Wednesday 23 October 2013

Attendance... or lack of it

Last year was an interesting year for some of the secondary teachers in the project.  When it came to thinking about a student that they wanted to really work with -- they were often students who did not attend regularly.  When you choose these students who desperately need you to focus on them, it is more difficult because the students are not there to build a relationship with, and when they do attend, the teacher often feels like they have to spend that time 'catching them up'.

We know there are lots of reasons students stop attending regularly, or never begin to attend regularly.  At secondary some of the students have just given up.  They want to get through school but until now it has not been a very positive experience, so they lack hope that attending will help them.  For others it is the chaos in their lives. Perhaps they are hungry, or drinking too much; perhaps they are easily swayed by peers to stay away or are just not in any type of environment that makes getting to school a priority.  For others it is the anxiety of actually attending school that keeps them away.

Whatever the reasons, some of the secondary staff started to try to draw some of their kids back to school.  Gordon Neufeld, in his book "Hold onto Your Kids" says "... what fundamentally empowers a teacher to teach is the student's attachment to her.  Children learn best when they like their teacher and they think their teacher likes them.  The way to children's minds has always been through their hearts"  (p. 212).  He goes on to talk about 'wooing' children, or 'collecting them'.  He gives this advice to both parents and teachers: the need to keep up the relationship, be involved, and be in their face or space in positive ways.

What we observed last year was a group of teachers doing exactly that.  Teachers who decided that in some way they were going to convince their students that they wanted them in the class, that they missed them when they were not there, that they believed in them, and needed them for the class to be complete.  In some of these cases, their classrooms for sure were more peaceful when the student was absent - but they didn't let that stop them!

Through social media, phone calls, emails, walks to the smoke pit, or walks that took them even further away, teachers attempted to give their students a positive message of 'I miss you' or "I hope to see you in class today' as well as often a second or third message - "here is a heads up on what is coming up tomorrow so you are ready" or "remember that this is due, if you need help come in before school", or a message that connected with something they knew about the student such as the following message a teacher sent a student who loved Justin Bieber:

Creativity and humour seemed to go along way!   A personal connection showing the student that the teacher cared made a difference.

When students are at-risk of not completing school, attendance issues are huge.   We can throw up our hands and say "If they aren't going to attend there is nothing I can do -- it is their problem".  Or we can do what these teachers did: attempt to look from the student’s point of view at their anxiety, at their feelings of not belonging at school, at their lack of hope, and then make that extra effort to convince them to come back.

by Judith King

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