Increasing Student Attendance with a Human Approach

Assistant Principal Lee Grams shares his view of a positive approach to attendance and a culture of safety.

Lee Grams, Assistant Principal

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the negative and punitive route to improving student attendance. It can be a daunting task with so many attendance concerns and all the other issues a school administrator handles on a daily basis. Our district, like many, is a PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) district, which focuses on a consistent, positive approach to behaviors. We thought…why stop at behaviors? Why don’t we apply those same principles to our families with attendance issues?

First and foremost, families need to know that we care and are not just out to get them. From the very first glint of an attendance concern, our teachers call home and let students and parents know they missed them and hope to see them soon. They are working with students to set attendance goals and reflect on those weekly. Attendance rates are shared school wide on a weekly basis to keep the importance of attendance in the forefront. Our attendance letters for at-risk students are extremely positive and show support for helping families.

At the point where a parent meeting becomes necessary, it’s integral not to lose sight of the human behind the issue. Every family has different circumstances behind those absences. We let the family know we are there for them, while concerned, but ensure that we share a common goal which is helping their student succeed. By providing a safe space for parents to share their situation, without judgement, they let down their guard and allow us to get to know the situation better.

Now, the real work can begin. We problem solve together and determine what supports and resources can be put in place to help them. Sometimes it’s as simple as teaching parents when students should stay home and when they should be at school. Sometimes it’s connecting them to a proper health care professional. Sometimes it’s working with them on transportation. No situation is the same.

No matter how your school currently handles attendance, I would encourage you to meet each and every family with an open mind and an open heart. Approach each attendance situation as a puzzle that you must familiarize yourself with to solve. Know and utilize the professional resources in and out of your district when developing a plan. Most importantly realize that at the end of the day, no matter the situation, parents ultimately want the best for their children.

-Lee Grams, Assistant Principal (Selah Intermediate School)

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