February 24, 2023

Rising to the Challenge: Attendance Works’ Executive Director & President Hedy Chang shares inspiration and strategies for addressing unprecedented attendance challenges facing our schools.

The Power of Present Summit in San Antonio this fall was hosted in collaboration with Attendance Works, and district leaders from across the country were treated to an inspiring and resource-rich keynote from the leading nonprofit’s Executive Director & President, Hedy Chang.  Watch the session below or read on for highlights!

A Collective Mission

The Power of Present Summit is unique in many ways,  two examples being its keen focus on attendance and participants who are dedicated to this important work. It is only recently that so many educators have turned their attention to this important driver of student success, and reminded us of the power of the collective group and the people who continue to inspire us, even in the face of enormous challenges.

Restoring Faith in Schools

Taking an Equity Lens to Attendance

Disrupted in-person learning and fears of getting sick are just two factors contributing to a rise in chronic absenteeism across the country, particularly in student demographics with challenges before the pandemic, including students with high needs, FRL eligible, and students experiencing homelessness. 

Even students without high needs have seen an increase in chronic absenteeism compared to prior years.

Attendance challenges reflect and exacerbate existing inequities, and it’s important to leverage intentional strategies that build trust and nurture school culture to turn this story around. Attendance Works names Hope, Faith, Voice, Access, and Relationships as some of the key components to improving family-school relationships. Home visits are a great strategy in bringing these components to life. Many caretakers, worried about students getting sick at school, kept them home. By listening to families while persistently but respectfully checking in, educators slowly rebuilt relationships that brought more students into school. 

Mindset Shifts to Drive Change

A change in mindset is the first step in informing transformational strategies. Districts around the room shared some strategies that worked for them, including:

-Asking students to share their hopes and dreams for the school year, asking families what they wish for their students, then displaying those visions on bulletin boards to remind the entire school community of the goals and desires that they all hold for the year.

-Having attendance coaches be a part of attendance teams, and ensuring that the team reflects the diversity of the students they serve.

-Reminding staff of their “why”— drawing on the values and mission that drew them to this work to begin with can be energizing in the face of challenging times. 

Building a Vibrant School Culture

Examine Truancy Policies

Being mindful of how truancy policies are implemented and their implications on family engagement work is essential so that they don’t negatively interfere with new, restorative efforts for engagement.

Consider Barriers to Attendance

 Some commonly cited barriers to attendance include:

  • Student anxiety: consider gradually re-introducing students into school, starting with standing at the front entrance for five minutes, then attending just their favorite classes, then attending a full day of school
  • Lack of connection with adults: staffing challenges and turnover have all contributed to diminished relationships across students and their teachers.
  • Lack of connection with peers: It’s essential that classrooms are a fun place for students to connect 

 Invest in your MTSS

Whether you already have an MTSS in place, or are just getting started, it’s important to invest in the Foundational Supports for any of the other tiers to work effectively, and have role clarity around how school and district-based teams contribute. EveryDay Labs’ solutions fit in across the MTSS to help support your attendance efforts.

Resources from Attendance Works

R.E.A.L. Framework

As students, especially the youngest learners, are transitioning back to regular school routine after over a year of disrupted learning, this checklist is a great way to ensure that your school community is incorporating all of these facets that contribute to a positive school environment where students want to be. 

Building on the expertise of families & students 

Whether it’s tailoring communications based on the realities that your students and families are facing, hosting attendance cafes or student focus groups to learn more about how you can better support them, incorporating the ideas, insights, and experiences of your school community is an essential part of implementing your MTSS. 

Some strategies may work better than others, and that’s ok. Take time to reflect on your initiatives and incorporate what you’ve learned into your ongoing strategies.  

Visit our partners at Attendance Works for more resources, or learn more about attendance solutions and resources from EveryDay Labs here

Getting students on track starts with attendance. We can help.