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As a teacher there are many things we need to document daily. How little or how much documentation you do is up to you, but I have personally found that a few minutes of documentation each day has saved me a great deal of time in the long run. Here are ten tips to help you with teacher documentation.
Here I will give you a few examples of when documentation has saved me time. Hopefully these will inspire you to start documenting more or remind you why you document so much in the first place.
Little Susie is struggling in your classroom. You want to refer her for additional help, whether that is through Title I services, RtI, special education, or another program your school has in place. However, save yourself some time! Start keeping sample worksheets that Susie has completed in class. Take notes as to the different strategies you are using in class (proximity, extended time on assignments, tests read aloud, shortened assignments, etc). These types of things are often addressed at initial meetings. If you can show your colleagues and Susie’s family that you have done everything you can think of to help her out, you might be able to move the process along and get Susie the help she needs sooner – rather than being told to go back into your classroom to try such-and-such strategy for a month before another meeting can be held. (Or perhaps you will have to try more strategies, but if nothing else – you’ve shown the parents and your colleagues how dedicated you are to this student. Everyone will be appreciative of your help.) This is probably the area of teacher documentation that I have used most!
If you suspect something inappropriate is going on with a child at home – document it. I once taught a child who would come to school sluggish and incredibly “off”. We’re not talking about just missing a little shut eye, but rather something much bigger. It’s hard to guess what might be going on. I always call the guardians right away to see if they notice the same thing, but it’s nice to start documenting this behavior. This way you can tell parents exactly when things are occurring, or you have records to show other agencies if you realize there are bigger issues going on. (Please keep in mind that we must report neglect or abuse right away. I’m not saying to document it and let it go to the side. But those issues that make you go “hmmm” are worth writing down so you can see if a pattern exists and share this with your principal, student’s family, and any other pertinent people.)
You have communicated with parents a great deal all year. Suddenly at an end of year parent-teacher conference a parent starts yelling and tells you that you never told them their child was struggling. Your principal comes in and tries to smooth things over. Do you have documentation to show exactly how many times you did get in touch with this parent? Can you pull it out to remind the parent and show your supervisor? (If this is something you struggle to document, I’ve got a great freebie here that might help you out. This teacher documentation trick has saved my behind more times than I care to count!)
You have a coworker who is flat out rude to you. Rather than go into the teachers’ lounge and start griping, write it down. This does two things – 1) it prevents you from sharing the negativity around your building and feeding it more and 2) it allows you to have documentation to take to your principal if something like this is fairly continuous. While some people may see this as tattling, we tell our students to tell us if someone is being bullied. Shouldn’t we as professionals be treated the same way? If I have an ongoing issue with a colleague, I eventually bring it to my supervisor’s attention. However, I want to have materials to back up my statements. I don’t want to be guessing at what was said and when. (In all honesty, I’ve chosen never to share this documentation with my administrators. However, I do know I have it if the need arises.) If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of teacher bullying, please check out this amazing post by Education to the Core about how to handle the teacher bully.
You’ve been asked to perform extra duties (and perhaps you’re even getting paid to do them). Document each time you act on this extra assignment. Whether you had a brief conversation in the hallway, sent an e-mail to the entire staff, or simply shared an idea or lesson – document it. This will allow you the documentation you need to show you’ve done your part with due diligence. This also often comes in handy when teacher evaluation time rolls around! You can “show off” and prove all that you’ve done by pulling up the record you’ve been keeping. Great teacher documentation here!
Covering the standards. This seems to be a hot issue lately, and obviously we all want to ensure we’ve covered every standard so our students can be the best they can be. Make sure you document this. And by no means does this have to be fancy! There are a ton of resources out there that allow you to document standards for the entire class or even for individual students. I document standards in the simplest way possible. At the beginning of each year I print out the standards that I am responsible for covering. After I write my lesson plans each week, I take 20-30 minutes to write the standard down by the appropriate lessons. Next to the standards in my book, I write down the date/s that it will be covered. This way I can tell in a glance what area/s I still need to focus on, and I can show it to my supervisor, other teacher, or parents to let them know exactly where I’m at. Check out the many standards checklists on TpT or use an online lesson planner template such as PlanbookEdu. (I used this for a year and LOVED it even more than writing the standards like those sloppy pictures above. It felt and looked so much more professional!)
Behaviors. No one is perfect. Students are going to act up. Do you have a way of documenting this behavior? You need to. How can you sit in front of this child’s parents and tell them their child is misbehaving if you have no records to prove it. Each day I write down any issues worth talking to the kid about in my attendance book. I’ve toyed with the idea of moving this entirely online, but I haven’t gotten there quite yet… In cases of extreme behavior, I’ve actually made little calendars specifically for one child. I will write down the exact time and location where the event took place. This is great to take with me to special education meetings, and it gives me an idea if there are “trigger” times or areas for this particular child. Here is a link to behavior trackers on TpT. This type of teacher documentation has come in handy more times than I can count!
Student retention or additional services request. I’ve had students who consistently need help with assignments. While there’s not a problem with helping students with some assignments or parts of assignments, there comes a point where students must work independently and show you that they can do the work on their own. When I have children who rely too much on me, I make a simply box around their grade in my gradebook. (Yes, I’m old school and still keep a paper/pencil gradebook. I just can’t totally go online just yet!) Each quarter I can easily count up the “boxes” and tell parents, administrators, special ed staff, or other school personnel exactly how many assignments the student received help with. This documentation can be used to prove why retention may be beneficial, to show that a student is struggling (or refuses to) work independently, or simply needs additional support to be successful.
Late work. Some students will never turn in a missing assignment. Then there are others who are continuously fighting the battle of getting items turned in. Figure out some sort of documentation system to keep track of all the late assignments a student has. I simply put a little “L” by each late assignment in my paper/pencil grade book. Many online gradebooks also give you the option of marking the assignment as late. This way I can look at the student’s family and tell them exactly how many late assignments their child has. This has proved beneficial more times than not for me, particularly for those few chronic offenders.
Save e-mails! I used to teach special education. I can’t lie – my first year was rough! I didn’t understand what I needed to do, paperwork felt like it was always suffocating me, and I had to ask my Special Education Director for a LOT of help! She was extremely patient with me, but I know I was getting on her nerves pretty quickly. However, I quickly realized that in saving e-mails she sent me I quickly did two things for myself – 1) I kept from having to bug her with the same question over and over when I was overwhelmed and 2) I was able to pull her answers up when state agencies or administration came in and asked me why I did things a certain way. So I saved us both the time and headache of asking basically the same questions repeatedly and I also had justification for my actions when the “big wigs” wanted to know what I was doing.
Do I over document? Maybe. However, I like to have all my ducks in a row and I don’t want to be caught unprepared!
Now I know these may seem a bit extreme to some people, but with the new teacher evaluations going around I feel it’s time for us to stick up for ourselves and show our administrators who are evaluating us just how much we do in a day. Many of them are well aware of how hard we work, but others can be oblivious. Documentation will show them just how much work we do. And it can certainly save you a job in extreme circumstances! Make these ten teacher documentation tips part of your every day routine.
How do you do this? Figure out which tip is most important. Start doing it immediately! When it feels like you have that under control, choose the next one of importance. Continue until all the types of documentation you need to do are second nature. You can get better at this! I was not an expert overnight, but it got to the point where all of these types of teacher documentation came naturally to me.
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