My dad gave me loads of advice when I was growing up, but maybe the most useful was “document it”. (I sort of wish he had advised me to invest in Apple, but this might be just as valuable.) As an educator this advice has been exceptionally useful. Here are five things I really recommend educators document:
Any time you have a conversation with a parent be sure to document it. Using email is effective because it is an automatic archive of a conversation, but there are many times when email is not appropriate or the parent has indicated they prefer a non- electronic notification method. Either way, be sure to document the context and content of the contact. It isn’t necessary to write the conversation verbatim, but be sure to write down the time, date and duration of the conversation, with whom you spoke and the gist of the context and content. For example:
March 12, 2013, Mr. Adams (12 minutes) Discussed his son’s lack of success on the most recent quiz on school vocab and how he might improve. I suggested the class quizlet. He agreed. Will check back with Mr. Adams in two weeks.
If you can, send them a summary of the discussion. I can’t stress how critical having this kind of documentation is when Mrs. Adams calls up the principal later on to find out why her son currently isn’t passing. Any seasoned educator will agree that whether it is for encouragement or to suggest strategies for improvement, having the documentation about the call is well worth the time.
Discussions with Your Administration or Other Colleagues
Most discussions with either colleagues or your administration are friendly and collegial, but it never hurts to take notes. I’m not suggesting that every time you pass by a colleague in the hallway you jot down a note, but if you meet to discuss curriculum, student matters or anything to do with your performance, I suggest jotting a quick note in a log either while you are meeting or shortly thereafter. If there is even a chance the content of your meeting might be contentious, I highly recommend having a union representative with you. Still, be sure to take notes, and send a quick follow-up email to the colleague or administrator summarizing the meeting. I’m always willing to take notes at meetings because it is how I process and it beats having to rely on my middle-aged memory. The reality is when you need the documentation most might be when you are emotionally invested in a conversation and having that feedback loop will clarify both party’s perspectives.
We all keep grade books (either electronic or the old school paper kind) and educators try to maintain them as current as time allows. But what happens when 7th graade Sally Pierce passes in her quiz on the three branches of government and, although you graded it, the phone rang and you never logged it before passing it back….Oooops. Teachers often log over a hundred grades a day. It’s not surprising that some might get accidentally “not logged” or logged under Bobby Paulson’s name, the next guy down on the list…who, BTW, didn’t turn in his quiz. This is a great opportunity to teach students about documentation. I always insist that students hold onto work that is passed back either until the end of the quarter once they have seen their report cards, or until they see the electronically logged grade. This year, since my students will all use electronic portfolios, I will ask them to take a picture of their hard copy quizzes and tests when they get them back, so they can add them as evidence when reflecting on their learning. That way, if their grade doesn’t seem to reflect their success in class, they will have evidence they need to demonstrate their success. Phew! Grade changed, tears and anger averted, and I wear just a bit of egg on my face. I’m okay with that.
Your “WOW” Moments
Whether you are looking to become certified for the first time, re-certify, become nationally certified, are applying for a new job or just want to share your expertise with others, having examples of your “wow” moments is very useful. These are the moments when you really see evidence of student learning and student connection. Most all of us now have our plans and our activities online, so it’s not a stretch to keep our wow moments at our finger tips, but make sure you keep student work and student feedback to support those wow moments. This is especially important if you need to put together any kind of portfolio. It is not enough to say you have evidence of your expertise because you created a unit on great American writers if there’s no student evidence of learning. You must show evaluated student work to really demonstrate your ability to create and evaluate student proficiency. When a pre-service teacher passes in a portfolio piece that doesn’t have student evidence, I send it right back to them. Gather evidence from your wow moments, reflect on why they were wow moments and file that evidence somewhere. But be sure to include the final form of documentation…
Any time you request a parental signature… for a field trip, in order to use student work, to share a picture, or even to respond they have read a report or letter, document it. Document when the request for parent signature went out, document if the signature came back in and keep either a hard copy or electronic copy of the signature until you are certain you will never need it. There have been innumerable times when having the signature of a parent on a mdi-term report has made the end of the term much more reasonable. With the Google Drive App it is now simple to take a picture of the parent signature right on the document and store it into a particular file such as “parent letters 2015”. Once we get to September of 2016, I’ll delete the 2015 file…it’s just that easy.
I do not make these recommendations just because we live in a litigious society (which we do), but they are really meant to make your life easier. Email does document most things automatically for us, so if you can hold onto emails, that’s the easiest way to document your life as an educator. But if email isn’t an option, be sure to document the phone calls, meetings, student work and parental signatures and you will sleep better at night.