Every year, schools rewrite plans to address attendance concerns. These plans usually include different incentives like attendance awards such as different tangible prizes, recognition assemblies, and students’ names in the monthly newsletter. Every year, we re-word this same plan and attendance rates stay just about the same. Hours are spent on these plans that don’t make a difference in the lives of children who need to be in school. Habitually absent or tardy students usually stay that way with attendance plans that don’t address the real issue. These plans are just a band-aide. They treat symptoms, not the problems.
Here are five ways to truly increase attendance rates:
- Better Instruction
Students in middle and high school miss countless days of instruction due to lack of engagement. They simply don’t care about missing school. They find school boring. Educators can’t expect students to sit on the edge of their seat, fixated on every word they say. Students need to be exposed to exciting and engaging instruction. Students are more likely to come to school when they are excited about being in class or about spending time with their favorite teacher. They don’t mind missing school if they believe that their teacher doesn’t believe in them.
- Bring in the School Nurse
Educators are not medical professionals. They don’t have the expertise to advise parents on medical concerns. Educators can actually get in trouble for doing this in many states. However, your school nurse is able to engage in these types of discussions. They can be instrumental in helping a child get free glasses so that they can stop missing school due to frequent migraine headaches. They can also help parents make connections to free clinics, specialists, and preventative health care. They can also work with a child’s doctor to create a special safety plan to get them to come back to school.
- Home Visits
Home visits are one of the most powerful tools in an educator’s tool belt. A home visit can open the eyes of an educator into the real world of a child when they leave school in the afternoon. These visits convey to the parents a deep sense of respect and caring about their child. That understanding can be the tipping point for a child to come to school more often as a deeper connection between the school and home has been established. Showing up at a home with an attendance liaison or social worker can also make a powerful statement. For your more chronic cases, having a police officer present can really open the eyes of a family to the truancy issue.
I know what you are thinking. Really… soap. Yes, soap! I’ve toured many schools in many districts. During school visits, we are often paraded around classrooms, multi-purpose rooms, and playgrounds. If you ever want to see the true culture or commitment to excellence of a school, look into the bathroom. Is it clean? Most importantly, is there soap? Having children wash their hands regularly is one of the best ways to increase attendance rates by cutting down on illness. I am always amazed to see so many schools missing soap in student bathrooms. I’ve also seen many school bathrooms with the powder soap that was prevalent decades ago. Can we all make the investment in our students and schools by having proper soap dispensers installed?
- Engage Your Community
For elementary students, attendance is more of a parent issue than a student issue. Work with your parent community to inform them of the benefits of daily school attendance as well as the repercussions of poor attendance. As we all know, the effects can be long lasting. Many times, parents don’t realize the severity of the situation. One trick I have learned along the way is to make the parent of a child who has poor attendance in charge of something at the school. It doesn’t have to be big, but if mom or dad is coming to school to help out, chances are that the child is coming to school too.
Dr. David Franklin is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions.