9 ways educators can deploy SEL to stem chronic absenteeism

Since March 2020, student absences in some districts have doubled.
By: | October 4, 2021
Kristin Hinton

Kristin Hinton

A supportive, culturally responsive learning environment can motivate students to attend and can act as a buffer against external factors that may cause absenteeism. At the same time, when students lack strong teacher connections and don’t feel safe and valued at school, these conditions can increase chronic absenteeism.

Not surprisingly, research indicates chronically absent students are at-risk of academic failure, dropping out, and even criminal behavior. And the pandemic has increased chronic absenteeism in schools across the country.

This fall, schools are focused on getting students comfortable in the classroom again, and these efforts are going to require all hands on deck. As part of a multifaceted plan to increase attendance rates, social and emotional learning can help.

Reaching out to every student

Since March 2020, student absences in some districts have doubled. Student enrollment has also significantly declined in many areas. An estimated 3 million of the “most educationally marginalized students” nationwide have lost access to their education or have stopped attending school.

The coronavirus outbreak caused many stressors for students and families such as unemployment, inadequate technology and internet access, and food and housing insecurity. In addition, online and distance learning impacted many students’ ability to form strong relationships with their teachers, feel connected to school, and engage in learning.

In schools trying to tackle this problem, staff members are reaching out to every student on a regular and ongoing basis to check how they are doing. Schools are also conducting door-to-door home visits, sometimes supported by members of the community such as police officers, community-based organizations, and social workers.

Improving climate and culture

Much research shows that improving a school’s climate and culture is an important way to achieve this goal. For example, a study by the Hamilton Project found that schools have lower absentee rates when students feel school climate and culture are caring and supportive.

SEL programs can play an integral role in improving school climate and culture, especially in schools with diverse student populations. In addition, SEL can increase student achievement and promote prosocial behaviors such as kindness, empathy, sharing, and compassion. SEL programs also can engage students in learning, get them excited about school, and reduce depression and stress — all factors critical to student attendance.

And SEL helps schools dispel a culture of chronic absenteeism by creating safe, caring, and supportive environments where all students feel accepted and can thrive.

Using SEL to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism in Your Schools

There are many ways schools and districts can start using SEL to improve climate and culture school- and district-wide. These practices can be embedded into classroom instruction, assessment, and family and community outreach. Activities may include:

  1. Forming a workgroup tasked to improve a school’s climate and culture through SEL
  2. Making efforts to promote strong and positive educator-student, educator-educator, and student-student connections
  3. Integrating SEL into multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS)—counselors, social workers, psychologists, etc., should work together to promote and reinforce a school’s overall SEL framework
  4. Teaching educators about SEL and how to teach it to students
  5. Addressing students’ and teachers’ mental health
  6. Eliciting students’ input through student voice and choice initiatives
  7. Establishing school-wide norms, expectations, and values around SEL
  8.  Developing bullying prevention programs
  9.  Taking time for SEL assessment and instruction

Even though educators have their work cut out for them to reduce chronic rates of absences this fall, this crisis does present an opportunity to make schools stronger and more conducive to learning. Building a positive school climate and culture with SEL can create positive learning environments that have long-lasting impacts on student engagement and achievement.

Kristin Hinton is vice president for sales and marketing at Aperture Education which provides assessments and strategies to support SEL. This article is based on an Aperture Education whitepaper “Chronic Absenteeism: A National Crisis.