On the flip side, as a parent, I know how heartwarming or frankly, heart-wrenching emails can be depending on their contents. So, what's the best way to write an effective email to a parent? After sending literally thousands of emails during my 13+ years in the classroom, I don't get it perfect every time, but I have learned some things that guide me in my parent communication. So in no particular order here are my Rules to Email By.
1. Stick with formality. I always provide the courtesy of addressing my parents with Mr./Mrs./Ms. in my initial correspondence with them. This may be formal in the year 2017, but it to me signals a level of respect and also keeps emails businesslike. I only address parents by first names if they request that I do so.
2. Always, always, start with the positive. ALWAYS. This is the most important tip that I can give you. Remember you are writing about a person who means the world to the recipient of this email. Having a child is like having your heart living outside of your body. So parents need to know that you see their child in a positive light. Even better, try to send a positive email early in the child's year so that the first thing the parent hears from you is good news. This isn't easy for secondary teachers who teach +130 students, but it is something worth considering and I think for elementary teachers, it's a must.
3. Keep is simple. Don't try to explain too much in an email. The more you write the more room there is for interpretation which all too often can lead to misunderstandings. So say just enough. If you begin writing multiple paragraphs and laying out scenarios, it's time to send a short email setting up a mutually agreed time for a phone call.
4. Tired? Don't send an email. Stressed? Don't send an email. Upset? Don't send an email. Really hungry? Don't send an email. Suffering from what I call teacher-decision-fatigue? Don't send an email. Give yourself time and when you are in a good place, write the email.
5. When in doubt, pass the email to a fellow teacher, an administrator, or both for feedback before hitting send. Nothing is a better safeguard for a great email than having a trusted colleague read it and give you edits prior to clicking send. They will pick up on things related to the tone of the email than you may not have intended but nonetheless jump out at the reader.
6. Offer strategies. I always make suggestions for how I can help a student who is struggling behaviorally or academically. Don't just tell parents about an issue and without providing ideas on how to fix it. We are experts in our classroom space -- share your expertise so that you can begin a dialogue with the parent about a path forward. Be a problem solver, not someone who points out problems and leaves them sitting in someone's in-box with a giant thud.
8. Don't send an email to a parent after 7 pm if you can help it. Why? The parent is at home processing that email and then will likely feel the need to respond; there could be a chance that you catch them off guard and throw their whole evening (and that of your student) into a tailspin. Yes, that's right. When parents find out their kids misbehaved or didn't turn in a giant project, many of them will try to solve the problem right then and right there. You just provided them with a lot of stress and worry without a lot of daylight left to address it. So send any difficult communication as close to the end of the school day as possible. As a parent, I will be forever grateful and so will lots of other parents out there.
9. This goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway because it is so very important. Don't put anything in a an email that you wouldn't want to see in the Washington Post. We live in a world where emails can be shared on social media, forwarded, cc'd to your Principal etc. You get the idea. Be the professional that you are and well, keep it professional. I almost feel ridiculous for writing that because I know that you are professionals, but if there is one person out there who needs the reminder, well, I've said my piece.
10. Remember why you are sending the email, which comes back to the heart of the matter. You are sending this email because you are a teacher who cares profoundly about the student in the subject line. If your email isn't about making a difference (whether big or small) in the life of a child, it probably isn't an email worth sending.
Wishing you a sentbox full of wonderfully, crafted emails,
P.S. Do you have email pointers? I'd love to hear from you!
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