Early Matters: District and Site Level Practices

Partner With Families and Children All Year Round

Engagement and attendance go hand in hand. Attendance improves when, starting in kindergarten, families (parents, caregivers and children) feel a sense of belonging and connection to the school and directly experience the benefits of showing up every day.

When families and students are part of the process of tracking attendance and coming up with solutions, everyone benefits. Listen to family experiences to understand the barriers to attendance at home and in their communities and schools as well as what motivates showing up to class. Families are important advocates for addressing the needs of an individual student, a group of students or the school as a whole.

Family engagement needs to be emphasized and supported all year round. Districts and schools can work together to ensure these practices are in place.

Ideas and Resources

Consider these ideas and resources for cultivating family engagement and leadership as well as raising awareness about why paying attention to attendance matters for success in school.  

Create opportunities for families to support the district or school’s approach to improving attendance. There are multiple resources that can be used at district- or school-level community events:

  • Highlight attendance briefly during a larger community event. Use Attendance Works’ videos, or combine that with short interactive activities such as Washing the Elephant or Illustrating the Gap to stimulate parents’ brainstorming of what’s at stake for their children with attendance. Reinforce the message  with your printed materials.  
  • Offer Routines That Rock workshops for families. During this hourlong experience, parents/caregivers and children are engaged through creative, playful activities like making materials related to attendance that children can use at home or creating a song families can sing before bed or in the morning that promotes getting to school on time every day. Making a plan – especially a playful plan – empowers parents and children alike to get ready for their new adventure.
  • Host an attendance parent/caregiver cafe. Adults discuss attendance in welcoming small group settings guided by questions and a facilitator. It’s an effective way to engage and affirm families as partners to address absenteeism in the community. 
  • Introduce My Family's Help Bank as a networking tool. Use it to encourage families to help one another address issues that undercut their children’s ability to get to school every day.   

Build relationships through positive communication. Send periodic messages to families about what the class is doing and what their child has done well or activities the child enjoys. The purpose is to build a reciprocal relationship with the family. Only focus on the student’s achievements and interests.

Engage kindergarteners directly in tracking their own daily attendance. Student involvement can nurture a child’s sense of responsibility as well as strong attendance habits. The Attendance Works child-centered scorecard can be used at the start of each day and sent home at the end of the week. It can also be used in the home. 

Avoid blame when communicating about absences. Start with a positive (not blaming) note or call, communicating that the school or teacher noticed the absence and missed the child’s presence. Mention a positive statement about the child and something staff have noticed the student enjoys. If absences are adding up, express concern for what’s happening and how school can help support the family. Tailor our sample chronic absence letter found here

If a student is out for an extended period due to health, reach out to the family to provide activity ideas and books so the child can remain engaged in learning while they recuperate. Districts can create standard communications that can be used and tailored, as needed, by school staff. Consider using our health handouts

Use technology and texting to promote real-time, positive personalized communications with families. Use parent-teacher communication apps to ensure timely and clear messaging about what a child is learning, opportunities for engagement, what the student is doing well and information about a child’s attendance, ideally in family home languages. Apps typically allow for teachers and parents/caregivers to communicate via text without revealing personalized phone numbers. We introduce a few in a blog post.

Integrate attendance into parent-teacher conferences. Including attendance as a topic at parent-teacher conferences is a useful opportunity to discuss how regular attendance supports student achievement and confidence, acknowledge parents’ efforts and explore what might be hindering attendance. We’ve updated our tips for leveraging parent-teacher conferences.

Equip staff, especially kindergarten teachers and front-office workers, to engage families and promote attendance. Use professional development to ensure staff are aware of and comfortable with tools and resources available for partnering with families to improve engagement and attendance. Help everyone understand that even when kindergarten isn’t mandatory, staff can help families feel connected to the school, build awareness of why establishing a routine of daily attendance matters for children’s learning and well-being and offer resources to overcome barriers. Introduce these concepts in school-based as well as districtwide professional development. Where possible encourage preschool staff and teachers to participate in the training.

Inspiring Examples

Click here to read about educators who have successfully integrated attendance into efforts to welcome and reach out to families.

Explore Early Matters: Cultivating Engagement and Attendance In Kindergarten

Production of Early Matters: Cultivating Engagement and Attendance in Kindergarten was made possible by the generous support of the Heising Simons Foundation.