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Documenting Student Behavior

One of the easiest and hardest things to do is to document student behavior. In the moment, you always believe you will remember exactly what the student was doing to disrupt the class or the flow of learning, but I promise you that you will forget. Teachers already have to hold so much information in their head, it is much more efficient to write it down and leave that brain space available for other things.

I do this by keeping a large spiral notebook right next to my Good Citizen bulletin board. Any time a student receives a sad stick I write what happened in this notebook. These are not always detailed explanations, I have come up with my own short hand over the years: TWTWT is “taking while the teacher was talking” and NFD is “not following directions”. The point is to write down, as quickly as possible, the date, the rule broken and if need be, anyone involved with an incident and the follow-up that was given for more serious infractions.

Writing down, even small infractions, is important. This could help you recognize if there are patterns in a student’s behavior: Do they only seem to have trouble the day after they spent the night with mom? Are they always misbehaving with the same student? Is it random rule breaking or always the same rule?

Having this documentation available during Parent Conference’s will also help support a discussion on what can be done, as a team, to help the student stay on course with their behavior. At our school, we have a referral process called IMPACT. This is a group of educators and specialist on our campus who come together to support the student and teacher with academic or behavior issues. Hopefully, you have some similar support system on your campus.

If I have a child who is very disruptive and having continuous problems even after interventions, I have to be able to show when and what misbehavior occurred and how I addressed it. Because I always have this written documentation, it is easy for me to formulate a plan of action with the student and bring the information of what was and what wasn’t successful to the IMPACT team so we can decide which further steps to take in helping this student achieve success.

If you had a student that was always yelling out in class, not respecting others personal space etc., when you sought support of a behavior specialist or the IMPACT team they would ask what negative behavior the child engaging in and what interventions were tried.

It is so much better to be prepared and be able to report: “On 8/25, 9/1 and 9/2, this child grabbed and shook another student by the shoulders. The first time, I spoke with the student we reviewed the rules and role-played how to interact with friends. The second time reviewed expectations again and sent a note home to his parents. The third time I reviewed expectations again and I made a phone call to the parents. We came up with a signal and verbal reminder we would both use if the child was becoming too aggressive and agreed to talk every few days to touch base. The parent also agreed to discuss being gentle with others at home. Unfortunately, the child is still having problems a month later. I have documented an incident with nine different students, so this doesn’t seem to be a problem with only one child. I would really appreciate some more suggestions to try.”

As opposed to saying “This child is very disruptive and often grabs on other children. I have talked to mom, but he is still hurting other students in my class.”

Once you get in the habit of using the notebook for documentation, it will be quick and easy. For behavior that doesn’t need to be addressed immediately, I often continue the lesson, walk over and place a sad stick in a student’s card, write the rule that was broken and go on teaching. By doing this, the student is made aware of what they were doing and you can address it a few minutes later without taking learning time away from the entire class.

My behavior documentation notebook has been a lifesaver in helping me address unwanted behavior in my classroom and is an integral part of my classroom management system. No one has to look at it but me, so I am never worried about neatness or being exact in everything I write. As long as I keep track of important information in a way that I can understand, then this information can be used to promote positive outcomes for all students in my class.

“A teacher's constant task is to take a room full of live wires and see to it that they are grounded.” EC McKenzie



I have been teaching for 22 and find your words of wisdom to be right on target. I have been doing this for so long that I find myself in a rut. Your fresh ideas are really helping me break through the old (not always effective) habits.
Thank You!


WOW! 22 years! Kudos to you! You must have so much wisdom and experience to offer others as well. I am so glad I could offer you some ideas to use. It IS hard to break old habits, how wonderful for your students that you are continually striving to improve your classroom environment, you sound like a great teacher. It is good for me to hear that you think what I am saying is on target. Positive feedback from such a seasoned teacher is so beneficial. Take care and I hope to hear from you again!

Heba Brohi

I really, really, really liked your idea of documenting student behaviors. This is exactly what I have been looking for. I teach a small class of 4th graders (only 10 students), but I have been struggling to document incidents after school or even during my prep...you were right, teachers just have too much on their minds!

And again, we are constantly asked for specific details about a student's behavior when speaking to behavior specialists or even the principal. It is great to have such documentation handy. I will definitely try this out...I just hope I can make it a habit that sticks!

Thanks again!
Heba Brohi


Thanks Heba- I loved getting your feedback about what I wrote. There is a little chart I keep in my classroom "For a child to learn something new, you need to repeat it 8 times. For a child to unlearn an old behavior, you need to repeat the new behavior on the average of 28 times. 20 of those times are used to eliminate the old behavior and 8 of those times are used to learn the new behavior." I am sure it applies to adults, too! Good luck in making some new habits and enjoy you small class of 4th grade sweeties!
Take care! -Jennifer

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