Absenteeism is already a problem in schools, with about 8 million students missing nearly a month of school every year—a problem that has almost certainly been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Talk to any educator or administrator, and they will tell you absenteeism is a growing challenge they are facing, especially in lower- to middle-income areas. Now, educators are discovering there is more they can do to help fight absenteeism and get their students to log on. Here are a few tips you might find helpful.
Further Reading: A Teacher's Survival Guide to Student Absenteeism at the End of the Year
Distance learning can only be effective if the students are engaged. By incentivizing classroom participation, students can reap the benefits through distance and non-distance activities and tasks.
For example, a colleague of mine created an incentive menu where students must check in to virtual class every day to participate. Students earned incentives with these daily check-ins and by completing assignments and tasks given by the teacher. These incentives included an online Netflix party, making their teacher do a virtual TikTok dance in front of them, choosing their teacher's style for the day, and creating their teacher's avatar for their school profile picture.
Provide Family Resources
Attendance is crucial for academic achievement, and when students are not attending class regularly, they aren't learning. One reason students may not be logging on to attend class is that they don't have the proper technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up many federal resources, such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act enables school districts to provide each student with their own laptop or tablet. In addition, many service providers are offering unlimited wireless broadband connectivity for students and their families.
While this is not a long-term strategy, there are many other resources at the administrative level that can help families. For example, the Long Beach School District offers families of enrolled students health-related services, as well as counselors and psychologists that can help with crisis intervention and attendance issues. While these services are usually offered, today during the pandemic, there is a greater need for them.
Food security is another resource that is being offered to families. According to No Kid Hungry, research shows that serving breakfast as part of the school day is a powerful tool for reducing absenteeism among students. In my school district, free breakfast and lunch are offered to families of enrolled students five days a week, regardless of income level. By providing meals and social services, school districts can help address serious challenges that can allow students to put more time into their education.
Have Students Engage with Each Other
Throughout this pandemic, community school nights, social gatherings, and school sporting events are limited—if not halted altogether. We must now rely on other means to help students engage with one another during remote learning days.
Technology gives teachers options here, such as setting up smaller breakout rooms where kids may feel more comfortable conversing in a smaller setting. These conversations can be as guided as you want them to be; feel free to give some specific prompts to encourage dialogue among your students, and have them report back to you on what they discussed.
One of the most important things you can do here: don't always make it about school. Provide space for students to talk to one another about their extracurricular interests, what they want to be when they grow up, their pets—those connections, during these times, are just as important as academics.
Further Reading: Teaching Strategies for the Remote Classroom
The best thing you can do to combat absenteeism is to build meaningful relationships with students and their families. When a true partnership is established between teachers, students, parents, and even administrators, it can create a bond that motivates students to put their best foot forward in their academics.