The Power of Email As a School Leader

Clay Scarborough
Clay Scarborough
High school principal; M.A. in Education, principal certification
A computer sits on a work desk, showing email notifications.

Through the course of human history, different tools have come along and changed the world.

At one point the spoon was a major technology advancement, not to mention the wheel and eventually the internet.

With each tool, many used it for what it is designed for, but others found ways to improve on the tool or other non-intended uses. We started with examples of the history of tools because that is what email is, it is a tool and we know from human history that tools can be used for good, bad, what they are intended for and sometimes what they are not intended for.

Why School Leaders Should Harness the Power of Email

This author has worked in administration and school leadership as an assistant principal at a school of 2400 hundred students and a high school of 750 students. In the school with 750 students, I could make sure I saw all of my teachers in the afternoon or morning. Probably would not have time for a full-blown conversation, but at least say hi, talk some, and move on.

Being a school leader in a school with 2400 students, there was no way to make sure you saw everyone over the span of two or three days. Email was the best way to make sure contact was made with everyone.

In each situation, email provided a way to make sure that everyone got the same message, at approximately the same time, and the same delivery medium. This is perhaps the best reason why school leaders should harness the power of email. More on this later, but in emergencies, of course use something more direct.

Ways to Use Email As a School Leader

There are many great ways to use email as a tool as a school leader. One of the best ways email can be used is as a mass communication delivery system to everyone on campus. One of the best principals I worked for sent a quote for the day each day so when we got to campus, it was ready for us to read when we arrived. There are times that I want to send a message of encouragement to the whole staff, and email is the best way to do it.

However, some caution here as a school leader: don’t use an email to the staff as a way to correct the behavior of one or two people. Where I taught, a principal would send an email about not wearing jeans on Thursday. This means likely someone did wear jeans on Thursday. My buddy and I would look down the hall to see if there was someone in our hall. I am sure the person was talked to individually, but still the blanket email sometimes will not have the effect you would want. This is not something email was meant for.

Another cautionary point here, if there is a time element involved, not everyone reads their email quickly or they might have certain times they only check email during the day. This is why we use other forms of instant communication for emergencies. Apps like Remind for example help us communicate more pressing, time-sensitive information.

Contact Groups: It takes part of one day in August, but it is well worth it. I set up different email groups (departments, teachers only, whole staff, paraprofessionals, etc.) so when I need to email them just them, it is quick and easy, and I don’t have to lose much time going down my master schedule to find all the people I need to include in this particular email.

Since email needs to have some time to be read, I will send items that allow people to ponder or come up with answers before meeting or something similar. If there is an agenda or problem that we are discussing at the department chair meeting, I will send this out a day or two before. I find it speeds up the conversation and also, I get to see who is reading and thinking before we get to the meeting.

Email is also a great way to send quick reminders or notes. For example, in Texas we have to wait until a certain date after school starts to do ‘official walkthroughs.’ But during the second week of school, I am in the classroom either way giving feedback. Granted, at this point I am putting money in the back knowing that I will likely need to withdraw some later when I see things that need to be worked on. But I will take my computer with me and email some comments on the class immediately. The teachers like instant feedback.

One way that email is used is as a way to send a mass newsletter out to a group of people such as parents, community members, etc. There is quality software that has ready-made newsletter templates where you can just edit your newsletter and then send it out to a large group. The ability to get your message out to that many people is valuable and convenient. I send a weekly email at the end of Friday recapping the week and looking to the next week to keep everyone.

Lastly, remember that email can never take the place of a good one-on-one conversation.

Since the tone of an email can so easily be misinterpreted or created, never let the convenience of email take the place of a good phone call or face-to-face conversation.

Email is a tool, use it wisely!

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