Many schools today are large and complex organizations. School administrators know from experience that the larger a school becomes, the harder it is to manage, but there are staff and student performance and disciplinary issues even in smaller schools. Even when a school is functioning well there may be significant issues that cause conflict among the staff or between the administration and a minority of members of staff. Some students and parents also tend to be difficult. Administrators need to know how to document and manage issues and conflict, since they are inevitable.
Serious issues or crises can be caused in schools by poor communications, unprofessional behaviour, failure of some individuals to meet requirements or expectations, school politics, personal agendas, mistrust and rivalry. Administrators must document school issues which have a negative impact on their own job performance, and protect themselves from false accusations and undeserved blame. Significant issues should be documented even when there are no immediate problems. If related problems surface later, the administrator can rely on her notes and will not have to resort to uncertain memory.
Document staff and student related issues, disputes, crises, failures, and specific performance and disciplinary problems. There should be dedicated private files for this purpose. For each entry recorded, give the specific date and time, and give a detailed report of the event. Record the names of the persons involved and the names of others who witnessed the event. Include specifics of what was said and done (or not done), and by whom. Ask witnesses to sign and date your documentation or give you written statements signed and dated by them. The existence of accurate and detailed documentation makes it difficult or impossible for anyone to distort the facts or lie subsequently. Have an appropriate third party from the management team present whenever you are dealing with a difficult person or situation. You can bring in more than one member of the management team if necessary. This way, nobody can say that you said or did anything that you did not say or do.
Once it is known that you document everything staff will be more professional in their everyday interaction with you, each other and students. Documenting school issues is useful in other ways as well since that information can aid decision-making and can help you to avoid legal problems.
Documentation assists you when you have meetings with members of staff who have behaved unprofessionally or who have not met stated requirements. In the presence of another member of the management team, you verbally inform the staff member in question that you cannot accept his behaviour or performance, as the case may be. You explain the correct course of action and give the individual a fixed period of time to mend his ways. This is documented. If the individual repeats the problem behaviour you give him a written warning, and if the problem persists after that, you can take whatever appropriate action you are authorized to take, or refer the problem to a higher authority.
Administrators should document school issues whenever they arise. This helps to improve school effectiveness by making it clear that there are standards, and that everyone in the institution is accountable for his actions. I will end by pointing out the fact that members of staff can also document legitimate problems they have with administrators, giving specific dates, times and events. Witnesses’ signatures or signed and dated statements add more force to the documentation.