Tuesday, January 11, 2011

E-Mail Rules!

Saw a Tweet post from a colleague about e-mail etiquette. Here is a list of e-mail rules we use with our Administrative team along with my thoughts about email abuse in general and thus the need for simple rules.

Technology (which is expanding at an exponential speed) presents a paradox for you. On one hand, technology blurs the lines of time spent at home, work, or travel. Your work can be, and is, with you at all times. It is so efficient and freeing to be able to answer e-mails, enter blog posts, review your facebook page and return text messages at any time of the day or night—communicating with one and all of those in your N-S-E-W sphere. On the other hand, for the exact same reasons, it is also so stressful—especially when you, as a PLC school teacher and leader, place no boundaries on the time and energy drag caused by technology. Modern day expectations for the speed of return communication are high as well. No hiding. Gleick (2000) states it like this:

Reading E-mail starts to feel like a forced march through a shadeless landscape. [An] explanation for this phenomenon is that people’s expectations for what to do with the mail changes: when they get a little, they treat it as personal correspondence and consider each message and its reply carefully. When they get a lot, most messages immediately are fated for the Delete key. Users are constantly behind on upgrading their behavior on this curve of information neglect, so they constantly feel stressed” (p.88).

E-mail, actually, all forms of required and available communication and social networking in this decade, serves either as an energy drain or an energy gain depending on your disposition and boundary-setting views toward technology, and your ability or willingness to use it strategically. It’s not about “do you have time for social networking?” as much as it’s about, “do you have the energy for it, and do you establish a consistent pattern for getting it done well?”


1. Establish e-mail response time expectations: Do not expect e-mails you send to be responded to immediately. Do expect e-mails to be responded to within 24 hours.

2. Always be polite: Do not use CAPITAL letters. It is like shouting at other team members. Do not use a caustic or sarcastic tone. Do not complain about team members or the team’s work. If you have a complaint, call the person. Do say thank you at the end of each e-mail. Do use a greeting at the start of the message that acknowledges the person’s name.

3. Never use a blind carbon-copy (CC): A successful team must be transparent. If you have a concern or need to CC someone, then make sure everyone in the e-mail knows who has been informed on the issue. Do CC only those people that really need to know.

4. Keep e-mails short: Do not send long e-mails concerning multiple issues. Do send e-mails that are crisp and to the point. Do be clear about the purpose of the e-mail. Is it FYI and needs no response, or does it need input and decision-making action from the recipient? And, is it really necessary to send?

5. Seek permission to forward an e-mail: Do not forward an e-mail you have received without permission to do so from the sender. The sender may have written you a private message that he or she was not intending for others to see. Do be sensitive to the length of e-mail you choose to forward to others.

The fast-paced technology world gets “tamed” or more strategically used when leaders understand it is subservient to the vision of your school and your school leadership. Where you are headed is more important than how fast technology can take you there.

The social networking, social media world that lies ahead, will only be as good as the direction and vision of school improvement and student learning it serves.


  1. These rules are great - simple and straightforward. It's amazing that people treat email so carelessly. I have had coworkers send me micro-managing 4 page dissertations via email and I've also been sent unintentionally condiscending emails that say things like "Do we need to sit down and talk about this?" Thanks for the insight.

  2. These are great rules! I am planning on sharing them with my staff.

  3. Thanks for the comments! I hope they help!