Emails and Teacher Morale
**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**
A guest post by Megel Barker
I overheard a conversation a few days ago between two of my colleagues. The text of the interchange was the concern with the frequency of emails and more importantly there was some doubt about the relevance of most of them. The conclusion centered round the idea that emails were a major distraction to the serious issue of teaching. One colleague signed off with a retort that maybe we were all better before emails.
This final utterance really made me think. I pondered what the world of teaching was like before emails became the daily deliverer of information. How did we get by? A cursory check with other teachers conveyed a similar annoyance with the uninvited intrusion of email on their daily duties. Another task added to the ever burgeoning list of ‘to-dos”.
But how could we arrive at this place? How is it that in the age of information, teachers are feeling overwhelmed, confused, tensed and lost when confronted with an inbox of school e-mails? Rather strangely, we seemed to have entered a twilight world of either under-information or over-information. The former, occurs when important emails become swamped or lost in your inbox, while the latter manifesting as being told everything happening in school. So where did we go wrong? Do we all need to know that someone’s goldfish died? Do we all need to know that a new student has joined the school, when I won’t teach him this year?
A quick survey among my colleagues, gleaned a similar sentiment. Emails are the bane of teacher communication in fact it is even being touted as having significant contribution to teacher morale. How could such a technological improvement, one that enhances the sharing of information and is proven to improve time become the sore thumb in a school environment? I have even heard the words “detest” and “hate’ being associated with some teachers’ feelings toward this mode of communication.
Knowing that email must be a good thing, I decided to look at email from a purely mathematical perspective and see if it was possible to determine an optimal solution to this dilemma. The common thread that I identified from my simple survey was that email had two variables affecting the environment in which it operates. These variables were Email Volume (EV) and Email Relevance (ER). Email Volume was literally the number of emails received daily, while relevance referred to the impact the email had on the teacher carrying out their daily functions effectively.
The graphic shows four possible situations that teachers can encounter in their work environment. Each scenario has, I believe, a tremendous impact on teacher morale.
Situation A is the case where there is a high volume of emails in the school environment. Everyone emails and everything is emailed. All important documents are shared by emailed and all official communications are disseminated by this medium. Staff is expected to read emails but is also expected to read and respond in this way. The reality of this is that the emails are all important! They have high relevance to staff’s daily work but the volume is quite high. This type of environment is quite pressured, where staff feels compelled to read emails but is strapped for time. The morale in that environment is
A full inbox is the daily expectation. In this scenario, everything is shared and important emails get lost in the traffic. Teachers are constantly informed about every event in school with numerous follow-ups and communiques that involve issues that require no action. Social events and social notes are posted without concern for who might want to know. The bulk group “all teachers” is used with impunity. This creates an environment that makes teachers disconnect from the emails. They adopt a system that involves requiring them to be reminded that an email was sent. This disconnection can lead to a level of apathy among teachers and paradoxically also a level of tension. This tension, coming from the sensation, that they might be missing something that has great importance.
An almost empty email inbox is the daily fare. Numbers of messages in your inbox is small and is irrelevant. This is not a common scenario for most teachers however it is an all too familiar experience for new teachers. This situation plagues the newcomer mostly and can be traced to not being added to main mailing lists. The natural outcome of this is that the teacher is less informed about important and relevant issues and is constantly left to find things out at the coffee bar or in the staff room. Teachers can either disengage from the system or they can complain that they do not know what is going on. Morale is indeed low here; a feeling of detachment persists and can affect performance especially if high relevance information is not shared.
The only emails received have high relevance to the teacher’s practice. There is a very low volume of email but each email is entirely impacting on daily practice. Even though the volume is low, the information shared is current, composed and clear. In this scenario, it would be expected to have other means of sharing information such as Google Drives or folders kept on a local server with vital forms and archived information. Essentially, there is an expectation that the only people who get the emails are the ones who will be able to do something about it. Morale here is high and teachers feel valued, they feel their time is being recognized as truly important and so they respond by being energized and motivated. Work gets done and communication is valued.
The table above shows my summary of the four potential dimensions of email in the workplace and the prevailing morale. Despite the clear cry from all I interviewed for situation D, none of my respondents felt they had experienced this Utopian world. In fact they feel it is impossible to have this outcome at their current workplace. This is worrying. Emails should make us more efficient. I propose that Situation D is the optimal solution and I believe that schools should strive for this to materialize. So how do they do this?
An email protocol?
While there will be positives and negatives regarding this, schools should engage with their staff and collaborate on an email protocol. Some key features of this would include:
- Clarity on who is copied on emails
- Who uses the bulk email features such as “allstaff@….com
- The frequency with which emails are shared from admin
- Other means of sharing information such as cloud drives
- Use of “reply all”
- The frequency of social emails
- How the subject line of the email is worded
So, which of these scenarios best describe your current email climate? Is my description of staff morale correct? Please respond to my survey by clicking on the link: http://goo.gl/forms/I7y6P9hPXh.
Megel Barker is a Google Certified Educator that has taught mathematics for 21 years. He’s currently Assistant Principal at an International School in Oman and has written two workbooks that support the Oman GED Exams. You can follow him on Twitter @mathter.