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You've Got Email - With 24/7 communications, how can a principal ever catch up?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 4:00pm

A principal's time is always in demand, and communication is a major factor in this cycle. About 100 years ago, researchers were studying how dictated letters affected principals' workdays. Today, of course, communication methods have changed dramatically. Educators may opt to communicate with their students via text message, phone calls, or video chats in addition to more traditional communications (particularly while school buildings have been closed due to the pandemic). Above all, email persists as a primary mode of communication for many school leaders, since it is widely accessible, generally efficient, and easy to store and organize.

But how do principals feel about the role of email in their lives? What are their perceptions of email and how much time it takes in their hectic workdays? In 2019, Pollock and Hauseman interviewed 70 Canadian principals, who perceived benefits of email, including managing their workload and creating an accountability trail. For instance, one principal said, "If you send an e-mail, there's a record of it" (p. 378).

However, these principals also reported that the obligations of writing and responding to email messages intensified and extended their workdays. Describing how email impacted the lives of principals, one principal stated, "I check every hour, and that's even at home, too" (p. 388).

But how does email actually affect the workload of principals? I recently partnered with the Eudora School District (ESD, a pseudonym) to collect data on the actual email activity of principals to see if their perceptions match reality. I worked with five principals in the district—one high school, one middle school, and three elementary school principals. From the district email server, we downloaded their email data—such as email addresses of senders and recipients; timestamps of drafted, sent, and received messages; and subject lines—for one week. I did not review the content of any of the emails.

By Dr. Craig Hochbein, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership

Research Focus: 
Data Informed Decision Making
Organizations and Organizational Change
School and Organizational Leadership
Field of Expertise: 
Education Policy
School Leadership