Electronic Discipline Referrals

While electronic student information systems have been standard in schools for 20 years (give or take, depending on the school), one area of student records is still paper-based in far too many schools. That area is student discipline referrals. This post is all about replacing your paper-based system with electronic discipline referrals.

Once upon a time, the teacher filled out a form and included a description of the student’s behavior. The principal completed the section of the form telling what the consequence would be. Typically, a copy would go to the parent, one would be retained in the office, and one would go to the teacher. That way, the referring teacher would know how the incident had been handled.

Schools which still use a paper-based discipline referral system have now added an extra layer of work for office personnel. Since the records are stored electronically, office personnel must re-key both the teacher’s write-up and the consequence issued by the principal into the student information system. If this situation describes your school, this post provides a better way of doing things.

Enter Google Forms

Google Forms can replace just about any paper form you are currently using. In he case of discipline forms, you would construct a Google Form that looks something like this…

Electronic discipline referral form

Many readers will already be familiar with Google Forms and know exactly how to construct what you see above. If you are new to Google Forms, take a moment to watch the video below. Rather than take the time to construct my own demo video, what you see here is an excellent tutorial from Mickie Mueller, Educational Technology Facilitator for Norfolk (Nebraska) Public Schools. This video, as well as second you will see in this post, are used with her permission.


As you see in the video, when the user submits a form, the data populates the next blank line of a spreadsheet.  For those who have used Google Forms, everything to this point is probably familiar. You do want to be sure that you turn on notifications, so that when a teacher submits a new referral, the creator of the spreadsheet gets an email. Imagine not even being in the building and getting an instant alert when a teacher submits a referral. This screen shot shows there you will find this setting:

Google Forms Notifications

Enter formMule

Google Forms users will likely point out one downside of using Google Forms for discipline referrals: the lack of a way to provide feedback for teachers. An “add-on” for Google Sheet known as “formMule” allows the principal to structure the spreadsheet so that it sends the teacher an email with details on the disposition of the referral.

First, be sure your form includes a field for the teacher email. Adding it to the form automatically adds it to the spreadsheet. Second, create a field for “Disposition”  on the spreadsheet. This field provides a place to list items such as “Suspended-3 days” or “Conference held with parent.” Adding a field to the spreadsheet does not add it to the form.

Your objective is going to be that when you enter into your spreadsheet the disposition for a student referral, the teacher receives an email automatiaclly. That’s where formMule comes in. Watch this short video by Mickie Mueller that tells you how to install the add-on and walks you through one practical example for using formMule.


Now, you are ready to go to your own spreadsheet, install the formMule add-on, and configure it to send emails to your teachers. Be sure that the “form trigger” is set to “send on form submit.”
formMule Discipline Referral

As you work through the process, the next important step is to set the “send condition.” You want the email to be sent to the teacher when the Disposition field is equal to NOT NULL. (You will key the expression not null; it does not appear in a drop-down.) This step is important. When the teacher submits the form, it goes into the spreadsheet instantly. You do not want the email to be generated at that point. Once the principal has worked with the students, determined a disposition for the referral, and has entered that disposition into the spreadsheet, then you want the email to to be sent.

formMule Discipline Referral

As you continue through the process, you have the opportunity to choose the wording for the email that formMule will send. Here is an example I created:

formMule Discipline Referral

All of your merge fields (the columns headers from your spreadsheet) are listed on the right-hand side of the screen. Clicking one inserts it into the email wherever the cursor is located. You will notice that when formMule inserts the merge field, it inserts both the name of the field and the merge field itself. For example, if you click on “Student’s name, ” what will be entered into the email is: Student’s Name <<Students’s Name>>. You will manually highlight and delete the words “Student’s Name” and leave <<Student’s Name>>.

Working with Your Student Information System
If the principal shares this Google Sheet with the school’s administrative assistant, at the end of the day, the assistant can update the school’s student information system by creating a new record for the student and selecting the appropriate offense and disposition. The huge time-saver will be with the teacher’s comments.

Rather than having to key teachers’ handwritten into the SIS, the assistant will copy and paste those comments. You could construct this entire referral system in one sitting.

If it’s something you can use, you have plenty of time to create it and test it before the school year begins. Send a couple of friends the link to the discipline form. Let them create a few “fake” referrals. See if you receive email notifications when the referrals are submitted. Issue some “fake dispositions.” See if your friends receive emails.

What are your thoughts? Is this idea one that would solve a need in your school? Feel free to leave a comment. If you implement this system, I would be interested in hearing about your success with it.