Engage Families at Teacher Conferences
Parent-teacher conferences or student-led conferences facilitated by teachers are an ideal time to talk about the importance of regular attendance (starting as early as kindergarten and even in pre-kindergarten) for achievement. Use this one-on-one time to update families on their student’s attendance and make sure they are aware of programs in place, or school activities that promote attendance. Since most teachers already hold conferences with parents and families once or twice a year, this approach helps you infuse attendance into your work without adding in a new activity. It helps make talking about attendance as normal as discussing academic performance and classroom behavior.
It’s important to help families learn about the positive impact of good attendance and the negative effects of chronic absenteeism on realizing their hopes and dreams for their children. Families may not realize that even excused absences, if they accumulate, can cause their children to fall behind and that building the habit of attendance in the early grades can influence their children’s chances of graduating from high school. Parent-teacher conferences offer a regular opportunity for teachers, students and families 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 parents 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 social worker or community partners who can help.
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 percent of the school year), is at-risk (missing between 5-9 percent) or chronically absent (missing 10 percent or more), be sure to tailor the conversation to the student’s attendance status. (See the illustration above.) Find tips on how to obtain data in the Monitor Chronic Absence Data section.
For students in the juvenile justice system or in foster care who have many absences, 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 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.