Saturday, February 6, 2016

What I can do to improve attendance and tardies

In the classroom, I have learned to pick my battles. There are two things that I am passionate about; attendance and parent involvement. Ultimately, I have zero control of both. What I can do is when my students are here, I can make sure they are getting the best education possible and they feel like part of a family. A typical day in Room 505 starts with 8-10 students absent. By the end of the day, I really only have 2 or 3 absent, but the problem with being tardy is that our reading block begins five minutes after the morning bell. Most students miss about 30-45 minutes of reading instruction each day. Adding up the minutes for the week makes it a big deal. I choose to focus on what I can control. 

What I can do
Communication is key. If parents don't realize that being tardy or absent is affecting their child's progress, they don't know it needs to be fixed.
  • Send attendance reports - At the end of each month, each child takes home an attendance report. Parents are asked to sign and return. Often, they are surprised at the data. Occasionally, I'll calculate the minutes from the tardy slips and send that home. Seeing that even 20 minutes tardy a day adds up to an hour of missed reading instruction for the week. Knowing is half the battle. I also use the Attendance Counts! calendar tool to show how the number of days missed impacts academic progress and graduation rates.
  • Celebrate - celebrate those who come every day and those who are making it in just five minutes earlier than the day before. For some of my 3rd graders, they have little control of their grown-ups and when they get them to school - just arriving is a success. Celebrating is free. It's a smile, a hug, a "I'm so glad to see you!"
  • Find the root cause - I began to realize that while some of my students had little control of their parents dropping them off, others were responsible for getting themselves to school. I started to provide alarm clocks. It's amazing how effective it is! Visiting the local Goodwill on a 50% off day helps me keep them on hand. 
  • Build a relationship - I want my students to think, "If I don't go to school today, Mrs. Lopez will miss me." I want them to know I care if they are late or absent - because I want them to be successful. When they walk in, they get a smile and a greeting as opposed to a lecture. I don't know what may have happened before arriving, but I do know that I want them to feel welcome when they walk in the door.
  • Above and beyond - Every once in a while there are one or two chronic attendance concerns. When all of the above is having minimal effect, sometimes a little extra attention is needed. I use Remind text messages with my class for announcements. Since they have added the chat feature, parents can text with questions on homework, or to report unexpected changes in transportation. I found this feature perfect for a morning wake up call. (I'm telling you, I'll try anything!) About an hour before school starts, I send a very upbeat-'can't wait to see you' text to my student's mom. She knows it's just for her and it really helps her get going in the morning. The convenient thing about Remind is I can spend about 5 minutes scheduling the messages for the week and they will automatically send each morning. It makes a difference and she comes in smiling each day.
In the end, I want my students to love coming to school. I want them to be excited about what we are learning and do what's in their power to get here. I want them to know that deep down, as long as they are here, I don't care what time they arrive, but that if I can help make the morning easier, I will. If I can help them get the message across at home, I will.

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