Has this happened to you? It’s Friday afternoon and, remarkably, the day has been unusually quiet. There are no extracurricular activities to support that afternoon or evening, and you can leave school by 4:00 p.m. guilt-free. Shortly after getting home, it happens—your phone chimes and an email comes through, which you casually look at and notice is from a parent. Do you read it right away? Do you wait until Sunday night? Monday morning?
Several years ago, this scenario happened to me, and it forever changed my willingness to address issues through email after school hours. It was about 5:00 p.m., and I was looking forward to a relaxing Friday evening at home. Upon noticing the sender and subject, I opened the message and read what turned out to be a scathing message from a parent who was extremely upset that his son’s school-issued laptop was remotely locked by our IT department. To make things worse, the parent and student had driven to school that afternoon, but all IT staff and building administration had already left for the weekend. Predictably, the student told his father that he did nothing wrong and that he had an essay due on Monday which he could not finish without access to the computer. Based on the tone of the father’s email, I knew all too well that ignoring it would mean that he would be stewing all weekend and I would be faced with an irate parent first thing Monday morning, which is not how I wanted to start my week.
Before responding, I immediately sent a text to a member of our IT staff and asked if he knew why the network remotely locked the student’s laptop. Within minutes, he called, explaining that the student had gained root access to the computer, which essentially provided him with administrative privileges. I then emailed the parent back, explained why the laptop was locked, and asked the father to speak with his son. Within 15 minutes, the father emailed me apologizing for his scathing email. When confronted with the facts, the student admitted that he acquired root access to the laptop in order to watch Netflix, which was blocked by our network. The father also indicated that his son would be grounded for the weekend and would use the family desktop computer to complete his assignments. The father concluded by stating that he would support any school consequences for his son violating the acceptable use policy.
Having reflected upon this incident—as I have dealt with similar issues in the evenings or weekends—I have found that I am able to reduce my level of stress if I address the issue or concern immediately with brief and timely emails. While not every situation cannot be resolved easily through email, I have learned that by getting back to a parent or staff member immediately I can acquire additional information—but more importantly, I send the message that I am serious about addressing the concern.
As I enter my fifth year as an assistant principal, I cannot emphasize the importance of responding to all situations in a timely manner. Our staff and teachers have learned that they should email me if they need my immediate assistance—not because I am sitting at my desk, but because I am diligent about scanning all emails with my phone.
Some of you may be wondering, “Does this guy ever disconnect?” The answer is yes. First of all, 99 percent of my emails do not require immediate assistance. Next, I put my phone on Do Not Disturb when I sleep and, as a result, I am able to sleep soundly most nights, which is especially true when there is not a looming 7:00 a.m. meeting with an irate parent.
How do you strike a balance between being responsive to parent and staff concerns and protecting your evenings and weekends? How do you use email to stay connected in and out of school?
Matthew Malila is an assistant principal at Windham High School in Windham, NH. He is the 2019 New Hampshire Assistant Principal of the Year.