Monday, December 6, 2010
The Best Attendance Policy Ever Created
I guess that I should qualify that. I don't believe that attendance policies motivate or intimidate reluctant learners to come to school. They might prevent reasonably successful students from an occasional skipped class. But for those students who are chronic non-attenders, I would contend that many attendance policies do the opposite of what they intend. They are often codified with labels such as "Step One Truancy", or "First Offence", and then ramp up quickly at a DefCon-style rate until they exonerate us from our collective responsibility to provide an education to every student. And ultimately, they provide us with a means to remove students--the opposite of what I think attendance policies are thought to be able to do.
I would argue that no student ever dreamed of becoming a "skipper", or even worse a "drop out". In kindergarten, students show up to school with that unabashed joy almost unparalled in education--they're there every day. And yet somehow, when some students hit Grades 7, 8, and 9, their attendance patterns become a bit checkered. As they move into their senior years, those same students show up less and less, until they make their way to the administrator's office, and the rest is...well, see the above paragraph.
I like golf. I like to play it, I like to practice putting, chipping, bunker shots, hitting my irons, and my driver. I enjoy it so much that I live on a golf course, sometimes pay too much money for a round of golf, and have made my wife's eyes roll in to the back of her head because I like to play so often. Thankfully, she likes golf too, and can understand my addiction to the sport.
But imagine I didn't like golf. Imagine that I tried it, and was really bad at it. Maybe my dad took me for lessons, but each day I went, my instructor pointed out what I was supposed to do, but I still couldn't do it. Perhaps my instructor then would then send home a report to my parents stating the obvious, that I wasn't getting any better. At that point, he might tell me that compared to other golfers he was teaching, I was not all that good, and that I needed to practice more (what a revelation!). But because of my lack of success after practicing in the past, I didn't enjoy practicing at all. Then, when I continued to get worse, he paid less and less attention to me, and paid attention to better golfers. Everyone around me seemed to be getting better, or so I might have thought. And since I wasn't really into golf in the first place, golf was not a priority. Do you think that I would continue to golf?
Why are we surprised when reluctant learners don't attend? Imagine that each day that you went to work, you were told that you are a failure, or substandard. Maybe not overtly, but through "2 out of 10", a "C-", or "not meeting expectations". Like my golf example, I myself would start to lose interest in showing up to school!
Maybe instead of suspending or removing students for non-attendance or spending our efforts trying to quantify or qualify why they are not attending (another meaningless exercise in futility), we need to spend our time on the only attendance policy that works: making schools and learning so engaging to kids that they want to be there EVERY day.
How do we do it? I couldn't agree more with an excellent blog post by Donald Grimshaw "Would kids attend your class if attendance was optional?" , in which he describes a classroom with a passionate teacher with high expectations, and a culture of student autonomy and engagement. I believe we also need to meet kids at the door and find out what interests them, how they learn best, and involving them in their assessment so they can best demonstrate their learning.
But perhaps most importantly, we have to show that we CARE about our learners. Getting to know their name (don't laugh--it means a great deal, especially in a very large school), to know something them, what they do outside of school, or anything that gives us that in to say 'hi' and have a conversation so that student knows that you are interested in getting to know them as a young person. When I get to know students, I don't want to disappoint them as their Principal, and I believe if they get to know me, they don't want to disappoint me either.
So rather than writing bigger, bolder and blacker-inked policies that punish reluctant learners, let's go with this policy: WE WILL MAKE SCHOOL IRRESISTABLE.
I think that would be the best attendance policy ever created.