If you know me, you know that I love technology. I use technology every single day in my classroom: taking attendance using Google Forms, teaching calendar math on the interactive whiteboard, using a document camera to model multiplication arrays, completing a Nearpod lesson the types of rocks…the list goes on and on. I think that we can all agree that technology has made a positive impact on the students in our classroom, but have we stopped to consider how it has affected teachers?
In the relatively short 11 years that I have been teaching, there has been a dramatic shift in the way that teachers and parents communicate. While I used to make phone calls home during my contracted time before and after school or while my students were at a special, it now seems that I am getting emails at all hours of the day and night with the expectation of an immediate response. Communication apps such as ClassDojo and SeeSaw are awesome tools for classroom communication during the day. Not so awesome when teachers are bombarded by notifications while they are eating dinner in the evening or spending time with their families on the weekend.
Technology gives a false impression that teachers are “on-call” and are available 24/7.
What each teacher chooses to do in these situations is a personal decision, however, I would encourage them to think about the repercussions of being available after contracted hours and the precedent that it sets for other teachers.
How To Establish Healthy Boundaries
The best way to deal with unrealistic communication expectations is to establish boundaries at the beginning of the school year.
Study.com reminds us “Here’s the thing: you can’t exactly complain about parents crossing boundaries if you haven’t clearly communicated very specific boundaries to begin with. Make sure that, at the very beginning of the school year, you set those parental boundaries.
I am sure that you send home some type of welcome letter, brochure, or flipbook. While you are giving families all kinds of great information about the curriculum, schedule, and homework, go ahead and add in a blurb about your communication policy.
Example: “I look forward to working together to make sure that your child has a wonderful school year! My office hours are from :::insert contracted time here::: Monday-Friday. Any phone calls or emails made outside of these hours will be returned the next day.”
This lets parents and guardians know right off the bat when you will be available to talk with them. If they choose to contact you outside of these times, you will not feel pressured to get back to them immediately because you already let them know what your policy is.
How to Maintain Those Boundaries
So you’ve set your expectations at the beginning of the year. Here are some other ways to maintain those boundaries.
Utilize your email features
Most email servers have some type of out of office or vacation mode – use it! You can set it up so that, should you receive an email over the weekend, an automatic reply will be sent back to them. You can use this customized message to remind them that you will get back to them as soon as you can on Monday.
Here’s a tutorial for Gmail. I do wish that you could specify certain hours, but that is not an option yet.
Delete your school email account from your phone
If this is an option for you, simply remove your school email account from your phone. This removes the temptation to check it outside of school hours. Psychologists agree that “Checking your emails in the evening, on the weekends, or especially on vacations, never gives you the chance to fully disengage from your work. Time spent away from work should be time to unwind and recharge. But if you’re constantly checking work emails on your cell phone, you never let your brain turn off and you risk getting burned out.” (Smith, 2018)
Utilize app features
Kudos to ClassDojo for recognizing that teachers need some downtime. They have an amazing feature called “Quiet Hours.” You can set your own hours (including weekends) and during your Quiet Hours, you won’t receive any notifications for parent messages. Here is a tutorial for setting up Quiet Hours on ClassDojo.
I am not aware of a similar feature on SeeSaw (please comment below if I’m wrong!) but they do have an option to decide how many notifications you want to receive (all, once a day, none.)
A School-Wide Solution
I came across several schools and districts that are implementing an email filter type of system that is an interesting solution. One teacher explains “In my current school, we have implemented a centralized contact point between home and school – the school office – to better track communication, reduce teacher workload and ensure that emails from parents are dealt with promptly and consistently. All parents email the office, who first seek to deal with the inquiry themselves (dates of upcoming trips, uniform queries, sickness etc). If the message requires more specific support, it can be sent to the form tutor or subject teacher as appropriate.”
Having said all of that, obviously, there are certain situations that might warrant communication outside of contracted hours. If a parent isn’t able to meet or talk during your office hours for whatever reason, it is important to accommodate their needs.
“It’s important to make it clear to parents that having strict communication policies does not mean you’re unwilling to cooperate with them. If there really were some sort of extenuating personal circumstances that prevented a student from being in class on time, of course, you’re open to discussing the situation with the parent, just at an appropriate place and time.” (Rogozinsky, 2018)
- What to Do When Parents Don’t Understand Boundaries