email etiquette for educators and everybody

8 Great Email Etiquette Tips for Educators & Everybody

Every email message from a parent or colleague is an opportunity to create a powerful impression. As Kevan Lee says in How to Send Better Email, great email gets across the intended message with the desired emotion. You have to do both. But you're so busy, how do you find time to craft the perfect email? Use these tips to plan ahead!

You don't accidentally send awesome email any more than you accidentally climb Mt. Everest. It takes practice and planning. This year I'm working to send better email. Here are the key phrases, tips, and ideas I've uncovered in my quest. Better communication = better relationships.

8 Email Etiquette Tips for Educators & Everybody

1. Use Their Name

Cows who are named give more milk. Aa living beings, we are wired to respond positively to our names. (Maybe with the exception of our full names for those of us whose Moms only used it when we were in trouble.)

Use the name of the person sending you the email. While you can have certain things that you repeat in common emails, typing their name means that you're paying attention and it matters.

better communication equals better relationships

Do you know people who are struggling to get along and send each other terse emails? You might need to help them start communicating face to face – their negative views of one another might be making a big deal about things that weren't meant that way.


2. Emote in Your Open

Emoting is showing emotion. Emote at the opening so your recipient knows you really do care. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Thank you!
  • You're right!
  • I'm really sorry ___ happened to you.
  • Thanks for sharing your idea.
  • I know this is really frustrating for you – let's get this solved.
  • Definitely strange! (I use this when something has happened that I've never seen before that will take me time to research.)
  • Awesome! (If they're telling me something good.)

3. Repeat and Relate to Requests

If they are asking for something, repeat their idea. Then try to relate to it. (This comes from Chase Clemons' Support Ops Email Guide).

So, for example, in my role as IT director a teacher contacted me upset that wifi wasn't working properly in the back of her room. I started off by acknowledging how frustrating it is and my own personal experience with wifi struggles. Then, we move on to tackle the problem.

Repeating makes sure you understand their point. Relating helps them know you empathize and also helps you consciously empathize in your own mind so you remember what it feels like to have this problem.

4. See Your Email Their Way

Read How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie to master this one. Always frame your email in terms of what THEY feel and THEY think. It sounds harsh, but typically, when having a problem, they can care less about YOUR inconvenience or your struggle. So, I'm not saying give into every single request and stop what you're doing. Just reread to see where you're using “I” too much and where you can use “we.”

5- Short but Not Snippy

Take out the word “but” and put a period to shorten sentences. (Hat tip to Carolyn Kopprasch from Buffer) Use shorter sentences. Add white space. If it is too long, many won't read.

I remember getting weekly update emails from a teacher that were 12 printed pages. WHAT?

Others are so short there is no room to emote or have follow up. These can come off as rude.

Brevity is a challenge for me. Write and reduce until the essentials are included.

6 – Use Power Phrases

Here are some phrases I like. I've laminated a page with them so I can pull them out in the stress of the day and use them.

  • Thanks for being open and honest about your experience so we can learn from it.
  • I know this is a huge disruption to your day and I'm working to get this fixed.
  • I'd love to help you with this.
  • I can fix this for you.
  • Let me look into this for you.
  • I'll keep you updated.
  • You're right, we could definitely do this better.
  • Can you try ….
  • If it's still a no go, can you… That will help me ….
  • I know this might sound scary but I'll walk you through it. Here's the steps:
  • I'm so sorry you're not finding ___ helpful. What do you like and not like about it? I'll be more than happy to see how we can help you? (This is when someone has complained but it is too short and I honestly don't know how to help.)

7 – End Well

End with a personal message or an uplift. Always end on a positive note about working together or what they can expect.

  • Awesome! Glad we got it fixed!
  • If that doesn't work or you have more questions, just let me know and I'll be happy to help!
  • If you have any other questions, please reply to this email. Does this help you?
  • Have a fantastic ___. (Friday, weekend, trip, vacation – or anything personal that will relate us as human beings not just human doings.)
  • And remember, I'm always an email away if you need help.
  • Does this help you?
  • Did that answer your question? And does it make sense?
  • Anything else I can help you with today?
  • If this isn't resolved to your satisfaction by ___ let's talk then, OK?

8 – Plan Common Responses & No's

Create Snippets or Templates for Common Requests

Remember the importance of classroom procedures? Help students be self advocates. For example, if a parent is asking at home about a grade and it isn't the day I enter them in Powerschool, I have a procedure where students flip their card to red and ask me about the grade. If I don't have other teaching tasks, the student and I will review the item, handle anything missing and I can update the grade immediately. If a parent asks, I help them understand the procedure that is in place and work to get their answer. This helps me get questions answered faster but also keeps me from being distracted.

When there are common issues happening in anything I support, I'll work on a common response that I can use as part of the larger, customized email. This saves time. Keep them in Google canned responses or a document (or use something like Phrase Express (PC) or Text Expander  (MAC) if you don't use Gmail or Thunderbird.)

Just remember to customize every email just a bit.

Plan to How Say No

As I read the powerful book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, I'm learning that to say yes to everything is not only unrealistic, it keeps me from focusing on the essentials. Learning to say no is essential! Here are some of the resources for phrases about how to say no that you can use.

My husband and I laugh as he has me do “no practice” when I'm saying “yes” too much. But there's truth to practicing saying no, particularly if you're a woman. Start rehearsing ways to say no that leave a positive impression.

No's For Women: Use the Relational Account Method

Research shows that saying “no” can harm the views people have of us . If we're women people will think we are cold and selfish. While that isn't fair, it is the world we live in. Women in particular need to know how to say no in a way that let's us continue to be perceived in a positive light. I

Wharton prof Adam Grant's  7 sentences he uses to say no shares the “relational account” tip. It is THE approach for women to learn, in particular, when they say no. Grant says:

 Studies by Hannah Riley Bowles and Linda Babcock reveal that when we offer relational accounts for going against the norm, we’re viewed more favorably, as we preserve our image as giving and caring. Here are some of my relational accounts:

  • Mentoring requests: “Students are my top priority professionally, and since I teach more than 300 students per year, I don’t have the bandwidth to take on additional mentoring.”
  • Speaking requests: “With more than two dozen speaking invitations rolling in per week, my wife and I have set a limit for speaking engagements, and at this point, I’m maxed out.”
  • Introduction requests: “I’d become a taker if I kept asking this person for favors” or “I don’t know this person well enough to impose.”

This means that when you say no, relate it to a human aspect of your life so the others can see why you're saying no. This happened to me by accident. I get so many requests to speak and often some people want me to drastically reduce my prices for speaking. During the school year I have just a few days to speak and when I get those requests, I can honestly say:

“I have two children in college and just 10 days a school year to speak. My husband and I agreed that I can only speak at my full rate during the school year so we can pay for college.”

This is the truth and it is something people understand. If you have a true relation then use it – don't make stuff up.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders also has some lovely ways to say no on her post on 99U.  Here are a few that I've tweaked for myself.

I'm happy to do that, let's move ___ to next week, then. (This forces them to make a choice if they have given me too many things on my list.)

Boy, I wish I could help you but that isn't my area of expertise. It might take longer for me to figure it out and I might not give you the right answer. I'm copying -_ on this email who does this every day. Let's see if he/she can help you before I get involved. (This hands it off to someone but lets the person know that if they don't get the answer they want, they can reach back to you.)

Wow! That sounds awesome. I wish I had the time right now to explore this more but with my full time teaching job, it just isn't possible right now. If I know someone who might appreciate this opportunity then I'll add this. I'm blind copying my friend ___ who might be interested in this opportunity and I'll let him/her get back to you if it fits with their current areas of interest. Good luck and thank you for reaching out!

You get the picture. Also notice how I use blind copy for introductions, particularly for the high level people who are now in my inbox. I want to protect and keep that relationship preserved.

Email Is Important: So Answer Well

While this is not comprehensive, it is meant to start conversations about how to respond to email. Every email is a chance to leave parents, colleagues, and community members with a wildly positive impression.

When you answer consider these tips and remember this — spammers and junk mailers might not deserve one but sometimes it is hard to tell. If in doubt, crank it out.

You can do this! Remember that awesome relationships are built upon awesome communications. Be an awesome communicator – it will help your career more than you can fathom!


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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Jo Schiffbauer August 28, 2014 - 10:18 pm

The examples you provide are useful and speak to the real challenges that busy teachers have with email today. And the references you shared for additional reading are helpful, too.

Brent Warner September 2, 2014 - 9:22 am

This is great Vicki!

I’ve been working to reduce my time spent on e-mails but in turn have found myself guilty of not living up to #5 properly. A couple of compliments on either side can really help out – I’m going to work on keeping these in mind for my e-mails.

Marissa Marx September 3, 2014 - 11:10 pm

In the school I work at, most of the parents are very involved in their child’s learning. I tend to get many emails weekly from parents sharing information about their child or wanting to know what they can do at home to help support their child’s learning. I found the post on “8 Great Email Etiquette Tips for Educators and Everybody” very helpful. I worry that emails can often seem so impersonal or the tone can be misunderstood. So many times I end up calling parents to follow up on emails they might have sent to me instead of just replying back. However, after reading the 8 tips, I feel more confident in articulating responses to parent emails. One tip that I think will be very helpful in responding to an email is tip number 3, Repeating and Relating to Requests. I think it is so important to state what the issue might be, help a parent realize that you understand where they are coming from, and then work together to solve the issue. When parents know that you are on their side, they are more likely to problem solve with you.

Marissa Marx September 7, 2014 - 6:41 pm

I feel communication is the key to a successful year with students and parents. Two years ago I felt that I relied way too much on email to contact my parents. So, last year I set a goal for myself. I decided that not only would I continue with email, but I was going to call two parents each week. My phone calls would be based around sharing positives and mentioning any concerns I had. I can’t tell you what a fabulous response I got from the parents for making the phone calls. I think it helped to bridge the gap between home and school and the parents greatly appreciated the update on how school was going. So the tips about emailing are fantastic, but sometimes it the connection through a phone can be so much more meaningful.

Vicki Davis September 7, 2014 - 8:55 pm

Wow, Marissa! This is awesome. Phone calls are great. I love this idea. I am wondering if we should share this one also. Do you want to write a blog post about this we can share? GREAT POINT. And yes, phone calls are great too.

Marilyn Herie September 12, 2014 - 6:38 pm

This is essential reading for all! Communication effectiveness is an ongoing journey and process, and your concete tips and examples are also highly relevant to online teaching. Conveying a sense of connectedness and relationship via text can be tricky, and this article is a nice complement to the tips for facilitating online courses that I’ve gleaned over the years:

Thanks for a wonderful post.

Vicki Davis September 12, 2014 - 6:43 pm

Marilyn thank you for making this important point! I hadn’t even thought of the connection we make over email with our students! Wow! Great point! Thanks for making it publicly so others can make the connection too! Happy Friday! Hope you have an awesome weekend!

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere
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