A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
Attendance Huddles: A low-cost, high-impact intervention
Staff analyze trends and develop action plans in 15-minute daily meetings
By Alejandro Gonzalez Ojeda and Dominique Smith | November | December 2023
The documented reports of high rates of chronic absenteeism (e.g., McNeely et al., 2023) are being felt by leaders and teachers as students fail to show up for school on a regular basis. Study after study describe the impact that poor attendance has on student achievement (e.g., Roby, 2004).
Simply said, it’s hard to learn when you’re not in school. Policymakers have provided schools with a multitude of resources designed to address the unfinished learning that resulted from school closures, remote learning and the uncertainty caused by the global pandemic. However, our collective ability to address the learning needs of students is thwarted when they do not come to school and participate in high-quality lessons and targeted interventions. Leaders are not able to engage as stewards of instruction when vast numbers of students are missing from class. Instead, their time becomes focused on getting students back to school.
An additional challenge is that reasons for chronic absenteeism vary among individuals. Influencing factors include negative attitudes toward school, escaping victimization, low family involvement and parenting problems and difficulties, including family instability (Gubbels et al., 2019). When the reasons for chronic absenteeism are complex, the responses and interventions must be equally nuanced.
Popular approaches to address attendance, at least pre-pandemic, focused on carrots and sticks. We have seen incentives, such as pizza parties for a month of perfect attendance, and consequences such as Saturday school for missing a specific number of days. Given that many schools have continued these efforts with little success, it seems that these approaches are not addressing the realities that are keeping students from school. Enter the attendance huddle.
Daily, standing meetings
One of the underutilized human resources in a school is the attendance clerk. These staff members know a lot about who is missing school, and often why. However, they rarely have the attention of leaders who can take action based on the information provided. Given this realization, attendance huddles were created as a forum for leaders to obtain information and make decisions.
We call them “standing meetings” for two reasons. The first is because they occur at the same time every single school day. The second reason is because we literally stand, rather than sit, to ensure the meeting is a quick one. A small group of school employees meets to discuss attendance. The meeting lasts for 15 minutes and is organized by the attendance clerk. At Health Sciences High and Middle College, the school where we work, the meeting is attended by an administrator, a counselor, a paraprofessional tasked with family communication, the coordinator of special education, the attendance clerk, an administrative assistant and a teacher. We decided to invite a teacher to each meeting so that they could talk with their peers about the actions that the team takes each day. The teacher position on the attendance huddle rotates each day, providing an opportunity for all teachers to attend several times over the course of the school year. The teacher’s classroom is staffed by the academic coach for the 15 minutes and teachers know well in advance when they will be invited to attend so that they can plan.
Huddle agendas
We call these daily standing meetings “huddles” because the purpose is to rapidly connect with one another and make plans for what will occur during the remainder of the day. A huddle is about immediate actions based on strategic planning, with just-in-time information. The meeting starts with follow-up from the previous day with staff members sharing the impact of their actions that they agreed to previously. Their actions are documented in the information management system by the administrative assistant, reducing the amount of record-keeping time for the other members of the team, allowing them to focus on the actions they need to take. For example, the paraprofessional may report on a home visit and the need for clean clothes, or the counselor may report on a report of bullying or the need for a social worker.
The attendance clerk then presents the names of students who are of concern that day. The team reviews each student, previous interventions if there were any, and someone takes responsibility for the next additional action. There are any number of actions that team members may take, including home visits and wellness checks, personal calls to family members, visits to the workplace of family members, meetings with peers who know the student to talk about support, mobilizing mental health services and designing contracts for students to make up missing learning opportunities.
The attendance clerk also shares trends about the reasons that families are providing for absences. For example, when she heard that some students were staying home to take care of younger siblings, she brought this to the meeting. The principal contacted the local elementary school (they are on a year-round schedule that differs from the high school schedule) to ask about intersession offerings. When confirmed that the elementary school had a range of intersession offerings, the team contacted each family of a student who missed school to inform them of options and sent out an automated call to notify all families of the opportunity for their younger children to attend.
When illnesses are reported, the attendance staff ask about COVID-19 testing to track the number of days that the student is required to stay home so that they are not contacting the family multiple times. They also note when the student should be returning to school and schedule a reminder to contact the family the day before the scheduled return.
Focus on actions and impact
These meetings are action-oriented. Staff who attend the attendance huddle are not simply admiring a problem, but rather analyzing data, looking for trends, and developing actions and interventions that are monitored for their impact. Examples of actions that impacted student attendance include:
  • A student who had no access to clean clothes, so the staff provided laundry funds.
  • A student who was being threatened on social media by students from another school who told her they planned to show up at her school. Leadership contacted the principal of the other school and the issue was addressed. The student returned to school.
  • A student who did not think he needed to come to school because he could just do the work at home and pass classes. The schedule for this student was changed and the student was enrolled in more challenging classes, including a dual enrollment community college class.
  • A student who had cancer but was embarrassed to tell anyone. The staff organized home school services and visited home each week as the student was being treated.
Why teachers?
The inclusion of a teacher each day at the attendance huddle has had ripple effects that have increased transparency in communication, involvement and contribution by teachers in addressing chronic absenteeism. First, the teachers at Health Sciences High and Middle College are aware of the actions that their leaders are taking to address attendance concerns. They note, with appreciation, the efforts to ensure that students are in school. This contributes to creating a climate of achievement in which teachers and leaders collaborate on meeting students’ needs.
Second, when asked to participate in schoolwide actions, teachers understand that they are contributing to a larger effort. For example, leaders asked teachers to welcome students back to school after an absence. Some students reported not believing that they would be missed, and when their teachers noticed, they were impressed. One student said, “I really think about missing school because my teachers notice, and I don’t want to be that person. I mean, they care if I’m here, so I think I should show up.”
Third, teachers know that they can bring students’ names to the attendance huddle. They often communicate with the teacher representative for the day about a student concern and ask that a specific name be added to the conversation. In doing so, they contribute to the agenda of meetings and the team members ensure that the actions are communicated back to the teacher who submitted the name.
One of the underutilized human resources in a school is the attendance clerk. These staff members know a lot about who is missing school, and often why.
Building collective efficacy Attendance rates have nearly normalized at Health Sciences High and Middle College and the attendance team feels good about what they have done to support the school and the people, both staff and students, who are there. In fact, their collective efficacy has grown over the past two years. Collective efficacy has a significant impact on student learning (e.g., Donohoo, 2017) but is hard to accomplish. For collective efficacy to grow, teams need to have a goal, take action toward that goal, realize some level of success and then attribute that success to their collective efforts. The attendance huddle provides this team an opportunity to do just that. They believe in their work and know that they are making a difference. Their job satisfaction, as measured by an annual survey on wellness, has increased considerably and they take their roles seriously. The attendance clerk used to believe that her role was to document, in the data management system, which students were absent and why. Now she sees herself as a member of a team, tasked with ensuring that students come to school ready to learn. As she says: “Every day, I get a chance to invite students back to school and I’m part of what they need to learn.” References Donohoo, J. (2017). Collective efficacy: How educators’ beliefs impact student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Gubbels, J., van der Put, C. E., & Assink, M. (2019). Risk factors for school absenteeism and dropout: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 48(9), 1637–1667. McNeely, C., Chang, H. N., & Gee, K. A. (2023, March). Disparities in unexcused absences across California schools [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education. edpolicyinca.org/publications/disparities-unexcused-absences-across-california-schools Roby, D. E. (2004). Research on school attendance and student achievement: A study of Ohio schools. Educational Research Quarterly, 28(1), 3-16. Dominique Smith, Ed.D. is principal at Health Sciences High and Middle College. Alejandro Gonzalez Ojeda, Ed.D. is an assistant professor at San Diego State University.