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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do You Check Your School E-Mail Too Much?

By Peter DeWitt — October 31, 2013 3 min read
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This may seem like a silly subject to write about. It’s not focusing on state testing, the Common Core State Standards or flipped communication. However, e-mail does have big implications in education and is about social-emotional growth...not for students, but for the adults in the school building.

Many teachers and school leaders check their e-mail accounts dozens of times during the day, which sometimes prevents them from fully engaging with students. Yes, there are teachers who are keep an eye on their computer while working with students because they are concerned about missing an important message.

Worse than teachers...are school leaders. Checking e-mail prevents school leaders from engaging with teachers and students. Some leaders don’t get up from their desks because they are either checking numerous e-mails, or feel as though they may miss an important communication.

Stop the madness!

In the past, when I first began as a principal I used to check e-mail right before I went to bed. I snuck up to my office and turned on my laptop, I wanted to make sure that I answered every teacher and every parent. I wanted to know my inbox was empty...or at least the e-mails were read. E-mail has become more a priority for some people than face-to-face interactions.

Checking e-mail during the day isn’t the worst thing, but it is when it prevents adults from engaging with students. Worse than checking during the day is when an expectation is set for checking e-mail at night or on weekends. I was notorious for checking e-mail several times each Saturday and Sunday, and checking e-mail before bed became a priority for me. It was the worst mistake I made on numerous occasions.


There were parents who sent me angry e-mails because of something their child told them right before they went to bed. It wasn’t that the parent was bad (although they could be mad), but they wanted to contact me while it was on their mind. OR...their child’s story made them so angry they marched over to their computer and sent me an e-mail right away so it was the first e-mail I read when I woke up.

Sometimes teachers would forward on an angry correspondence or send me an e-mail that I perceived as negative when it really wasn’t. Most times these e-mails turned into conversations in person that went well and brought us both to a better understanding.

Unfortunately, those e-mails read at night led to sleepless nights and made me tired...and a bit cranky the next morning. It’s why I changed my pattern and told my teachers they should change their patterns as well because I noticed they were sending e-mails at 9:30 or 10:30 at night. I never had an expectation that teachers should check their work e-mail every night but they began to have that expectation for themselves.

It needed to stop. It sends a message to parents, other teachers and their school leaders that the teacher in question checks e-mail all the time and are constantly at their disposal. It creates a pattern that the teacher or school leader will answer an e-mail any day....any night.

Educators need to set boundaries for themselves.

Many teachers and school leaders arrive to school a few hours before students and other stay hours after the students leave. And then they go home and eat, watch a bit of “The Voice” and then check their e-mail before going to sleep. That should change. We all have lives, and school leaders should never have the expectation that teachers check work e-mail before they go to bed.

I want my teachers to get the best night of sleep they can...every night. And if they don’t...it’s because they had a late dinner with friends or stayed up late to watch the World Series. Many educators and school leaders are dedicated to their professions, and not checking e-mail as often doesn’t mean they are any less-dedicated.

We all need to create some boundaries.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.