Families First: 5 tips for understanding & mitigating barriers to attendance
Ensuring the good attendance essential for getting students back on track for success requires meaningful collaboration, with educators, families, and communities working together in partnership. But building authentic family-school partnerships is nuanced work that requires a multifaceted approach of consistent outreach and understanding. Getting to the bottom of the challenges that are preventing students from attending every day is not only essential to fruitful collaboration, but will help you determine the best way to support and help families overcome these barriers to attendance. Wondering where to begin? Here are five effective strategies for uncovering family challenges and providing the necessary support for better attendance:
1. Conduct a Focus Group
Interactive focus group settings allow for open dialogue where families can share their perspectives and experiences. By actively listening to their concerns and insights, you can uncover common themes and tailor interventions to address specific needs.
One of our Ohio partners noticed that attendance dipped in the middle of the month, and didn’t know why. So they conducted a focus group to get to the bottom of the dip. They learned that many families got paid at the beginning and the end of the month, leading to tighter budgets mid-month and laundry becoming a lower priority. Many students didn’t feel comfortable going to school without clean clothes. To get ahead of future mid-month slumps, educators broke down that barrier with a laundry party, giving out quarters and soap to make sure dirty clothes were not a reason to miss school.
Do you have some unsolved mystery attendance dips? Invite families of chronically absent students to a focus group, perhaps with both in-person and virtual options to accommodate more schedules, and offer incentives such as lunch or a gift card. Try to ensure that you have different voices present in your group and not just the families you hear from the most. This may involve more targeted and intentional outreach, but it is well worth it.
Ideally, focus groups are small, with 8-12 people, and only 1 or 2 team members. Small groups with few internal staff allow conversation to flow easily and authentically. After a quick heads up to the group, record the session so that you can listen back and share with your team.
2. Keep Numerous Lines of Communication Open
Not all families have time to participate in a focus group, but keeping a listening ear out and open lines available is fundamental to building family-school partnerships. Encourage families to share their thoughts, concerns, and challenges through various channels such as emails, phone calls, or messaging apps.
You and your team are busy and may not always have time to answer or sift through the ongoing family feedback, and that’s ok. An intervention that works on your behalf, like EveryDay Intervention, not only engages families and connects them to resources, but reports that information back to your district. Our partner in Portland Public Schools, Jamaal Tibbs, Director of Student Learning & Family Engagement, has said, “EveryDay Labs helps us open that additional door to find out what’s really going on behind the scenes.”
3. Send Intentional Surveys
Surveys provide a scalable way to collect data and identify patterns or trends, allowing educators to tailor their strategies to address specific challenges faced by families.
You may already be regularly sending surveys to families to help inform your programs and new initiatives. Be mindful of survey fatigue and busy schedules as you craft your questions to get to the bottom of attendance barriers. Keep surveys clear, short, and accessible, with optional long form response questions.
EveryDay Labs can also support your survey work with a Check-In Survey sent via text to all families to gather insights into what families are experiencing and how the district can help support them.
4. Family-Teacher Conferences
Regular family-teacher conferences are an excellent opportunity to discuss attendance concerns. These one-on-one meetings allow educators to connect with families on a personal level, building authentic relationships and gaining a deeper understanding of the family's dynamics. During these conferences, educators can emphasize the importance of consistent attendance and collaboratively develop strategies to overcome any obstacles hindering regular school attendance.
Recording notes from these meetings will not only help your own ongoing work, but streamline information for your colleagues who may also be supporting these students and families. An MTSS platform like EveryDay Pro provides space for note taking directly alongside other student-specific details, and provides visibility across the entire team.
5. Home Visits
Home visits can be a great strategy for engaging with hard to reach families or to gain a better picture of a student’s home environment. Home visits also demonstrate a commitment to understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by each family, further strengthening family-school partnerships.
Home visits shouldn’t be “one and done”, but part of your ongoing outreach program throughout the year, so that they don’t feel punitive or threatening, but instead just another authentic way to getting to know your families and students. Check out this blog post for tips on conducting a great home visit.
Creating a welcoming atmosphere where families feel comfortable discussing attendance issues and collaborating on solutions will build a positive school culture and drive attendance rates in the right direction. By conducting focus groups, opening communication channels, utilizing surveys, holding family-teacher conferences, and conducting home visits, you’ll take your supportive learning environment to the next level, nurturing collaboration between schools and families to overcome attendance barriers and promote student success.