This blog was originally published on August 11th, 2017. It has been updated with new information and links.
Email communication between families and teachers is at an all-time high and it is wearing teachers out. This article from Education Week, “Round the Clock Communication is Exhausting Teachers,” describes the “blurring lines” between work life and home life as technology keeps us never-endingly connected. Beyond the blurred lines between work and home is the means of communication itself. Did you know nearly 90% of communication is nonverbal? Imagine how many misunderstandings could be avoided if we all can remember to follow a few simple rules when using email.
With a few adjustments, we can power up our email communication and increase clarity and trust. Below are 4 quick tips for improving communication through email.
Follow the Golden Rule
The ‘golden rule’ of teacher communication is to start the year on a positive note. If you anticipate using email communication throughout the year, take the time to send a classroom greeting to all families within the first week of school. This sets a positive tone and makes families more likely to read and respond to future emails. Include news they can use, like contact information, homework policy and upcoming projects, and be sure to thank families in advance for their support and partnership. This is also an opportunity to share your email policy, including how quickly to expect a response and if you are available to reply on weekends and holidays. One idea is to ask families to send a quick reply with a fun response, like who their child’s favorite TV character was in kindergarten, to make sure the message reached them. This way, we can follow up with a phone call to those who may not have access to email.
Use That Subject Line!
Take the time to write detailed subject lines so families have a clear understanding of the topic you are addressing in the email. If possible, use a consistent format, one you can adjust so the messages become familiar, “A Note from Ms. Brown’s Class about____” is simple and effective. Clear subject lines are appreciated, especially for families who deal with full inboxes each day—which is everyone these days!
Keep It Short and Sweet
Short, to the point emails are a sign of respect. Succinct emails show families we took the time to figure out what needed to be said before we hit ‘send.’ Do your best to read an email from the recipient’s perspective. Long blocks of text can be overwhelming, especially for families who could feel apprehension towards school communications in general. These guidelines can help:
- Keep paragraphs to five lines or less
- Use bullet points or lists
- Only one or two topics per email, send additional topics in a separate email
When we can’t follow these guidelines, it’s likely a sign that a phone call or face-to-face meeting is needed.
Avoid Negative Traps
Before hitting “send,” take the time to think about your response to a question from the student’s family. Most teachers want to reply quickly to concerns, but if a family seems upset or the situation is complex, send a short response to thank them and let them know you will respond in more detail later. This will eliminate frustration and misunderstandings and give you time to craft a well-informed response.
Work to determine the intent of the sender. Families want the best for their children, and at times concerns or fears can appear angry or even as a personal attack. Our job is to practice empathetic listening, even when the message arrives digitally. If you believe there is a negative tone, or the topic will require multiple emails, stop the thread and call or set up a meeting. Some situations are better managed over the phone or in person. Our willingness to come out from behind the email is not only most efficient in these cases, it also demonstrates compassion and professionalism.
Looking for additional information about how to establish better family-teacher relationships? Download our Parent Partnerships 101 white paper, and learn 10 tips you can use to help build better relationships with the families of your students.
If you are a New Teacher looking for strategies to connect with your student's parents and other great tips for your first year in the classroom, explore our New Teacher Resources!
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