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Don’t press send – Headmaster’s Blog -Ballard School

January 9, 2015

A recent article in Attain magazine (Spring 2015) tackled the tricky area of communication between home and school by email. Recently areidlowres41someone used the analogy of some emails being like road rage: messages sent from behind the protective ‘barrier’ of the computer screen (or mobile device) in which the sender would say something they would never utter face to face. The article also referred to the emails send after the ‘glass of wine threshold’ and referenced the data collected from 100 Heads in response to questions about emails they had received.
We will all no doubt remember an email sent in a rage, possibly about a relatively minor matter, which has clouded the original message. Invariably perspective arrives later – probably in the morning – but we are then left with trying to deal with a problem now aggravated by the tone and haste of our response.

Emails can be very helpful for communicating specific points of information, asking for clarity over an event or meeting, summarising minutes or engaging in some ‘blue sky thinking’. They are rarely the best means of dealing with a complaint, particularly if there are angry emotions behind it. Whilst cross words may be exchanged face-to-face, we generally measure our reaction better, look for body language signals and seek to reach a resolution, often employing empathy. I recall an angry email from a parent in my previous school which expressed disappointment about their child not being appointed a School Prefect. As soon as we met a short time later, the parent was able to see from the criteria for the office about why their child was currently not suitable and could understand what more needed to be done. More amusingly, the parent also came to realise that their child hadn’t actually applied for the position and so could not be considered under our procedures! We parted on good terms.
In our digital age it is all too easy to send and collect messages dealing with important issues, sometimes with inadequate thought behind them. I am trying to discipline myself not to use the computer or a mobile device after 9.00pm and not to deal with any important (unless urgent) email when at home outside ‘normal / reasonable school hours’ (whatever these may be in an independent school!). I also try not to deal with school work on a Sunday. It’s important that we all build in some protection for our family and personal lives or else all suffer – a lesson Headmasters amongst many others find difficult to learn! If all else fails, it may be cathartic, as the Attain article suggests, to compose an email response and then don’t press ‘send’.

Alastair Reid (Headmaster) – with thanks for the views and research of the IAPS communications manager (Attain magazine)

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