Picture a student who is struggling at your school. For most educators, it’s not difficult to come up with a name or face of a struggling student. In fact, the challenge might be to name just one. Unfortunately, a common issue with such students is absenteeism. The very kids who need to be in school are often the ones who aren’t there. While we may not be able to control many of the factors that contribute to student absenteeism, we can help to encourage better school attendance across the board.
5 Ways to Improve School Attendance
Working to change your school’s absentee rate is a process, and it won’t happen overnight. Still, there are things you can do to make your school a place where students want to be:
1. Create Positive School Culture
Have you ever walked into a school with an awesome school culture? Positive interactions between staff and students, encouraging announcements, and even celebratory artwork and student accomplishments may surround you. This is the type of atmosphere that inspires staff members and students alike. If the goal is for students to become excited about attending school and more invested in their learning, put a priority on establishing a positive school culture.
2. Establish School-Wide Expectations
If attendance is important to your school, state that explicitly. Schools that spell out important schoolwide expectations and explain their importance establish clarity of vision for all involved. When grounded in social and emotional learning, students experience a positive school climate in which they can learn and grow.
3. Promote Teacher-Student Relationships
Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that the most basic human needs are to feel safe and have a sense of belonging. Within the school setting, key role models are school administrators, counselors, and teachers. In fact, chronically absent students view their relationships with their teachers (or lack thereof) as the most important factor affecting their school attendance. Never underestimate the impact of a sentence like, “I’m so glad to see you today.”
4. Make Data-Driven Decisions
Education has evolved into a domain in which best practices rely heavily on data. When trying to reduce chronic absenteeism, we must go deeper than simple attendance reports. While it may seem logical to focus on negative behaviors and their possible causes, use the data you compile to take the process further. If your school has relied on behavior charts as a means of behavioral goal setting, consider changing your focus. Celebrating positive behaviors and behavioral progress can reset both student and teacher mindsets.
5. Involve Families
One of the biggest challenges schools face is parents who don’t value education in general. These parents might not have had a positive experience when they were in school. Your school can change that by working toward improved parent-teacher communication. Begin that positive experience with simple steps like hosting information nights, producing newsletters, and conducting parent-teacher interviews. And don’t underestimate the power of the occasional positive phone call home. These actions will reinforce the link between consistent attendance and students’ subsequent health, wealth, and happiness.
School Attendance Matters
Chronic absenteeism affects your school’s climate, staff morale, and overall student achievement. Factors that contribute to these absence rates vary from school to school, but common reasons include poverty, poor health, unstable housing, and unreliable transportation. Families and family culture also play a role, particularly if parents do not place importance on education. Students with disabilities are also more likely to miss school. Depending on the school, absence rates can range from 10% to 30% or more.
We can’t always know or control the factors that cause poor school attendance, but addressing those aspects where we have influence is a great first step. School can be a refuge of sorts for students in crisis, allowing educators to give such students the tools for future success.