Ways to Decrease Student Absenteeism

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
‘Absentee’ with its definition on a dictionary page.

In our ever-changing world, not only in education but in every aspect of our lives, absenteeism has become an issue that must be dealt with. Absenteeism in our schools has always been an issue and many plans to combat the issue have come and gone. With the advent of Covid-19, absenteeism has grown for a myriad of reasons. School closures and the ever present controversy surrounding whether or not to open schools has further caused frustration of the ongoing issue. While the controversial side of the equation will be played out in school board meetings and other venues of influence, we must focus on the things we can control to battle this ongoing issue.

Listed below with brief explanations of each are a few ideas that we can use to decrease student absenteeism in our schools.

Rewards/Incentives

Students generally respond well to incentives, whether it be to make better grades or, in this case, to consistently come to school. The dangling of the proverbial carrot in front of a student to get them to attend is a tried and true tested way to incentivize students to attend. We can all agree students have a much better chance of growing educationally when we get them in the classroom for hands-on instruction.

Some examples of rewards/incentives might be: extra credit, time off task enjoying videos or movies while at school, prizes secured through district funding or private donations, and food parties such as the always popular pizza party. These are just a few and certainly not an exhaustive list of rewards and incentives to try. Truthfully, this is a great area to open your mind and brainstorm with stakeholders about rewards and incentives they think students might respond affirmatively to.

Another reward/incentive that can be affective is student/parent reward meetings. Often these are reserved for the end of the year and are usually geared toward perfect attendance awards. With our current situation, one could make a case that reduced absenteeism might be a great goal, and the knowledge of a get together with students and parents for better attendance might be appealing to students that are usually frequent absentees. In looking at a student’s history, and then rewarding them for doing better, we give students and, yes, parents a goal that rewards improvement, not just perfection.

Constant and Consistent Communication with Parents

Parents are the key to helping with student attendance. Often, especially during our current climate, parents are simply unaware that their child is not attending school consistently. There is never a time that it is inappropriate to check in with parents of students that are not attending school. Not only does communicating with parents assure you that they are aware, it also shows you and the school care. Communicating with parents about absenteeism must be done professionally with the attitude that there is a legitimate reason the student is absent. By taking the initiative to check in with parents, we show that we are concerned about and care for their individual student. Also, if we can acclimate parents to the fact that we will be contacting them upon an absence, we can hopefully train parents to take the initiative to check on their student prior to the absence actually occurring.

Peer Accountability Teams

A school, or a team within a school, might set up a “buddy” system among students to encourage each other and hold one another accountable. Often times, a fellow student can motivate a peer faster and more efficiently that parents or school personnel. Student can be encouraged to call or text each other to make sure each will be at school the next day. Not only can this help the student who struggles with attendance, but also the student who is doing the encouraging. A sense of accomplishment can be gained when he encourages a classmate and the next day sees that student in school.

This could even be set up as a competition within teams at a school, or a grade against grade completion. By making a competition out of it, the accountability becomes more that just “trying to get Johnny to school”. Johnny might actually come to help his team win, and his accountability partner or fellow team members can remind him of his responsibility. Another win with this idea is that “Johnny” might gain a greater feeling of self-esteem if he contributes to his team or grade by his attendance.

Positive Relationships with Students

Building positive relationships with students is probably the best overall way to reduce student absenteeism. By building positive relationships, students are going to want to come to school as often as possible. Students, like anyone else, want to go where they feel safe, wanted, and loved. A student that has a consistent positive experience at school is going to naturally want to attend. Positive relationships with students are also an area that any good educator realizes is important and strives daily to build those relationships with their students.

Be Willing to Make In-Home Visits

School personnel should be willing to contact and/or make an in-home visit if the situation warrants it. Of course with our current climate, one might want to try every reasonable electronic way of meeting with all stakeholders. By being willing to take this extra step, even after “school hours”, allows the student and their parents to see the importance of being at school every day. Many parents and students today are more than willing to “Zoom” with you almost regardless of why the meeting needs to take place.

These are but a few ideas to help reduce student absenteeism. More than anything else, we must stress the importance of being at school. We must make sure our students and parents understand they are important to us, and we want to see them every day.

*Updated February, 2021
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