Listen up: Email etiquette for teachers is important! Email is a major source of communication in schools, and it's essential for conveying information. More importantly, an unprofessional email can have a negative impact on a teacher's career. Here are five ways to master email etiquette for teachers.
1. Care about Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation
The truth is that teachers are held to a higher standard than the rest of the world. I once had a parent come to me with a printed email from her son's teacher in hand, ranting about misspelled words. People expect a teacher's emails to be flawless, and sending out a note with the wrong "your" or "there," a misspelled name, or proper nouns that aren't capitalized brings your abilities into question. A quick response sent from your smartphone has more leeway—you can miss a comma or two—but for more substantial correspondence, put your best foot forward. As such, make sure you proofread all correspondence.
2. Pay Attention When You Click "Reply"
Don't "Reply to All" unless the situation expressly calls for it. There's nothing more annoying than a constantly pinging inbox filled with replies that mean nothing to the recipient, so choose this option with caution.
Further reading: Positive Parent-Teacher Communication
A worse situation is replying to everyone in an email chain when you've only meant to reach one person. My colleague once made a derogatory remark about a new principal in response to a group email sent by that principal, and instead of forwarding the message, she hit "reply all." Luckily, the fact that she was an exemplary teacher with years of experience worked in her favor when it came to facing the consequences. Even so, it took a long time to repair the damage and establish a good relationship with that principal.
3. Double-Check Your Attachments
There's no one without sin in this area—we've all forgotten to include the attachment at some point! I've tried to train myself to slow down so I make this mistake less often. I'm thankful for email programs like Outlook and Gmail, which actually prompt me for an attachment when my email says there is one. When you know you need to include an important document, make sure you remembered it—it can be the final step when you proofread, as suggested in the first tip!
4. Be Mindful of the Length
My husband's emails have often been referred to as "scrolls." For someone who's quiet and reserved in real life, he sure can ramble in an email! I have the opposite issue. I like the short and concise response. However, those short replies are often mistaken as being terse or abrupt. So I often have to force myself to write a bit more to avoid seeming rude—after all, there's a huge difference in the way "Please see me" and "Please see me before the end of the day about the start date for the after-school program" are perceived.
When writing your emails, be the Goldilocks to our two troubled bears. Find your sweet spot, depending on the context of the email, and stick with it!
4. Watch Your Typed Tone
It's important to remember that tone doesn't translate well in emails. I've received emails I felt were snarky when they weren't, and I'm sure I've sent a few that were perceived that way as well. Here's a good rule of thumb: If the information you're putting in an email is sensitive, make a phone call or arrange a face-to-face meeting. If I have to give bad news to a parent, I almost always call before sending an email, and if I need to speak to my boss about a delicate matter, I make an appointment.
5. Cool Off for 24 Hours before Replying
Never send an email if you're angry. If you absolutely have to respond, waiting at least 24 hours can be extremely helpful. It is also a good idea to have someone else read your response to make sure it isn't too emotional.
A fellow teacher and friend was upset recently about a comment her evaluator made. Before her email response went to her boss, she sent it to me for review, and I was able to remove sentences like "I'm not sure WHAT you were thinking when you wrote this," and "Your observation has absolutely no connection at all to reality." Emotional comments like these wouldn't have helped her case or career.
When reviewing a response to an emotionally triggering email, go through and look for the "I statements"—that's usually where I get myself in trouble, anyway! We've all sent emails we wished we hadn't, so do your future self a favor by stopping yourself before you hit "send."
Further reading: School Social Media Policy
Email etiquette for teachers is essential to master. Hopefully, these tips will save you from embarrassment, aggravation, and maybe even from looking for a new job!