Giving Life To Emails

I’ve recently been doing a lot of thinking around electronic communication. I’m taking the Teacher Leadership Course through our Board, and one of the modules deals with communication. Through this module, we looked at how much we can communicate through our tone and actions, as well as our words. The Mehrabian Communication Study was an eye-opening one, and made me think about this older post by Sue Dunlop on the value of communicating in person or through a phone call. I totally understand what Sue’s saying, and what others expressed during this module on the importance of reducing or highly eliminating electronic communication, but I wonder if we can still find some reasons for emails to exist.

For most of October and some of November, we had a student teacher in our classroom. While my teaching partner, Paula, and I communicate a lot in person — taking multiple moments to reflect together before school, during the school day, and after school — we also share a lot electronically. It’s common for both of us to text or email each other with new ideas, interesting articles, and questions to consider, in the evenings or on the weekends. We’ve actually increased and deepened our communication with each other through these blended digital and non-digital options. Topics of greater debate are ones that we will definitely discuss in person, but other topics are often discussed online. With the use of emojis, word choice, and tone, there is almost a non-verbal component to this written “verbal” communication.

When our student teacher was in our classroom, we included her in many written conversations. I remember having a great discussion with her at one point about her preference to converse in person. I understand. And I wanted to give her what she wanted, so we tried to arrange additional times to sit and talk about lessons, upcoming plans, and feedback. That said, I remember mentioning something to her that I think is worth considering in this electronic communication discussion: as much as we can discuss in person with our administrators or colleagues, different schedules and meetings, often make emails and texts a reality of our day. I think that there’s an important skill in learning how to communicate clearly, effectively, and at times, even passionately, through an email. I still wouldn’t recommend discussing controversial issues online, but I have used email as a way to set-up a meeting to discuss some of these topics. 

A number of years ago, I remember emailing a principal of mine to set-up one such meeting. I had a few important topics to chat about, and I felt that these topics required more than an email exchange. That said, I knew how busy this principal often was during the day, and I didn’t want a rushed exchange — for either one of us. My hope was that by arranging a time, we could really take an opportunity to converse and problem solve. This is exactly what happened, and my principal quickly got back to me with a time to meet the next day. I remember this meeting though, for as soon as I came into the room, he jokingly mentioned “looking on my blog” to see if he could “determine what I might like to discuss.” 🙂 He knows me well, and in fact, I did blog generally about the issue, just a little later than he looked. This exchange though reminded me of something important: I often take to electronic communication tools — particularly my professional blog — to flush out my thoughts on a variety of topics. This time organizing my thinking, deciding on my word choice, and even getting feedback from others, often helps me see different perspectives and remain calmer (and less emotional) during face-to-face conversations. 

If given the option — assuming that the topic of conversation is not a contentious one — I would far prefer an email exchange. Why? This is where I can choose my words best, format my remarks, and keep the conversation cognitive, instead of with the emotions that often happen in person. Even when engaging in face-to-face or phone conversations, I often make a list of my main points and pre-plan how I want to communicate my thoughts. This keeps me focused on the topic at hand, and helps reduce the possibility of tears (something that is always a struggle for me, especially around more sensitive topics). So while I know and understand the value of these in person conversations, I don’t want to get rid of electronic communication tools. For people like me, who require the thinking, planning, organization, and reflection time around discussions, there’s something to be said for a tool that lets me do this without the need for an immediate response. 

  • I can proofread.
  • I can wait on pressing “send.”
  • I can get input from others first.
  • I can even read the words aloud to see how they might sound, and invite a trusted friend to do the same.
  • I can have a record of my words and theirs, which can sometimes be beneficial if issues do arise. 
  • I can quickly and easily invite other people into the conversation if needed by adding them to the chain of emails. This is far harder to do when trying to work around yet another person’s schedule for a face-to-face meeting.

Am I alone here? Even with the benefits of a human connection, are there times when an electronic option may be preferable? I think there’s a skill to composing a well-written and well-read email that showcases the feelings, actions, and person behind the words. I like undertaking the challenge of mastering — or at least improving — this skill. What about you?


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