As schools and districts gear up for a new school year, many are considering using recognition or incentives as a way to motivate student attendance and engagement. While we think recognition of good and improved attendance can be helpful, developing the right recognition program for your community requires some thought.
Here are a few suggestions:
Avoid perfect attendance awards for a semester or the school year, since the children who struggle the most will soon be left out. And, perfect attendance recognition could encourage students to show up when they are too sick to be in school.
Offer attendance recognition for short periods of time so students and families feel successful. For example, every morning, give each student a raffle ticket. Rewards can be raffled off at the end of the week during the last school period, which can motivate staying to the end of the day. Such an approach means every student, even those struggling with challenges, have a chance to participate.
Consider how the incentive or contest can be more inclusive for students with special healthcare needs or those with very high levels of absenteeism. Every student can benefit from a positive greeting at the door as soon as they walk in. Make sure that students who can’t show up to school but can participate online also are greeted. Offer a special welcome back to school when students show up after a long absence, so they experience recognition and a sense of belonging.
Engage in attendance recognition as one component of a comprehensive approach to improving attendance. To ensure attendance incentives/recognition are equitable, offer them as part of a tiered system of supports, which also provides resources to help students to address and overcome attendance barriers (transportation, lack of a safe path to school, lack of access to health care, food and housing insecurity, etc.).
Keep in mind that sometimes incentives can backfire. A 2018 study led by Carly Robinson at Harvard University found that mailing certificates to middle and high school students who had recently achieved one month of perfect attendance resulted in those students missing more days in the next month than students with excellent attendance who didn’t receive an award. The researchers suspect that the awards inadvertently signaled that perfect attendance for the month was not an expectation and that they could miss school since they were already outperforming the norm.
Think through the behaviors you are seeking to cultivate or change and ensure incentives are designed to do so. Researchers Rekha Balu and Stacy Ehrlich have developed a framework, with questions educators can consider, to help design incentive programs that work. Read this blog post.
Find more tips and suggestions about incentives/recognition on our newly updated Attendance Recognition website page, and download the new handout.
Thanks for all you do!