Digital Communications

Employee

Best Practices For Email

And Other Digital Communications

Digital communication such as email and text messages can be convenient and effective ways of sharing information with colleagues. However, it is important to remember that digital communication—including email and text messages—may be public records and subject to disclosure under state and federal law. For instance, the Maryland Public Information Act, which is similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act, grants a broad right of access to public records while protecting legitimate governmental interests and the privacy rights of individual citizens. Therefore, it is particularly important that our digital communication reflects the same high standards of professionalism that we expect in our in-person communication.  

Important to Remember

Digital Communication—including email and text messages—may be public records and subject to disclosure under state and federal law.

These best practices have been developed to help you engage effectively and responsibly when using email, text messages and other digital communication tools. They build upon the foundation set forth in the MCPS Employee Code of Conduct pdf; MCPS Regulation IGT-RA, User Responsibility for Computer Systems, Electronic Information, and Network Security; as well as other Board of Education policies, MCPS regulations, and all applicable federal and state laws. These requirements are collectively referenced as MCPS rules. Please see the Social Media Best Practices for Employees for other digital communication strategies. For guidance regarding general written correspondence, please see the MCPS Correspondence Manual  pdf.

man at computerChoose the most appropriate communication method

For instance, confidential or sensitive information warrants a phone call or in-person discussion. Email is for memorializing information, defining action steps, providing confirmation, summarizing meeting outcomes, or making an inquiry, among other things. Text messaging is for quick, more informal communication.

Use your MCPS email address for official MCPS educational purposes

monitorMCPS provides all employees with a dedicated email address (ending in mcpsmd.org or mcpsmd.net) to conduct business on behalf of the school district. Employees should use only this address for educational purposes, which include actions directly promoting the educational, instructional, administrative, business and/or support services missions of MCPS, and are related to any instruction, project, job, work assignment, task or function for which the user is responsible. Do not use a personal email address when communicating on behalf of MCPS. If employees receive a message in their personal email account that is related to MCPS business, that email should be forwarded to their MCPS email address and deleted from their personal email. Remember that email exchanges with parents should be copied into the communications log.

Please be aware that if an email, text message or other communication is made or received in connection with the transaction of business involving MCPS, it may be considered a public record regardless of whether it was sent from a personal or MCPS account. Additionally, please be aware that there are federal and state laws that may require MCPS to review and disclose digital communications or other data from phones or other mobile devices used to conduct business on behalf of the school district.

Examples of appropriate use of MCPS email:

parent
Responding to a parent about their child's grade
colleague
Sending an email to a colleague about a project
meeting
Summarizing action items after a meeting

Take care to keep your MCPS network password confidential

Do not let someone else use your MCPS email address, account or password. Be sure to change your password as required. Remember that you may be held accountable for any action taken by or with your account. 

woman in classroomRemember that email, text messages, and other communications sent from MCPS accounts are not private

These communications are considered property of the district and therefore may be subject to public disclosure. All actions are subject to review and may be logged and archived, and monitored to ensure they are used solely for educational purposes. MCPS employees are prohibited from using MCPS accounts for personal gain or any illegal activities. Keep in mind that messages can also be forwarded or distributed to other individuals in whole or in part.

Please be aware that MCPS is revising staff email retention protocols. Beginning in September 2019, the email retention policy will be changed to 365 days for MCPS staff. This applies to MCPS-provisioned email accounts in both Microsoft Office 365 (.org) and Google Suite (.net).

Additionally, be aware that in some instances the MCPS Office of the General Counsel may instruct employees not to delete electronically stored information, or discard paper documents that must be preserved because they are relevant to a new or imminent legal case. In some cases, the MCPS Office of General Counsel may ask you to provide records of communications that are related to a legal case, or a court may issue a subpoena for records of communications related to a case.

Limit email, text messages, and other digital communication with students to appropriate educational purposes directly related to instruction or your MCPS work responsibilities

kids in class Adhere to the requirements set forth in the Employee Code of Conduct. For example, do not have one-on-one interactions with MCPS students through social media, email, text messages, messaging apps or other electronic communication methods about subjects not directly related to instruction or your MCPS work responsibilities. Communication with students via temporary or anonymous messaging apps is prohibited. Do not use personal email accounts, social media networking sites, text messages, messaging apps, or other electronic communications to socialize or become “friends” with students.

hands on keyboardBe mindful of confidentiality

Think about the content that you are sharing, and with whom you are sharing it. Remember that some matters are complex and sensitive and may instead warrant a phone call or in-person discussion. MCPS employees are prohibited from knowingly participating in the unauthorized disclosure, use or dissemination of any confidential information obtained in their work duties, including any personally identifiable information about students or their families, as well as personnel records.

Be professional

Avoid mixing personal and professional topics. Additionally, do not gossip or engage in conduct that is rude or disrespectful, uses vulgar language or racial slurs, or includes materials that are inflammatory, libelous, slanderous, or constitute cyberbullying, harassment, or intimidation of others. Remember, MCPS is committed to fostering a culture of respect throughout the school district. Think about how you would feel, and how others might feel, if something you wrote in an email became public.

See the culture of respect web page

woman at deskBe aware of your tone

Remember that your recipient cannot hear or see you. Think about how your words may be perceived. Avoid using all capital letters, as this can be perceived as shouting. Avoid responding to an email immediately if you’re angry or frustrated; take the time to reflect. Remember, a benefit of in-person communication is the ability to see and respond to people’s reactions, as well as the ability to build better relationships.

Respond to messages in a timely fashion

However, remember that email is not an urgent means of communication. If you need to speak with someone immediately due to an emergency or other time-sensitive situation, consider a phone call.

Save important emails in an MCPS electronic or paper file

Do not use your inbox to archive messages.

older lady at keyboardMake your message easy to read

Be mindful of font sizes, types and colors. It is OK to emphasize parts of your content with different fonts or colors when necessary, but it is important not to overdo it.

Use the subject field

Make your subject line clear and specific. This helps your recipient know quickly what your email is about. Extend the same courtesy when issuing calendar invitations.

Keep your email signature professional

MCPS prohibits special stationery, quotations or sayings as part of or following an employee’s email signature. Only the motto or vision statement of an employee’s specific school or of MCPS are acceptable.

MCPS email signatures should include, at a minimum, the name of the sender and their position. For school-based personnel, the name of the school should be included. It is recommended that employees also add their work phone number.

proofreadProofread your message before sending

Compose complete messages. Messages should have proper capitalization, punctuation and grammar. Ensure that links work and that you have included any attachments.

Know the recipients with whom you are communicating

MCPS has many people with similar or even identical names. Confirm you have listed the appropriate recipients and use care regarding auto-fill, as it is possible to unintentionally send your message to the wrong recipient. If an email is sent to an unintended recipient, consider using Microsoft Outlook’s recall message function.

keyboardingUse care regarding auto-fill and reply all

Only the most relevant work-related messages should be sent to all recipients. Private messages, or messages that only apply to a few people, should not be sent this way. Additionally, avoid cc-ing more recipients than necessary.

Limit long email and text threads

Email conversations should be short and remain on topic. Avoid using an old thread to start a new conversation. When someone makes a Maryland Public Information Act request, MCPS must conduct a reasonably calculated search to uncover all relevant documents. If multiple topics are discussed in an email thread, those emails can be pulled as part of an MPIA request, even if the request is regarding only one of the topics.

computer labBe aware of “phishing” emails

Phishing, the process of requesting confidential information over the internet under false pretenses, is very common. These email messages may look legitimate and ask you to click a link or send a reply with the requested information, which often includes credit card information, login IDs, passwords or other personal data. MCPS has multiple tools, including a robust spam filter, that block many potentially harmful emails. However, you should still be mindful of sharing confidential information.

Report suspicious or inappropriate digital communication activity

MCPS employees should report suspected phishing, as well as other suspicious or inappropriate use of data, computer system abuse, or possible breaches of security. School-based employees should alert the principal or the principal’s designee responsible for information technology. Non-school-based employees should alert their immediate supervisors. Serious infractions, as set forth in the Manual of MCPS Computer Systems Security Procedures, also should be reported to the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO).

Remember, digital communication is one of the many ways we can make a positive impression on our colleagues and the greater MCPS community every day.