A Whole School Approach to Family Engagement and Attendance Messaging
The good news is that positive attendance messaging and family engagement is low-hanging fruit. It requires schools and community partners to intentionally establish a welcoming and engaging school environment that emphasizes building relationships with families and stresses the importance of going to class every day. The key is developing a school-wide school culture that promotes a sense of safety, respect and personal responsibility, where students feel connected and know that someone notices, in a caring manner, when they missed school.
As described in Teaching Attendance, teachers as well as other staff members are essential partners in this work because they can infuse attention to relationships and attendance into their every day interactions. Such a culture can be promoted through a variety of activities including greeting children and families at drop-off, taking roll in a caring and sensitive manner, and using supportive teaching practices. It’s vital to establish a system of attendance incentives that recognize good and improved attendance and not just perfect attendance, since the children who struggle the most would soon be left out of such awards.
Schools should explicitly address the reality that too many parents and students do not realize that just missing two days each month can be a problem, and often leads to falling behind in the classroom. Even fewer families realize that absenteeism is a problem as early as kindergarten and preschool. The Positive Parent Messaging toolkit developed by Ad Council for California’s Attorney General describes this reality and offers strategies, tips and tools for engaging parents and students.
The White House and US Department of Education have also developed the Absences Add Up Campaign filled with links to useful messaging and resources.
While principals play a key role by modeling positive messaging and engagement through their own actions and behavior, and recruiting the entire faculty to help, implementation needs support from others who can help organize the work – such as an attendance team and organized parent groups. Often, individuals who have volunteered to be success mentors are willing to take a lead in the development and implementation of school-wide activities that benefit all students in a school. The insights the mentors gain from working with individual students can help to identify gaps in attendance messaging and engagement that might need to be addressed for the entire student body.