Take a Team Approach and Develop School Capacity
While principals are crucial to launching strategies to address attendance, sustaining improvement depends upon the support and buy-in of the school as a whole. Below are tips for how you can take action to build the capacity of your school to engage in this work:
Identify or establish a team to address attendance
Develop an initial plan of action
Create a tiered system of support
Develop staff capacity
Tap all available district and community resources
1. Identify or establish a team to help you
While principal leadership is instrumental in achieving outcomes, given the large number of responsibilities that typically fall on your shoulders, it is important to identify additional staff members who can help launch and sustain the school’s attendance strategy. Ideally this would include those familiar with attendance data, family engagement activities, student engagement and behavior, and family support. They should also be able to involve other teachers or staff members since everyone in a school has a critical role to play around improving attendance. The team can be devoted exclusively to attendance or part of an existing team, such as your Response to Intervention team, that has attendance added to its broader functions and responsibilities. This team should meet regularly to review the school’s attendance data and coordinate efforts to reduce chronic absence.
See these tools for more information on how to set up and use an attendance team:
2. Develop an initial plan of action
Conduct a school self-assessment with your team to develop a shared picture of strengths, challenges, and opportunities for action and to identify the most critical next steps for putting in place effective practice. You can use this School Self-Assessment template to get you started.
3. Create a tiered system of support and referrals
Attendance interventions fit nicely into Response to Intervention’s three-tiered approach. Attendance strategies also include universal approaches affecting all students, a second tier for students who need additional support, and a third tier for students who need intensive help. More information on RTI Arkansas can be found on the Arkansas Department of Education website.
Principals should ensure that their school can provide increasingly intensive levels of support if students do not respond to initial interventions or if they are struggling with a serious challenge or traumatic situation. A tiered system of support ensures that students will receive the level of help and encouragement they need to get to school every day.
Typically, a strong set of Tier 1 and Tier 2 attendance support is enough for the majority of students who are chronically absent. The remaining students need a more intensive level of support (Tier 3), and for that you and your team should tap into partnerships with the district office and wrap-around services in your community.
Attendance Works and the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading have developed a document offering examples of three tiers of interventions for each of the site-based strategies (monitor data, engage students and parents, recognize good and improved attendance, provide personalized early outreach, and remove barriers to attendance) to reduce chronic absence. Your school team can use this document along with the worksheet below to examine whether you have sufficient levels of intervention in place given the likely number of students in need.
4. Develop staff capacity
Everyone, from teachers to school nurses as well as school staff, plays a part in reducing chronic absence. Principals should develop materials and take advantage of district and state training opportunities to ensure that the entire staff is on board. The Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has established a learning community as part of Make Every Day Count that includes periodic regional and state training opportunities as well as on-site coaching and professional development. To find out more about these opportunities, contact Angela Duran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Principals should also dedicate a portion of in-service training to discussing the importance of reducing chronic absence and what can be done. You can spell out the effects of missing too much school and share any data you have about patterns in your school. Also, be sure to share tools for messaging to parents at the start of the school year and at parent-teacher conferences as well as tips for working with students.
The Teaching Attendance toolkit offers special guidance for adding in a brief conversation about attendance into every parent-teacher conference so that teachers can recognize students for excellent attendance while talking to parents whose children are struggling.