How to encourage student attendance

From Penn GSE’s Educator’s Playbook, Michael Gottfried highlights approaches that schools and teachers can take to address absenteeism by identifying root causes and creating a supportive environment for all students.

The pandemic accelerated a troubling trend of rising absenteeism in K-12 schools. But by utilizing technology, establishing new practices, and marshaling resources, school leaders can help get students to class—and keep them there.

A young student looks out the window of a classroom with several empty desks.
Image: iStock/imtmphoto

When students miss a lot of school, it negatively impacts their learning and social skills. The ripple effects also interrupt learning for peers and put strains on teachers.

The beginning of the school year is the time to think about resources and develop an action plan. Penn GSE’s Michael Gottfried outlines three ways to help reduce absenteeism: manage logistics, establish routines, and build positive attitudes about school

To implement these approaches in schools, begin with creating an engaging environment. Children are more eager to attend school when they feel seen. One recommendation is to station staff by doors and greet kids by name, offering a friendly fist bump and good morning. By pairing students with someone they feel connected to, such as a Latinx homeroom advisor working with Latinx students, schools can help students build positive relationships.

Second, schools can embrace technology. With minimal investment, schools can deploy technology to counter absenteeism. A texting program is a simple and cost-effective way to communicate with caregivers and understand what might be amiss in school-going routines and logistics.

Third, identify pressure points. When educators can identify a problem, they can offer the best support. Very often, logistical challenges at home, including food insecurity, lack of clean clothes or transportation barriers, correlate with missing school.

Next, focus on transitions. High absenteeism rates occur during “transition” years when children begin school or advance, including kindergarten, fifth grade, ninth grade, and 12th grade. Students’ routines are interrupted, and they might lose access to support. To help, educators can offer these grades extra attention, including communicating schedules and school resources.

This story is by Michael Gottfried. Read more at Penn GSE.