Educators, are mostly optimistic and believe that all is good. You work each day, do what’s best for your students, and more. You’re a great employee with fantastic evaluations. You have no worries until trouble finds you. Suddenly, you have a supervisor or boss who is gunning for you! When this happens, you need to document everything. If the time comes, be prepared to fight for your career. When trouble comes, have your documentation ready!
You may think to yourself that this post is negative. Think of it as a life and professional lesson. Unfortunately, the climate today is about improving test scores, politics, school closings, and the lack of funding or resources. Many principals and teachers are feeling the pressure to “get it done” despite inequities, complications, and things not in their control. At some point, all educators are evaluated based the items above. What happens when you don’t meet the data points? When your school’s rating and scores aren’t increasing fast enough, who is held accountable?
Your district will hold you accountable. You are professionally vulnerable when you don’t meet the metrics. Sometimes, politics will rear its ugly head and get in the way of progress. Then there is the possibility that you have a boss that wants you out for whatever reason. One day you’ll get a reprimand or disciplinary notice. Next, begins the process of a corrective action plan. It will blindside you. Eventually, it feels like a no-win situation.
When this begins to happen, stay calm. Don’t explode. Listen and gather the facts. Go home, reflect, and then assemble your evidence. Always, cover your anatomy (CYA). Some things they don’t teach in teacher preparation or principal preparation programs. Here are a few things you can do to keep relevant documentation handy.
First, you need a 3-ring binder. Yes, it is old school; however, if there’s trouble in paradise you will appreciate its use. You will also need color-coded tabs for the binder. In this binder, you’ll sort and store all copies of valuable information such as all notes, meeting agenda, emails, reports, disciplinary notices, and whatever else is pertinent to the situation. Store the binder in a safe space outside of your work location.
You are beginning a paper trail. Keep documentation of all meetings, phone calls, emails, and written communication from your supervisor or his/her designee. If you have copies of agendas, notes from meetings, or any handouts, keep all copies. During phone calls write notes of important points. Also, print out all emails that were sent and received. You can respond to all communication via email and highlight or bullet point pertinent information. In the written email start out the communique with, “Per our conversation” or “These are the items we discussed.”
Next, make digital copies of all documents. Scan and email a copy to yourself. Also, save documents to a portable storage device or store on the cloud. Remember, documentation is a priority when your professional life is hanging in the balance.
Third, keep your mouth closed. Nothing killed the duck but his QUACK! If you’re going through a disciplinary process or corrective action plan, you will be extremely stressed. It’s instinct to want to vent your anger, emotions, or sadness. Keep your strategies close to your chest. In other words, not everyone needs to know your business. Do not show your documentation to friends or colleagues.
Fourth, be patient and strategic. Follow your gut or intuition. Know when to involve your union representative or legal representation. You can write a rebuttal. Then start a paper trail. Documentation is your priority. Create a backup plan and start networking. Don’t burn bridges. Check the law and know your rights.
Everyone hits a professional rough patch or trouble spot. Be prepared when it happens. Therefore, remember to document, document, document!
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