Parenting, Community Building, and Email

I never thought I’d post about something as mundane as trying to get birthday invites to my elementary aged daughter’s friends. Previously she was enrolled at a private school and not only did we have an online family directory, but we also had class representatives who collated a parents’ email, address, and phone list. This made birthday or play date invites extremely easy. This also allowed for socializing among the families–yes, for community building and did so in a way that many of us appreciated. We could email and connect or choose to call and coordinate.

I have booked my daughter’s birthday party and given that she’s two months into a new public school I thought that I should find out what the protocol is for birthday invites. Actually, I walked into the office assuming that I would get the contact information for the classroom parents or an email for the class representative. Well, I could not even get the teacher’s email. Nope. This violates privacy laws in the province, allegedly. No information about the child can be disseminated via email. Whether or not this is true is not my bone of contention. The fact that in 2013 I could not get the work email for my child’s teacher was absolutely ridiculous. I was politely told that my daughter can distribute the invites at lunch or recess. This is a great exercise for kids to see who is invited and not invited. Big sigh. The e-vites allows for no paper waste.

The staff suggested that I speak with the teacher to see what she prefers. So, off we trundled down the hall. I spoke with the teacher and she would not give her email. She asked if I could just come in. I explained that I am always near a device, so that email is convenient. I received another polite smile and was told that she’s happy to meet with me prior to school. I’ll have to be happy with that. Apparently, she does not check her email often–and that’s fine. But, I’m still shocked. I inquired about the birthday invites and was again informed that my daughter will need to hand them out during recess or lunch.

I might sound like one of those self-entitled parents who demands that the system works her way, but I’m not sure if that is the case here. My concern is three-fold: ease of communication, access to information (emails) to set up play dates or arrange a pick up swap, and understanding that it’s 2013 and technology is pervasive. So, slap my rear and call me Betsy, because I was shocked with my findings today. Seriously, I have to go old school and have my kiddo pass out invites. This also means that I have to meet the other parents so that we can actually become part of this new community. I have some “let’s arrange a play date” note cards that I can finally use. The good news is that I’m going to be more outgoing at drop off and pick up to meet other parents. I’ll roll with it.

My second to last concern is that the kiddo is not inviting the entire class, so the chances are that some kid will have her or his feelings hurt. We have a set limit for the party and we are inviting a mix of kids from the old school and new school. Thankfully, I can use an e-vite for the kids from the old school. Regarding the hurt feelings, well that’s part of growing up–I know. I will have a chat with the kiddo about how to do this as discreetly as possible. And, my last concern, I’m still troubled by the fact that the nuclear codes were not made available to me as a parent– I don’t have the teacher’s email address. An email address is something so basic in my world as an educator. But, then again, maybe the teacher is drawing boundaries and really prefers only face to face interaction. At this point in time, I’m expressing my surprise via the blog post, but I’m not about to write the school board. This is not official complaint worthy. Thoughts?

Adding–of course–I googled the teacher. Her email was not found and she is off the grid. Boundaries, time management or teaching philosophy…

playdate image

Boundaries: Hard for This Workaholic

I’m always very honest in my blog posts and I have to admit that I don’t like seeing email in my queue. I try to get to the emails as quickly as possible. And, I don’t like seeing several hundred emails on Monday mornings. This means that I do respond to work emails during the weekend. Now, I don’t respond to all of them, as I will flag some noting that they are higher priority come Monday and then others I will respond to in a timely (immediately through the next 24 hours) manner. I have now taken to responding to some student emails and stating that I will get to their email (answer their query) on Monday and also state, “It’s the weekend, I hope that you enjoy it.”

I know that I’ll hear from people who swear that they don’t respond to students’ emails over the weekend or that no one at their campus does. Cue Bill Cosby acting like Noah and saying, “Riiiight” at the 58 second mark or 1.17.  It’s not that I don’t believe these people–it’s just that my reality is that if I don’t respond in about 24 hours, I hear repeatedly from the student. I rather say that I got the email and will attend to it. I also will make a point of responding to all emails when an assignment is due the next Monday. It’s the nature of my job and the students who I work with in the department. I also am responsible for this access, I know. Some will tweet me or Facebook message me. I am a heavy user of social media and this is one cost–access to me and my time. I am not going to complain, but I will try to have some work life balance.

I am trying to set a good example for my kids, co-workers, and the Teaching Assistants who report to me. I explain to my team of Teaching Assistants that they also do not have to respond to emails from students over the weekend and not from me, too. I ask them to act as if the email (if one gets sent during the weekend) arrived Monday morning and respond thereafter. I want them to see me encourage boundaries. This takes hard work, but I have to say that during the last year it’s been worth it. I’m protecting my schedule more and I feel happier. I still love my job, and look forward to walking into the classroom, office hours, and other teaching related events. I’m loathe to say that I love meetings, as that’s a lie. I like some meetings and do not look forward to others! How do you deal with your email queue?

Before You Email Your Professor: Redux 2013

This was my most popular post in 2012 with more than 600 views. Of all my posts, I didn’t expect that this was the one, but I don’t imagine that the metrics at Word Press are wrong! I have taken the liberty of revising some of this.

I haven’t taken a Netiquette 101 course recently, so I think it’s time to give some tips about sending emails to your instructors. Of course, I assume that my colleagues send concise, well-written, and respectful emails to students. Frankly, that is a given. (Fingers crossed)

1. Always assume that you should be more formal. Each department will vary; however, going with formal is easier than the reverse and then hearing: I expect to be referred to as…

2. Address the person in the email with a hello or even a “dear.” Avoid, “hey. And, use your full name, as your instructor might have many students who share your first name.


Dear Instructor: I am emailing to find out information about your Fall class. Do you suggest any prerequisites for the class? I’d also like to talk with you about a paper topic that I have. Do you have any time to meet this Summer?

Thank you,

Student X


Hey, I’m going to enroll in you class. Should I be worried about your feminist bias?


3. Never send an email that is incoherent. This is email and not a text to your best-friend. Type out all words, use punctuation, and proper spelling. What I mean is that even if you’re using your smart phone, be smart and use real words and avoid abbreviations. You could even wait to compose the email on your tablet or laptop!

4. Never send an email when you are mad. This goes for all emails. Send yourself the email and then wait a few hours or overnight, and then send the email that you won’t later regret. When you send an angry email, it is very hard to do un-do. I know that I won’t respond and I’ll call a  meeting with you to chat about your problematic email.

5. Be honest. Understand that your instructor might say that this conversation needs to take place face to face. Some conversations really need that human interaction. This really goes for talking about an assignment, reviewing a draft, talking about grad school, and other important conversations.

6. Do not be offended if the instructor corrects your use of their first name or some policy. Most of us will be kind and say–we have a 24 hour policy with emails after work is handed back and it’s in the syllabus or I expect students to call me Prof. Schmitdkins. (Apologies to my colleague who I used for part of this last name!)

7. Read the syllabus before sending the email. Perhaps the syll answers your question or notes that you should take the time to write a coherent email noting who you are and why you are emailing. And, some of my friends won’t even respond to an email if the question is answered in the syllabus. Avoid saying something like, “I don’t have time to read the syllabus, but was wondering…” Read the syllabus and if your question is not answered, then send the email.

Overall, treat email with the same integrity that you would treat an office hour visit. And, yes, I do get lots of emails that start off with “hey” and have been asked about my feminist bias…

The above advice is good for all of us–in and outside of academia.


Collegiality via Email: Suggestions for Students

Last week I wrote about collegiality on campus and was really thinking about colleagues. Today I am thinking about students. Most of the original post applies; however, it is markedly different for students. I advise students and  I supervise students. But, I also assess student work and worth with graduate and undergraduate students in different capacities. I am in contact with lots of students and I had some interesting conversations with colleagues at #ISA2012 I know that email communication is a sore spot for lots of us.

I’ll list in no particular order some suggestions:

Never send an email that you have initial misgivings with or give you pause. Don’t send it. You might have a smartphone, but that doesn’t mean that you are making smart decisions. The tendency is to be less formal and send an incomplete sort of email.

Never send an email in anger or frustration concerning a mark. These situations really requires a face to face meeting. And, then you and the recipient have the record of your angry or frustrated email. Avoid sending an email that you might later feel sheepish about or regret.

Never send an email making statements that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. We get brave  behind the screen or with the phone, so think before you send. Remember that your instructor or boss is not your peer and you should error on being more formal than informal.

What you should do if you feel you need to send an email: Send yourself the email and wait. Then, review the email. Practice smart computing and communicating.

Email ~ Fri Fun Facts

As an  Undergraduate Advisor I work closely with many students and add to this the students enrolled in my classes, graduate students, work study students, colleagues and friends and family. Like most academics I am swimming in email. The vast majority of the email is important–important to the sender and at times the recipient. From casual hallway conversations and over coffee, though, I hear a common lament: netiquette issues.

Today’s Fri Fun Facts is about Netiquette.

1. Treat emails with the same integrity that you wold treat an office hour visit or phone call. Use a salutation like Dear Prof/Dr/Mr/Ms, etc. This will vary for colleagues, friends, and family, but students should be in the habit of treating the email more formally.

2. Just because you have a smart phone it doesn’t mean that the email must be sent right now from your phone! If you have to get it out, email yourself and then review the email later on your other device. So many harried, incomplete emails are often sent via the phone, and your email query is important.

3. If the email is about a mark, be prepared for your professor to say: come see me in office hours. Important conversations requires a face to face meeting.

4. Never send an email when you’re mad. Never do it. Send it to yourself and sleep on it. Once you send an email it’s out there–it’s not necessarily private.

5. If you are sending your boss or your professor emails via your smart phone–note the spell checker function and avoid abbreviations. Treat the message like a regular email conversation.