13 January 2014 07:31 AM

You Can’t Learn if You Don’t Show Up

by rbavaria

Last week we talked about New Year’s resolutions for school success, and I suggested a half-dozen good ones.  Here’s another one: make sure your children’s attendance at school is regular and steady.  Kids don’t learn – can’t learn – if they’re not in class.

Absenteeism is at the heart of school trouble.  In my own career, my heart aches for boys and girls who are fully capable of academic, social, and life success but who – for one reason or another – simply don’t show up.  Their failing grades and lonely lives are a direct result of their frequent absences.

Research and common sense tell us that kids who are chronically absent do poorer on tests, read with less proficiency, write with less skill, and compute with less accuracy than kids who come to school.  Worse, the results are cumulative.  Google “school attendance and achievement” and see for yourself.

It’s a topic I’ve often talked with parents about over the years.  And I’ve written about it here

Here are some thoughts and a couple of suggestions you can try.

1.      Be a good role model.  Kids do what we do more often than they do what we say.  So, it’s important that we adults show them that we show up for our important duties and responsibilities.  Work, commitments, volunteering, keeping promises. 

2.      Organize.  How many times have I heard parents use the lame excuse, “Oh, our house is so crazy and hectic!  We overslept again.”  As if that’s a reasonable explanation for jeopardizing a child’s future.  (Screaming at parents doesn’t work, but I’m sure tempted.)  Take control of your family by organizing the household, setting routines, and sticking to them.

3.      Set expectations.  You’re expected to show up for work every day; make the same expectation for your children.  Reward good results, have consequences for not-so-good ones.  Keep in touch with teachers to show your commitment – to them and to your kids.

4.      Make attendance a goal.  Regular attendance is an easily-tracked goal.  If poor attendance is an issue for your family, show the kids you’re serious, you’re determined, and you’re checking.

5.      Break down the year.  Just as you’ve taught your kids that big tasks are less scary and easier to accomplish when you break them down into smaller ones, so the same for attendance.  Focus on one week at a time rather than a full semester or – even harder – a full year. 

6.      Check for other issues.  Chronically poor attendance, hooking class, and not showing up can be (and usually are) signs of deeper troubles.  Talk.  Listen.  Stay involved.  Enlist the help of a kind and understanding counselor or some other professional.  But don’t ignore the problem.  Yes, many middle and high school kids are tempted to skip the occasional class, but most don’t.  If you suspect the bad influence of so-called friends, start clamping down.  You’re the boss.


Chronic absenteeism is not, fortunately, a universal issue, but if it haunts your family, do something about it now before it causes long-lasting effects.


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