E-mail etiquette for teachers


When I started teaching back in 1999 e-mail was the new cool thing in schools. In the 17 years or so since I have seen some hilarious things. Near the top of my list come:
  • an e-mail from a deputy head on e-mail etiquette that was itself littered with typos (and not in an ironic way!)
  • the history department being branded the shitory department following a series of unfortunate typos
  • a reply to all in which an-under-the-table deal between the director of sport and a teacher who rather fancied being free on Wednesday afternoons came to light: 'I thought we'd agreed you'd say I was doing badminton!'
In last week's TIDE podcast Doug Belshaw and Dai Barnes discussed some of the ins-and-outs of e-mail etiquette for teachers. Here is what they suggested, along with some things of my own that I've picked up over the years:
  1. Reply to all e-mails addressed directly to you within 24 hours - even if just with a holding response. Oh, if only a few more people did this... E-mail is like marking: if you don't keep on top of it you'll soon get buried. Little and often is the key. I personally suggest doing it in blocks or else it has the potential to swamp you with 'busy work'. Cal Newport makes a very useful distinction between 'hard work' and 'hard to do work' here which is worth a read in this regard.
  2. Treat e-mails from pupils and your direct reports with exactly the same courtesy as you do those of your own line managers.
  3. Try using smileys to convey cheerfulness. I wouldn't suggest doing this to parents, or in e-mails which need to convey an element of formality, but I would suggest doing it in almost all other situations. I started doing this a year or so ago. It can change an e-mail that would otherwise seem curt - even rude - into something much more palatable -:)
  4. In a similar vein, always be unfailingly courteous in your e-mails. Too many people rub others up in the wrong way with careless use of words. If you need to have a 'difficult conversation' have it face to face. Then, and only then, if you must, follow up with an e-mail confirming in a matter-of-fact way what was discussed.
  5. When e-mailing parents always start off with formal forms of address. Thereafter I have found the sooner you can get on first name terms the better. A useful technique I learnt years ago is to suffix their first name with an ('if I may'). As in Dear Angela (if I may)... This is a good way of making the leap to first names without sounding presumptuous (no-one has ever replied to me 'no you may not'!)
  6. Avoid Bcc in almost all instances. It is especially underhand to Bcc in a line-manager when e-mailing one of your team. Be open, be honest.
  7. One situation where you might like to adopt Bcc is to remove someone from a discussion which they started, but which they no longer need to be part of. As in: 'moving you to Bcc now to save your inbox..' Moving someone to the Bcc field in this way means they are left out of subsequent replies to a thread. I've not tried this yet, but it makes sense.
  8. Think carefully about other people's inboxes - do you really need to send a particular message to all the staff? If little Jonny has lost his scarf and sending a message to all is the only way of dealing with the issue you really need to sort out a different channel for your school. At Oswestry we use a Google sites announcement page to which I have appended a script that scrapes all the messages from the last 24hrs into an e-mail digest, sent to anyone who's subscribed.
  9. Do check for typos. You are a teacher - an e-mail littered with misspellings gives a bad impression. I use Grammarly which does a pretty good job of saving me from the worst blushes.
  10. Never respond to an angry e-mail. Ring the person up or arrange to meet them in person. A shouting match in BOLD TYPE is a waste of everyone's time.
  11. Don't send e-mails late on a Friday night after you've had a few drinks. Wait until Saturday.

Do you have any other tips you'd add to these? If so, I'd love to hear from you!

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