All schools should have a welcoming and engaging school environment that emphasizes building relationships with families and stresses the importance of going to class every day. Principals can model this approach and engage staff in consistently sending the message that attendance matters.
Principals and school staff are well positioned to help families understand what their children are learning in school and what the children will miss if they are absent. Parents and students may not realize that even excused absences, if they accumulate, can be a problem and lead to falling behind in the classroom. Few families realize that absenteeism is a problem as early as kindergarten and preschool.
Here are 4 simple ideas that can help cultivate a school-wide culture of attendance:
- Start outreach to families before the school year begins
- Leverage existing activities to communicate the importance of good attendance and offer support
- Nurture a school-wide system of attendance incentives
- Get involved in Attendance Awareness Month
1. Start outreach before school begins
Use back-to-school letters, social media, phone calls from teachers and robocalls (ideally personalized by classroom or at least school) to communicate when school starts , what attendance policies are in place and how important attendance is for student achievement. If you have connections to summer programs, ask providers to help deliver the message about the importance of good school attendance..While parents are the primary target for elementary outreach, students should be included in the messaging campaigns by middle and high school.
- Tips for outreach before the first day of school
- Tips for contacting hard-to-reach parents
- Sample Back-to-School letter to parents
- Script for Back-to-School robocalls
2. Leverage existing activities to communicate the importance of good attendance and offer support
School assemblies, back to school nights, parent-teacher conferences and newsletters all represent important opportunities to engage students and their families and send the message that regular attendance is an expectation. Wherever possible, establish and maintain ongoing two-way communication, including collecting up-to-date contact information and encouraging families to ask for assistance if they face barriers such as transportation issues, job loss, unstable housing arrangements or health concerns. Keep messages positive while mentioning that families will be contacted if absences start adding up.
- Bringing Attendance Home Toolkit with interactive exercises like Illustrating the Gap
- Bring Attendance Home Video for parents
- Talking points for interacting with students and parents
- Fliers for parents of elementary students (also in other languages)
- Fliers for parents of middle and high school students (also in Spanish)
- Infographic poster for elementary schools (also in Spanish)
- Attendance banners for elementary and secondary schools
Teachers are an especially important resource for engaging in caring outreach, especially given they are in daily contact with students and can take advantage of regularly scheduled interactions, such as parent-teacher conferences to talk one-on-one with parents. As the first line of intervention and prevention, teachers can make attendance a normal topic in all interactions with parents and bring in additional school staff if a deeper intervention is needed.
- Highlighting attendance: Tips for taking advantage of parent-teacher conferences
- Preparing for parent-teacher conferences: A step-by-step guide
- Student Attendance Success Plan
- Teaching Attendance Toolkit
3, Nurture a school-wide system of attendance incentives
School communities can send a clear message that going to school every day is a priority by providing regular recognition and rewards to students and families who have good and improved attendance. Tardiness can be addressed by ensuring awards recognize on-time attendance. Keep in mind the goal is not to focus on perfect attendance since the children who struggle the most will soon be left out of such awards. A school-wide approach can also help improve the accuracy of attendance data since the students, themselves, are likely to help ensure teachers are aware of who is and isn’t in class! Attendance incentive programs should be designed to encourage teachers to convey the importance of attendance by taking roll in a positive, caring and visible manner.
- Tips for Attendance Incentives from Attendance Works
- Attendance Certificate
- Baltimore City Schools Attendance Incentives;
- Los Angeles Unified School District Attendance Incentives (Page 25)
- New York City’s Strategic Incentives
4. Participate in Attendance Awareness Month
Throughout the month of September, organizations and communities throughout the country use Attendance Awareness Month to launch the school year off with a strong start and build awareness of the importance of attendance. Join the schools and communities hosting events, launching contests or spreading the word.