This is an edited version of my latest School of Thought Column in Australian Teacher Magazine.
I started teaching in 1999, when within the school, communication was via the morning staff briefing and through memos or the like posted in my pigeonhole, that I might – or more likely might not – get to every day. And if something was really important, you’d go and find the person you needed to speak to and have a chat, face to face.
One of the biggest changes I observed in my time as a teacher was the proliferation of communication via email. I left teaching full-time at the end of 2012, at which point it would be a quiet day on the email front if I was receiving any less than 40 a day.
Today, I’m well aware that many educators are receiving far more than 40 emails a day, and this – to be quite frank – is ridiculous.
I say it’s ridiculous, because I’d wager that the vast majority of these emails require no action on your behalf, yet you’re compelled to read them, just in case. As a result you become distracted from your work with research showing it takes, on average, 23 minutes 15 seconds to get back on task. Ever wondered why you can sit for so long at your computer and get so little done?
Furthermore, due to the sheer volume of emails, many of you are forced to read them, just in case, just before you go to bed.
This impacts your ability to get to sleep. If, as a profession, schools are serious about teacher wellbeing – and it’s clear they certainly should be – then organisations need to recognise that it’s the day-to-day stressors that have a larger impact on teacher wellbeing than the one-off wellbeing day that might be offered.
If you have teachers who feel they need to check their email before bed, just in case, then I suggest you address this.
One way you might address this is to mandate a time after which no-one is expected to send or reply to emails – 7.30pm perhaps, or let’s go crazy, how about 5pm? Of course, if you can only get to emails after the mandated time because of family or other work commitments that’s fine, but can I suggest you write the email and then save it in drafts to send the next day, or use an app to automatically send it at the desired time. There is a big difference between receiving an email at 7:30am as opposed to 11pm. And you’re not really expecting the recipient to respond at that time are you?
Of course, you can argue and come up with scenarios in which this idea would be unworkable, but typically, these scenarios are not – or should not – be the norm.
In (almost) the words of Prince, “So tonight I’m gonna email like it’s 1999!”
I appreciate the irony that many of you will have received this as an email on the weekend