How to Create an Electronic Filing System

While organizational systems should be unique to each school and administration team, there are some best practices to follow when organizing a system of electronic files.
By Maury Grebenau
January 2019, Volume 42, Issue 5

Behind the ever-changing challenges principals face is a cycle of events, memos, emails, and other paperwork that snake through each week, month, and year with regularity. Having a good system to organize these documents and communication ensures you are not starting from scratch each year and also makes transitions in administration easier. While organizational systems should be unique to each school and administration team, there are some best practices to follow when organizing a system of electronic files.

Assign Ownership

Assign an administrative staff member to be responsible for the filing system and documents, especially the non-paper ones. Do not have multiple copies of one file because changes won’t be consistent. Having clarity about who on the team keeps track of what papers and files will ensure that efforts aren’t doubled and that someone will be responsible for keeping track of important information. Take time after a program, an event, or an email to make any changes to a final document, which is “owned” by the administrative staff member. These documents can “live” on a shared drive or on the cloud, but the ability to edit them should be restricted to the owner of the file.

Get Organized

Folders should have a clear sense of order and not be cluttered. The main purpose of this type of filing system is to be able to find old files quickly in the future. Try out this litmus test: Can someone who isn’t familiar with the filing system find a file relatively quickly? If so, you’ve your system is efficient.

The system of organization should make sense and not hinder the workflow. One way to organize files is by area of responsibility—discipline, exams, report cards, learner support, and so on. Or organize files chronologically or by person/constituency. Organizing chronologically can be accomplished by having a folder for each month with subfolders inside for each week or day.

For a principal’s own files, weekly tasks that tend to be cyclical, like teacher observation notes, memos to teachers, or notes about parent meetings, should all have a clear and consistent place in your digital and paper files so they can be referred to the next time they are needed.

Create Subfolders

Using subfolders is a critical part of an easy-to-navigate system. If you find you need to scroll down the files in a folder, consider cleaning up that folder by creating one or more subfolders. Having previous years in archived subfolders can help to declutter while still leaving relevant information at your fingertips.

Name Your Files

One common pitfall of many filing systems is that your reason for saving an item in a particular folder might be clear when you do it, but it might become less clear later when you are looking for it again. Proper and consistent naming can help prevent that. Name all files in such a way that it’s truly clear what the file contains. Ask yourself if the file name will make sense in a week when you are not actively engaged in this task.

Consider also placing an explanatory document in the folder or subfolder. Briefly putting down the contents of the folder and the best way to navigate it can help someone else (and sometimes yourself) navigate the folder with ease.

Match Your Electronic and Paper Filing Systems

Most schools have some paper files and records that parallel some of the electronic files or at least relate to them. If there is overlap, have the same system of folders and subfolders in your paper files as you have in your electronic files. A parallel organizational system will keep things organized and easier to find.

Having a default and agreed-upon system for keeping the records will also ensure that the latest copy is being used. If the electronic copy is meant to be the latest then someone should be tasked with making sure the electronic copy is updated with anything present in the paper file.

Maury Grebenau is principal of Yavneh Academy of Dallas, Texas.

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