Showing Up Matters for R.E.A.L. Step 2

Using R.E.A.L To Welcome Families Back to School

After two difficult school years, the return to school this year is bound to be fraught with emotions for many students and staff. Research and experience shows that attendance improves when a school community offers a warm and welcoming environment that engages students and families. As you plan for the return to school, plan activities that promote positive engagement, relationship building and a sense of community that leaves everyone feeling like school is a place they belong.

View this video created for the Atlanta Speech School where educators provided a warm and welcoming climate for students.

Districts and schools can use the concepts in R.E.A.L. (Routines, Engagement, Access to resources and Learning) to strengthen their back to school efforts as well as their attendance initiatives during the school year.

Ideas and Resources

Get Back into routine. Daily attendance routines, created at home or in school, can reduce stress for students and families and create a sense of safety and security, especially after chaotic transitions.

  • Send home a family handout with tips for how families prepare for school and create routines.

  • If children are entering school for the first time, help families to create a chart, or put some fun into the daily routine with songs. Find the "Routines that Rock" chart and song, including one updated for distance learning, on this website page

  • Watch this video from Edutopia for ideas on how to open each class with an activity or ritual that connects students to each other.

Hold a welcoming event. Hold an open house for parents/care givers and students before school starts to encourage family involvement, early registration and begin to talk about on-time attendance. Short interactive exercises for parents, like Washing the Elephant, quickly convey why attendance is important.

Build community spirit during the first month of school. Use our Back-to-School calendar of activities for Elementary grades and for Secondary grades. The calendar can be used by advisory/home rooms or the entire school. You can choose to do one week or four!


Connect with families. Plan home visits, online meetings and phone calls to strengthen positive relationships with students and families who struggled with absences in the prior school year, and ensure they have the support they need to participate in learning.

  • Keep the initial phone call or meeting short, positive and friendly, and focus on learning about the family’s strengths.

  • Consider our tips for getting family contact information, Strategies for Connecting with Students & Families, which includes A Guide to Conducting Home Visits.

Incorporate R.E.A.L. talking points into communications. Use the R.E.A. L. framework to help you explain the importance of showing up, especially given the challenges experienced during the pandemic, and to help you and your team to reflect upon what is needed to make showing up to school worthwhile. 

  • Schedule a robo call that incorporates the R.E.A.L. talking points, or send a welcome letter from the principal. If possible, encourage teachers to call or text students to let them know their name, that they are looking forward to being their teacher and share the best way to reach them if they have any questions.

  • Spread the word about the R.E.A.L framework through social media using our sample social media messages that incorporate the R.E.A.L. talking points. 

Other Resources

This toolkit, created by the AFT and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, includes materials that will help you implement strategies to enhance children’s transition to kindergarten. We especially like, Getting to Know My Child: a guide for my child’s kindergarten teacher.