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Effective Strategies for the Instructional Leader

By Deron Marvin
Effective Strategies for the Instructional Leader

Five tips to freedom from email
Are you in the classrooms enough coaching your teachers? Do you feel tethered to your office answering a continual profusion of emails? Assuming you are an ardent instructional leader, which means your main duties require you to be an instructional resource, a resource provider, a communicator, and a visible presence, you have an obligation to get out of your office. Finding yourself buried under email will certainly keep you away from teachers and students for a substantial chunk of the day.
Following these tips will curb the affliction of email and get you back into the classrooms, focusing on coaching your teachers and paying attention to the impact you have on learning.
Tip #1 – Recognize the limitations of email
Do not be duped into thinking that you are accomplishing remarkable feats of educational prowess by answering emails. Our compulsive emailing unfortunately gives us a false sense of success.
Sherry Turkle, author of Together Alone, sums up the limitations quite well as she states, “email tends to go back and forth without resolution. Misunderstandings are frequent. Feelings get hurt. And the greater the misunderstanding, the greater the number of emails, far more than necessary” to solve any issues, or come to any conclusions.
Often, email is too open for interpretation, as the people involved are missing vital elements of successful communication—reading facial expressions, hearing the intonation in one’s voice, and agreeing upon closure at the same time.
Tip #2 – Turn off your auto-check function
Email programs are set to automatically check for any incoming messages. Upon receiving an email message, you may hear a pleasant sound or tone indicating that there is a message awaiting your attention. This pleasurable jingle regrettably, is intended to interrupt whatever you are doing at the moment. As Nicolas Carr stated in his book The Shallows, “It is not unusual for [workers] to glance at their inbox thirty or forty times in an hour. Each glance represents a small interruption of thought, a momentary redeployment of mental resources, the cognitive costs can be high.” These email “dings” beg you to switch between tasks.
A constant interruption to your work by incoming emails is certainly an invitation to multitask. Eliminate this disruption by turning off your auto-check – schedule a time to read and review and organize your emails. In fact, if you have a laptop in your office, close it when it is not is use. If you have a desktop, turn off the monitor.
Tip #3 – Only send emails during the scheduled workday
This tip requires forbearance on your part. We know that administrators often work far beyond the “scheduled” time to work; however, we do not want this reality to shout in the face of teachers and stakeholders. Emails sent at absurd hours come laden with the time and date stamp and an unintentional invitation that you are always available and ready for the next “urgent” matter. Receiving a message from a principal sent at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night will elicit various beliefs about what acceptable work times are. A teacher may promptly suppose: Should I be working this late? Am I expected to answer this now? Should I send emails at this time to show that I am working hard?
Defer replying to emails immediately. Wait at least 24 hours. If you are answering emails instantaneously, the implication is that you have treated the email as an emergency.
Tip #4 – Check your email only three times per work day
Students and teachers are to be engaged in learning with one another. As an instructional leader, you are to ensure this is happening. It may be difficult if your day is spent multitasking with email as a constant interruption. A conscious effort to close off the desire to anxiously check email is important. Do this by scheduling time to “work” with email three times a day. Schedule all the rest of your tasks (visiting classrooms, reading professional materials, etc.) around your email work time.
Tip #5 – Draft clear expectations for teachers’ use of email
You cannot protect instructional time if you expect teachers to be trolling their email account throughout the day. To avoid sending hurried messages to your teachers requires thoughtful planning on your part. Any urgent message to a teacher should be done by telephone call or a visit to the classroom.
Protecting teachers from parents’ “crisis” emails is a bit trickier. Start by clearly stating how often teachers will be checking their email accounts. For example, here is a statement pulled from a sample handbook, “Teachers are not expected to check email during the school day. Any messages that require an urgent response should be sent via telephone call to the School Office.”
Following these tips will result in spending more time in face-to-face conversations. The more you spend in conversations with your team, the more positive the outcomes. Your commitment to seeing someone in person expresses your interest in what they have to say. Your messages are more likely to be interpreted clearly and you can respond and react in the moment according to your recipient’s body language and facial expressions.
Email has been labeled as an efficient way in which to communicate. Efficient? Sure. As in yes, you did send a message, but do you know if it was read? Do you know how it was read? Do have confirmation of understanding? Is the issue resolved? This we may not know until we can actually see the person, face-to-face, to confirm.
Deron Marvin is Elementary School Principal at International School Yangon.

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