Attendance Campaigns: Why Messaging Matters

Recently,Attendance Campaign I began the process of strategizing a year-long attendance campaign for a K-6 school district client.  I’ve seen a lot of attendance campaigns over the past 14 years since I first began working in K-12 public relations and communications.  And there has been one common theme: Numbers. “You COUNT!”  “Everyday COUNTS!” “Every student COUNTS!” And then there is often some kind of reference to money for schools and attendance.

But, when you really look at the reasons why students are chronically absent, then you’ll understand why this messaging doesn’t really motivate or resonate students or parents, and in fact…it’s really quite tone deaf.

According to Attendance Works:

“Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school. Students from communities of color as well as those with disabilities are disproportionately affected. This isn’t simply a matter of truancy or skipping school. In fact, many of these absences, especially among our youngest students, are excused. Often absences are tied to health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and oral and mental health issues. Other barriers including lack of a nearby school bus, a safe route to school or food insecurity make it difficult to go to school every day.  In many cases, chronic absence goes unnoticed because schools are counting how many students show up every day rather than examining how many and which students miss so much school that they are falling behind.

So, why do attendance campaigns continue to use “counts” in their messaging?

Communication campaigns around attendance should and can take a comprehensive approach to address the core issues around chronic absences, and the messaging–and campaign theme–should support this.

Among other things, attendance campaigns should:

  • Utilize relationships within the school community and supportive messaging–not legal sounding letters or automated-sounding phone calls–when reporting chronic absences to families.  This may include identifying ways to utilize two-way communication with families in order to discuss and develop supports and resources for families facing challenging situations that prevent their child from attending school regularly.
  • Provide parents resources and information on available school site health care and facts around regarding when a child should (and should not) stay home from school with an illness.
  • Remind parents of the school’s free and low cost meal options for their child, as well as transportation options.
  • Incorporate holiday reminders and return to school incentives.
  • Use praise, positive, recognition and incentives for attendance improvement and excellent attendance.
  • Connect attendance messaging to messaging about academic achievement and student success.
  • Clearly communicate that each student matters.


Did you notice that there is nothing mentioned about ADA (Average Daily Attendance), school funding, numbers…or COUNTING?  That’s because this kind of messaging doesn’t do anything to address barriers to attendance, and only identifies students as numbers.

Let parents know that their child matters, that you care for their child as a whole person, and reassure them that your school will support their child’s needs so that they can be successful in school and life.  After all, that’s what educators are there for, right?

About Heather McGowan

Heather McGowan increases public confidence in public education and improves opportunities for non-profit organizations to succeed through proactive communication and marketing. She provides strategic marketing and communication services that exceed her clients’ unique goals and delivers results that motivate audiences to act, change, and/or otherwise change behaviors for a greater good.

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