Wednesday, February 22, 2006

E-Mail—Time Management Tool or Time Sink?

Is E-mail a great time management tool or a great time sink? In little more than a decade, it has gone from being a rare novelty to being commonplace. We all love it, because it’s so easy to send a message to one person or to hundreds of people. All with a single mouse click. We hate it because our e-mail explodes with advertisements, jokes, and a host of other low priority items. We stress about it because we also get good information and don’t know exactly what to do with it.

E-mail is the most efficient means of communication we have in the world of education.
Even if had phones in our classrooms, statistics from the business world show that only something like 20% of calls are completed the first time.

When we use e-mail, we send messages when it is convenient for us. They are read when it is convenient for the other person. It eliminates calls that end with “I’ll get that information and get back with you” and perpetual telephone tag.

Getting Newspaper Coverage
How many feel like your local paper is always there to cover the good things that happen in your school? When I ask this question on workshops, rarely does a hand raise. The truth is that papers are usually glad to print what you give them provided you get it to the right person and you make it easy for them. E-mail is the answer.

Go home, call the paper, and ask for the name and e-mail address of the person to whom you should send school-related material. When you have something, e-mail it. You aren’t going to be spending your planning period driving to the paper and searching for the right person to hand your stuff to. They aren’t going to have to turn around and retype your copy. You will find your story, along with the digital photo you include as an attachment, winds up in the paper.

Committee Work
If you are doing committee work where everyone has their part to prepare and then it’s merged into one document, send it by e-mail to one person who simply pastes it together. Pasting it and then going through to add nice formatting is a lot more fun than taking a stack of papers other people have typed on their computers and printed out that you are now going to sit and type back into your computer.

Old Habits are Hard to Break—Some scenarios to examine:

  1. A teacher wants to reschedule a committee meeting, so she writes a note, and has a student take it from room to room. That might have been the most efficient way to do it—before e-mail. Now, we can e-mail that same message to as many people as needed in much less time and without having to interrupt other classes.
  2. Central office sends a memo and wants you to share the information with everyone. Do you put it on a bulletin board and hope everyone stops and notices there is something new there? Do you Xerox a copy for everyone and stuff the boxes? Or, do you encourage the central office to send it via e-mail to a contact person, who then simply clicks “Forward,” clicks a “group” into which the faculty and staff has been placed, and then clicks “Send.”
  3. A new student enrolls (or a student withdraws). Who needs to know that? In a typical elementary school, the answer would include the music teacher, PE teacher, librarian, counselor, or lunchroom manager. In your school, how do you let them all know? In all too many schools, these people are not notified at all. The solution is simple. First, identify who needs to know about entries and withdrawals. Secondly, create an e-mail group which includes each of those people. Part of the standard procedure for enrolling or withdrawing a student will now include sending an e-mail message to that group.
  4. Students misbehave from time to time and, from time to time, a teacher made need to send a discipline referral to the school office. Before computers, all of the teachers had discipline referral cards. The teacher wrote all of the details about what the student did. The administrator simply made on note on the form as to the consequence being assigned and was finished. Now, the discipline records are on computer. Someone must take the teacher’s written narrative and key it into the computer. If the number of referrals to the office is very large at all, this process can become a time sink. A possible alternative is to have teachers submit discipline referrals via e-mail. The administrator can then electronically copy and paste the teacher’s comments into the student administrative software.

    Over the next several weeks, I will share some other e-mail practices which work for me and help keep e-mail a timesaver and not a time sink.
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