Email etiquette: 6 dos and don'ts of staff messaging

Does it matter if you accidentally show pupils emails? Can you message about a lost mug? Stephen Petty hits reply all

Stephen Petty

Email etiquette: Stephen Petty's guidance for teachers on the use of school staff email

1. 'Someone’s taken my mug. Is it acceptable to use an all-staff email to try to get it back? A class gave it to me in 2014.'

First, I am so sorry for your loss. And, of course, it’s fine to send an email to everyone about it. You and that mug go back a long way. (Was it your first-ever class?) 

You may have heard colleagues moaning about “piffling mail about lost property” filling up their inbox, but don’t let this put you off. The truth is that they quite enjoy the chance to swiftly discard your kind of message and to move on. 

Messages like yours, and the instantly deletable one from a colleague about a fridge-freezer “in need of a new home”, help to build email momentum. If all mail was like yours they could be through the whole lot in less than a minute. 

They far prefer yours to all those requests to fill in questionnaires about students’ “access arrangements” or to still more requests for an update on how the likes of Alfie, Hannah and Freddie are now getting on. 

And, yes, you should include that picture of the mug in the email. People won’t think it weird at all that you took a photo of it. 

2. 'Yet another colleague has emailed staff to say that she is training for the blessed London marathon and would I like to sponsor her. I’ve had my fill of this kind of email. Can I just pretend I didn’t see it?'

Poor you! Of course you can. Some schools are now completely overrun by staff training for the London marathon. You have to draw the line somewhere. 

These people shouldn’t expect you to fork out for them all, however deserving the cause. You are not a bottomless charitable pit. 

3. 'I only get about 10 emails a day – and half of those are about lost mugs and the London marathon. Most of my colleagues say they get between 50 and 100. I feel left out of the loop.'

It is possible that your address is slightly incorrect on the school system, and that someone with a similar name is getting nearly all your stuff. 

Or perhaps you really are supremely insignificant. Either way, don’t worry. Be happy. As the song goes.  

4.'I get well over 200 emails a day. Why do people copy me into so many things?'

Look, I suspect from this complaint that you are a senior leader. My humble advice here is for you to keep quiet and get over yourself. 

That “200-plus” claim is, let’s be honest, just another way of you saying how important you are. Give it a rest, mate.

5. 'Should I ever look in my school junk-mail folder?' 

Absolutely you should. Don’t be put off by the fact that mysterious people from “outside” somehow know your name, and use it in a rather over-familiar way. 

Read beyond all that and look into some of the courses, resources (and occasional massages) offered. Much of your so-called junk can be far more interesting and life-changing than what’s in your official inbox.

6. 'Does it matter if I sometimes unwittingly leave the classroom projector on, meaning that the whole class can read my emails?' 

Your pupils will probably show no interest at all when this happens (emails are just for the elderly) but, yes, you are quite likely to be breaking the law.

Sorry to be blunt, but it’s precisely because of your tendency to beam staff correspondence to the world that school emails – in the age of privacy and GDPR – are fast turning into a series of codes and numbers: as in, “Please take HN to L5 to see WR about their missing DT.” 

The rapid rise of the coded email in school must have triggered many a false alarm among the GCHQ telecoms-monitoring team in Cheltenham. 

And, if the growth of increasingly cryptic emails continues to its logical conclusion, there will come a day when few of us will understand any of them at all, apart from the one about the missing mug. 

The whole world of school email could collapse completely. What a terrible thought.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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