Over the course of my work week between confirming schedules, double-checking planning details, sharing reflections and responding to teachers’ requests and questions, I probably spend about 60 minutes of my work day on communication. With this much time dedicated to connecting to my colleagues, I ask myself:
Do people respond to or ignore my emails?
If they do respond, do they give me the information I need?
Do they seem to misinterpret my communication?
Learning from my mistakes as well as what has worked, here are seven email etiquette tips:
1. Start with something nice
Simply starting with “How was your weekend? Is Devin walking yet?” or “It was nice to see your email waiting in my inbox this morning” or “I hope you’ve had a great start to your week,” can set the tone of your email. It takes very little time to start off with a personal, positive note. That’s just another way that I let colleagues know I’m about people first.
2. Reply to All means ALL
Use “reply to all” when you are sure that all the recipients are interested in what you have to say. I use reply to all when a teacher emails three coaches and asks a question. I want to be sure the other coaches know I answered the question or that they can chime in and add to what I’ve said. I don’t use reply to all when a teacher is complaining about the assessment changes and has cc’ed an entire grade level. I am pretty sure not every teacher wants to hear the back and forth.
3. Fast forward frame of mind
Imagine that every email you send to a teacher could be forwarded to a principal, your supervisor or the local news. Imagine that every email you send to an administrator could be forwarded to their staff. Yes, it happened. I use that lens to help me decide when to pick up the phone or meet in person to respond to a concern or have a difficult conversation.
4. 24 hours
“What is the district thinking by scheduling the scoring workshop the week before conferences? Are you all sharing the same malfunctioning brain?” Yes, it happened. These type of inflammatory communications may be dashed off to you in anger or without thought. A quote from Naomi Shihab Nye comes to mind, “Never meet urgency with urgency.” I give myself at least 24 hours to consider an appropriate response.
On the topic of 24 hours, I also try to respond to all emails within that time frame. I want my colleagues to know that I take their questions and thoughts seriously. On a particularly busy day I’ll write, “I’m in classrooms all day today, but I have a note to respond on Friday. Your question is a good one and I need to do more thinking.”
5. Collegial editors are your best friends
When I have an email with important information going out to a large group of people I always ask one of my fellow coaches, an office professional or another teacher to read it thoroughly. I ask them, “What could be misinterpreted here? What information is confusing or missing?” No matter how thoughtful I’ve been, having another perspective always improves the communication. I remind myself that with at least 16 different personality types, there are 15 others that don’t receive information like I do.
6. Consider confidentiality
I don’t share confidential information in emails with teachers. I might write something, “After talking with you about your Student H and conferring with her, I’m thinking we might want to inquire further about what’s going on with comprehension beyond literal questions.” The teacher and I know who Student H is, but if that email accidentally popped up on the screen while the teacher was setting up her document camera, the students and volunteer parents wouldn’t immediately see that we’re writing about Heidi.
7. Mirror their style
Does your colleague respond with short, clipped sentences? It’s probably because they prefer quick, concise communication. Does she instead seem to use email as a way to process her questions and reflections? It may be that she appreciates more elaboration of ideas. Sometimes I ask teachers in the enrollment stage of coaching about their email style. Other times I just watch their responses and align mine accordingly.
What additional tips make up your etiquette list?