Engage Families at Teacher Conferences
Parent-teacher conferences or student-led conferences are an ideal time to talk about the importance and benefits of regular attendance (starting as early as kindergarten and even in pre-kindergarten). Showing up for school every day possible offers students opportunities to connect with friends and caring adults, engage in hands-on learning and stay on track academically. Use this one-on-one time to update families/caregivers on their student’s attendance, what students are learning and make sure they are aware of school programs or activities that promote attendance. Since many teachers already hold conferences with families/caregivers once or twice a year, this approach helps you infuse attendance into your work without adding in a new activity.
It’s important to help families learn about the positive impact of good attendance and how chronic absenteeism can present challenges to realizing their hopes and dreams for their children. Families may not realize that even excused absences, if they accumulate, can cause their student to fall behind and that building the habit of attendance in the early grades can not only influence their student’s attendance in later years, but also improve their chances of reading proficiently, excelling in middle school and graduating from high school on time. Parent-teacher conferences offer a regular opportunity for teachers, students and families/caregivers to take stock of how many absences have already taken place and whether too much time has been missed in classroom instruction.
Teachers can use parent-teacher conference meetings to help establish and maintain ongoing two-way communication with families/caregivers to recognize good and improved attendance as well as identify barriers – such as transportation issues, job loss, unstable housing arrangements or health concerns. Talks can also explore the reasons behind a student’s aversion to attending school. For example, students may be skipping class to avoid being bullied or because they are struggling academically due to an undiagnosed learning disability. If appropriate, teachers can connect families with the school nurse, school social worker or community partners who can help.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many students have missed class due to quarantine and illness. While staying home may be necessary for their health, teachers and families can discuss ways for students who feel well enough to keep learning while at home and strategies to help them catch up when they return to class. They can also explore whether symptoms, (e.g. stomach aches or headaches), are signs of anxiety or depression, which may require other types of support, including helping a student establish a regular routine of school. Parent-teacher conferences can also be an opportunity to share existing health-related resources, (e.g. school nurse or social worker), that are available to families.
Prior to the conference, obtain and review the attendance data for each student in order to tailor the conversation to the student’s situation. Whether the student has satisfactory attendance (missed less than 5% of the school year), is at-risk (missing between 5-9%) or chronically absent (missing 10% or more), be sure to tailor the conversation to the student’s attendance status. Find tips on how to obtain data in the Monitor Chronic Absence Data section.
For students who are homeless, in the juvenile justice system or in foster care or who have severe or even extreme levels of absenteeism, consider scheduling an additional meeting to allow more time to understand why the student is absent and to better address the student’s needs. It’s essential that their Education Decision Maker is included in the conference. The Education Decision Maker could include individuals, such as the biological parent with whom the student may not be living with, or the education coordinator at a group home placement. In these types of cases, it’s important to include the primary adult with whom the student lives, as well as the Education Decision Maker. Before the meeting, check with your principal to make sure that agreements are in place so that school site staff can share attendance records with social workers and probation officers, so that attendance issues can be discussed in child and family team meetings, multidisciplinary team meetings, and/or in court. Then, all of the adults supporting the student can be on the same page.
Updated February 2023