Effectively Communicating with Families via Email

by Jo Lein, founder of the Teaching & Leading Initiative of Oklahoma, adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and, Leadership Coach at Tulsa Public Schools

Years ago, I got an email from a parent asking why her daughter was failing. I assumed that this mom knew about all of the missing assignments considering the progress reports going home regularly. Here was my response:

Dear Mom,
Thank you for your email. As you saw from her progress reports, Jessica is missing a number of assignments. She has received all of her assignments and I am waiting for her to turn them in. Thank you for keeping up with her grades. I appreciate the support.

A few days later, I got another email from this mom calling me “passive aggressive.” We went back and forth that entire week and I was an emotional wreck. I never considered myself to be passive aggressive. I read and reread my email over and over. What did I say wrong?

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Email communication can be an effective tool for communicating with a number of families across your classroom or school. When sending sweeping messages to the class, such as field trips, class parties, or the announcement of an upcoming spelling test, email can be a really effective tool.
However, when it comes to one-on-one communication with families, I give a huge word of caution. Here’s why:
Anything written electronically is a document trail and you never know how people may choose to use that information later on.
Tone is hard to read. Others may interpret your supportive tone as sarcasm or worse.
Emotions fester. You need to be able to sleep at night and be well.
Even when the conversation seems benign, it is always just as effective to pick up the phone to have a conversation with a family. Mutual understanding is always easier in real time.

When in doubt, choose the phone.

That being said, email communication can also help you as the teacher keep documentation of appropriate communication. For example, you may go back into your email to prove your correspondence when it comes to IEP meetings, discipline infractions, and other. As with any tool, its effectiveness is found in how and when it’s used. Take a moment and consider if sending an email is the best choice for you, your student, and the present situation.

For more information about effective classroom management strategies for new teachers, please visit our Classroom Management Workshop page. We’d love to have you attend our next one-day workshop! 

Jo Lein

Speaker, Leadership Development

Jo Lein is the founder of the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization that brings instructional coaching to under-resourced districts and trains existing leaders in areas of instructional leadership. She is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and a Leadership Coach at Tulsa Public Schools.

Would you like Jo to come to your school as a Professional Development Speaker? Reach out today!

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