My baby, she wrote me a letter.
Thank goodness Principal Brooks has tackled this touchy subject: emails. For months now I’ve been thinking that some of the most urgently needed PD are business communication skills: I realize we educators like to think of ourselves as being superlative communicators, but alas, this is simply not the case, present company included.
Remember, I’m old. I’ve been in other careers before teaching, and in such was a digital pioneer with faxing, e-mails, Windows, Macs, etc. We still used Voice Mail then, and instead of cell phones, and now the beep-beep-boop Smartphones, we utilized pagers! And we ran to payphones to check in! AND–true story–had phone cards so we could make long distance calls from said payphones. I mean, the word ‘payphones’ is coming up as incorrect in Grammarly!! NO GRAMMARLY I AM NOT SPELLING PAYPHONES WRONG.
Yes, it was stressful.
Speaking of all caps: that was one of the first things we learned when using e-mail. The handling, or mishandling, of typography, stood in proxy of our voices. All caps means yelling. Everyone’s worked with someone who uses all caps, and they can change. I’ve seen it.
But aside from the obvious faux pas of all caps, there are much more subtle ways e-mails are awkward. Here are some do’s, don’ts, and some ideas in between:
- Just like Principal Brooks says, if it’s truly for the good of the group, send all staff/reply all. (Note to self: don’t overdo this.)
- If you need to send an all-staff email, make sure to preface which group you’re intending the information for, and that others may like it, too.
- It’s okay to send a personal event to the whole staff: you don’t know who might want to see your dressage event (I think that’s pretty cool!) or if there’s a new baby or grandbaby in the house (yes, please).
- It’s okay to hit the delete key and not get panties in a wad over an all-staff, too.
- Keep them short. You’re not being rude, you’re being efficient.
- Don’t keep them so short you don’t answer the questions, though. I’ve gotten a few emails that only half-answer my question.
- Exclamation marks aren’t necessary: I’ve noticed a trend that unless you use an exclamation mark you’re not showing the appropriate level of enthusiasm. This is actually a thing. (It’s a hard habit to break, though.)
Don’t feed the trolls.
If an email is used for any other purpose than (clear) communication, then maybe think before hitting send. And this is difficult to admit, but there are staff trolls, just like they’re trolls hiding under Internet bridges and gutters. They’re difficult to detect, and I believe very rare, but in this day and age, it seems that tone/voice trumps good manners, meaning one’s charisma or saying “it’s just the way I am” is an excuse for being rude. If email communication is used to make another colleague seem incompetent that’s not just bad manners, but possibly a human resource issue of creating a hostile work environment.
Please edit, or don’t send at all, if:
- The email names or outs another colleague that may be incorrect, untruthful, or damaging.
- The email includes asks for advice or help, make sure to thank everyone who weighs in: do not single out one response that is “wrong.” That’s trolling.
- The sage advice: don’t hit send when angry. Draft it. Let it sit.
- Finally: would this be better in person? If a colleague has trolled to the point of creating tears, document it, and take it up the chain.
Keep your sense of humor, though
Some misfired emails are funny, and unless you’re Secretary of State and a Russian hacker finds purchase in your email mountain, you probably don’t have much to worry about. Delete at will. Set up rules so that your admins’ emails go straight to the top. And always click on the baby picture links.