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.
Looking to increase your documentation right now? Then you’re going to LOVE this documentation resource! It includes over 120 different forms to help you document everything your classroom all year long.
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! You can get documentation forms for this in my Teacher Documentation resource.
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. My Documentation Resource includes the super simple form I used to track concerns like this.
(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.)
There’s a form for this included in my Teacher Documentation resource. Click here to see it now!
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. You can check out my entire teacher documentation system 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! I document standards in the simplest way possible.
At the beginning of each year I print out the standards 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.
I include standard documentation pages in my Teacher Documentation binder. You can check it out here.
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.
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.
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.
Looking to increase your documentation right now? Then you’re going to LOVE this documentation resource! It includes over 120 different forms to help you document everything your classroom all year long. Click through to check it out now!
Teacher Nyla says
I'm glad you wrote this post because my New Year's resolution for 2014 and onward *hopefully, is to be regular with my daily documentations.
Marta Karnes says
I am a new teacher and I haven't done well with documentation so far. I am glad you posted this. How do you keep all of this together?
Justin Knight says
This is such an important topic. Documentation has saved my bacon more times than I can count. Great examples of how and when to document too, Heather. Happy New Year!
Heather W says
Marta – Honestly, sometimes I wonder that myself! I have a parent/family communication log near my desk that I track regularly. This is the one thing that I absolutely MUST track regularly. Each year I take the forms for that particular year, bind them together, and save them.
As for other tracking, I have various folders in my e-mail. One of these folders is strictly for special education paperwork, another is for items regarding paperwork at my current school, and another is for "smiley" notes I get that I can read when I'm having a down day! 🙂
Thankfully I don't do every single one of these on a regular basis. When I had a challenging coworker, I kept a diary at home. This way no student ever got into it!
When I've had challenging student issues come up, I've kept those in another folder in my e-mail inbox as e-mails I sent to myself. Although I quickly realized that I was running out of space, so I simply started a Word document that I kept saved on he server (for my eyes only!) with all of the information I received from Child Protection Services, chats with my administrator, and any "different" activity that arose with that child.
Honestly, I feel there's no "right" way to track. Decide what works best for you. I'm a paper/pencil AND electronic type of gal – so I've got items scattered here, there, and everywhere! It's not the most ideal system, but to me the important part is that I have a system in place!
If I can be of further assistance or answer more specific questions, feel free to e-mail me directly or leave another comment. =)
Justin & Nyla – Thank you for your comments! =)
I agree with these, but I had 187 students last year and saw 99 one day and 88 the next. Next year we are going back to 7 period day and I am going to have 201 students every day. Keeping documentation on all of these kids is going to be impossible.
Carla Rivera says
Documentation of RTI?? There is a huge push for that since I work in a focus district. How do you keep track of interventions? ?
pirate princess says
I find using the One Note to store documentation very handy. You can create one notebook called documentation and within that add tabs for each area you want to document. It is a user friendly platform and folders can be shared with admin or RTI teams so that multiple people can read and add comments as needed. You can still keep notebooks "for your eyes only" by not sending invitations to others and "locking" the content. My school has used this for the past three years for all types of forms, even team level year long plans and resources. Since my laptop goes home with me, and to all meetings having all the documentation in one place is ideal.
Bye Felisha says
I have had students tell horroble lies. What has helped me each and every time is the consistent documentation that I keep on students.
I use the snipping tool to grab a screenshot of any email needed, mostly parent communication, and paste the image into a word doc specific to that child. It is quicker than any other method I have used in 17 years and I can easily enlarge, print, whatever. Very helpful when you end up with 62 pages of communication with one helicopter parent!
Oh girl! That is a great idea, but I’m so sad you had to come up with this “trick” due to 60+ pages of communication. Stay strong!
I love this article! Document, document, document. I appreciate you sharing this with us. I will try and implement this asap because it is need to stay ahead of the game. Teachers are overworked and underpaid for ALL the things that we have to do during the course of the day and after we go home. A teachers work is never done, but we continue because it is our passion.
Great tips. I document merit awards given out to students. That way I can be sure I get around to each child during the semester at least twice. I write the reason for the merit, hopefully that student won’t always get an award for the same reason.
Thank you for your post. I taught in K-12 for 31 years and now Im an adjunct professor. I wouLdnt believe that i would have to develop documentation tracking Systems for students in collEge. The documentation that I kept this year heLped me when I met with my supervisor. It is not only in The documenting but also in how to organize this information.
I’m at the point where I believe we need to document anything and everything. Or at least sometimes it seems that way! I documented like crazy as a teacher, as an administrator, and even now as a stay at home mom of two and business owner. It never ends! HA! But it DOES give me peace of mind to know that I’m tracking various aspects of my life to look back on if needed. And yes – organization is HUGE! I actually have a HUGE documentation resource in the works, so check back to learn more about it when I’m able to get it posted. (Hopefully before back to school season, but we’ll see…) Thanks for your comment!
Lee Hughes says
Another thing I do with documentation that helps me track chronic absentees. I print out a school year calendar and make multiple copies so that when I see a problem developing, i can keep track: “t” for tardy, “a” for absent, and “e” for early dismissal. When it is on a calendar, it is easy to see that little susie is checked out early every friday, or that johnny comes in late every monday, and so on. It also helps when they are checked out too late for the attendance to be marked (like the last 15 minutes of the day) but are still missing instruction time. As I had a parent once say “it’s only 5 minutes a day!” but then I reminded her that it worked out to 15 hours over the course of the year that her daughter was missing from that one class.
LOVE THIS! You’re right, those minutes add up! Thank you for sharing. =)