we are teachers, not office workers. Many of us will be spending 80% of our working day at the chalk face. So we really have to watch when, where and how much email impinges. Few of us were hired for our ability to manage our inboxes. It is rare that staffrooms engage in quality dialogue about good practice where the email culture is concerned.
We may feel like we are multitasking with every smartphone check, but each time we switch tasks, there is a cognitive drag which hampers the depth, quality and speed of our thinking. More and more teachers have their work email on their mobiles, blurring the boundaries between work and home, and even task and task even further.
Workload rises – but we need to be sure that lack of focus is not hampering our effectiveness. We need to take back control of the technology and build a mindful and compassionate approach to screen-use.
- Schedule in set points on your timetabled day to check email. Stick to those. Don’t check email at any other time. This will help you really focus on sorting the relevance and action points you genuinely have to attend to.
- Set a time scale when you will reasonably participate in work emails (e.g. not after 6.00pm, not before 8am)
- Create folders to sort your emails. Have an archive for non-urgent information pieces you can go back to for professional development.
- Stop contributing to a culture of email presentee-ism. Consider the unconscious messages you are sending by responding to emails 24-7. Especially if you are in a leadership position… Be disciplined. Write the draft out of hours if you absolutely must. Delay sending messages to reasonable working hours.
- Have some well-worded holding responses or auto-responses to help manage expectations about turnaround – especially if requiring investigation.
- Set reminders to yourself, flag messages so that you don’t miss important deadlines.
- Be clear what your message is about. In the header and the first line. Cut waffle. I like the US Military ‘BLUF’ model: ‘Bottom Line Up Front’ protocol.
- If you are in a senior position never invite people to meet with you without briefly saying why. It spreads paranoia like wildfire.
- Consider are you really sending an email to your neighbour? Is it more effective to discuss…dare we say it…face to face?
- Don’t commit the cardinal sin of replying to all 250 of your colleagues – unless modelling wit AND professionalism (No pressure…)!
- Consult, agree and publicise clear protocols regarding email expectations e.g. no overnight responses.
- Ensure that clear procedures and lines of support are available for when complaints are made by parents online.
- Emphasise the importance of collaboration. Schools tend to run on principles of harmonisation: every risk assessed. But learning involves frustration and anxiety at times, so conflict is highly likely to occur.
- Consider developing a clear, one page communication policy setting out shared standards that will help build a listening culture for all stakeholders: pupils, parents, teachers, governors.