The all staff email | @ashleypearce84

AshleyAshley Pearce is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading.  Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading.  He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.

For a teacher my age (early 30s), it’s hard to imagine a school functioning without the ability to email. But it did happen. Schools ran perfectly well for many many years without the constant contact (or distraction, depending on your view) of the email. Now I know you could say that about a lot of things; schools functioned without the internet but few would say that internet use at schools hasn’t enhanced how schools run. Have emails done the same? I have a few issues with the constant email contact culture in schools. Firstly it’s the merging of teaching with an office job. It isn’t. The more time spent in front of a screen is less time spent in front of eager young learners; this must be wrong. How often do you hear “Did you get my email?”. Err, well no actually. I was teaching a year 9 class. The disdain sometimes exuded when you haven’t had the chance to read an email between the hours of 9am-3pm is palpable. The bigger question is surely sometimes, why haven’t you been teaching, marking or preparing instead of emailing all day?

My email recently stopped working recently as I had over 1000 unread emails. Many would see this as ridiculous. I should be reading these. I take that point on board, but it also had absolutely no impact on those kids that come through my classroom door every day. Teachers are just people, and people have very poor filters on what they believe others care about. Just because something is important to you, doesn’t mean it is to others. If I start talking to almost literally anyone else on earth about the planning applications committee meeting I was in last night, aside from those in the room, eyes would glaze over. So I don’t. This is where the all staff email first comes up. If I were to put a figure on the sometimes near 100 emails that ping into my inbox some days, I’d say 5% were relevant to me (and maybe even fewer of interest). Below are some genuine examples of email titles/subjects from just the last few weeks:

  • “Could you take a crate of glasses home and wash them, please?”. I was going to follow up with “and if anyone feels like doing a bit of laundry for me I’d appreciate it”.
  • “Missing drama class”. I got the impression that a bunch of 12 year olds with white faces were wondering around the school undertaking interpretative mime.
  • “WWF-£36 per animal”. I’m not sure why wrestlers are buying up any animals…..
  • “Missing shoes”. With just the addition of a question mark this email heading could have been the start of an emotional Sports Direct advert.
  • “Please can I remind everyone that has promised me cups, saucers, Mike jugs, sugar bowls, trays etc that I require them tomorrow”. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase being on a promise.
  • “Lettuces for sale”. I don’t need to parody that one any further.

I think my point here is that people have actually forgotten how emails are meant to work. In the social media age people now use emails as if they’d use Facebook and they should be very different things. Emails should have a point, sounds obvious but go through your emails and see how many adhere to this. People should think before sending emails: Do all recipients need it? Is this the most appropriate communication method? And will it help solve the issue?

For schools I would recommend the following to help cut down on teachers workload where emails are concerned:

  • Ban all staff emails. Unless really extreme circumstances, these really are not needed.
  • Create alternative communication methods. Staff noticeboards (physical and electronic) can take the flak of most social events and the like that emails should be free of.

3 thoughts on “The all staff email | @ashleypearce84

  1. Blimey! I get the idea that All Staff emails are usually just an inappropriate distraction and should be used with more discretion, but to suggest that teachers should be somehow absolved from engaging with the necessary flow of information through the organisation they work for – the organisation they and their students call ‘school’ – is nuts. But it does highlight a particular eccentricity of schools; that they tend not to think of themselves as organisations like other organisations do, and that the people at the front and centre of their work (that’s teachers, by the way), tend not to see themselves as part of an organisation that has an existence beyond their classroom, and an importance beyond their students’ needs. That existence, and that importance, by the way, relates to it being their employer, their colleagues’ employer, the educator of not just their students but others too, a key component of its comunity’s social and cultural capital, etc, etc, etc. Any teacher that views themselves only in relation to their class full of students, and communicates accordingly, is not playing their full part in the wider game. Sorry.

  2. I largely agree; people increasingly send irrelevant and over-written tosh. It’s very important not to waste people’s time and it’s important to give appropriate response times.
    I send as few as possible, try to get the main message and deadline in the subject line (‘Pupil reports: submit by 6/6/16’), with some very brief (2 line?) additional detail in the main text. Where an answer is needed, I might add a ‘Will assume X [X being the most likely outcome] if not heard otherwise by Y date’. People will reply with questions if they have any. Take out the white noise and people will take notice of your message.
    However, I think the ‘Lettuces for sale’ is fine: it’s very clear, so if you don’t want lettuce, you delete.
    I come from a corporate background, by the way – my experience of an office is very different from the one you describe. Good, efficient email practice was corporate policy.

    1. Interesting responses. I am a teacher who came from a business background before email existed.. I sometimes wonder what my corporate masters of the past would have made of all this. I actually do not think ‘Lettuces for sale’ is fine. it is quite funny, but someone has taken the time to write and send that. And lettuce sales are not related to the core product – in this case education. I’m not sure my former corporate masters (Carbodies – manufacturer of the London taxi) would have been too pleased with my efforts to sell lettuces during work time!

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