Intentionally building healthy connections with students is a key to student achievement and learning​

"What's most interesting is a child can become a productive and engaged learner from any starting point, as long as we intentionally build those skills," said Dr. Pamela Cantor, founder and senior science advisor of Turnaround for Children, in an Edutopia video on bring learning sciences into the classroom."

Healthy relationships with students help address chronic absenteeism

In a recent article on student homelessness, anti-poverty advocates indicate that absenteeism is a symptom of something else that’s going on. "What we'd like to see more of in schools is a more trauma-informed approach," said Annie Pennucci of Building Changes, a nonprofit group for homeless students in Washington State. "Being late or absent, falling asleep in school, all can be symptoms of homelessness, not just poor behavior." (see full article below)

Removing barriers to students attending school starts with a healthy relationship with a caring adult at school.  The mentors (caring adults) alerted Rebecca Nicolas, a principal,  to the barrier of dirty clothes which prevented low-income students from attending school.  She opened a “laundry and Loot” room.  Connecting with persistently absent students can provide data which “ can be used as an early warning that we need to invest in relationship building, problem solving and understanding what’s going on,” said Nicolas.

It all starts with a healthy relationship between a caring adult and a student.

Hoping student absences will come out in the wash (NY Times)

When to call a plumber to help a student attend school

I heard a story recently about a youth who had not attended school for an extended period of time.  When an attendance counselor was finally able to connect with the family, she found that the family had no running water.  The youth could not shower at home and therefore did not want to go to school. The attendance counselor made connections with the appropriate agencies to get the water hooked up, and the student was able to attend school again.  This school attendance counselor was not a plumber, yet she knew who to call in order to get the student in school.

Families will do well if they can

“Kids will do well if they can” is one of my favourite lines from Dr. Ross Greene, author of Lost at School: Why our kids with behavioural challenges are falling through the cracks and how we can help them. The parallel line is that families will do well if they can.

A family, single female parent with 2 school aged kids, was presented by one of the human service agencies at a collaborative community response meeting in which I was a participant. The kids were not able to do well because both were missing school, often without mom’s knowledge or permission. One child’s risk factors included a diagnosed mental health concern, a history of suicide attempts and a current risk of suicide. The other child’s risk factor was an undiagnosed mental health concern.

7 things you can do from the classroom about students missing school

Teachers and other school staff take attendance in class every day, so they can be the first to notice a change or a pattern. Simply taking attendance is no big deal, but it might indicate something. School staff has to know what to be look for and be observant.  Alert school staff can help to prevent harm caused by students missing school.


In my work with a school board as part of a Safe Schools Team, we studied ways we could each  prevent violence through Violence Threat Risk Assessments (VTRA). VTRA training repeatedly stressed connecting the dots of information that different individuals or agencies had.  Teachers, parents, community agencies and police all have “dots of information”. What we learned in the VTRA training was the need to connect the dots.

Adults’ view of students can make all the difference in their world 

As adults, we often view students differently from the way they see themselves.  We say things like, “He’s the behaviour kid” rather than the student with the behaviours.  “She’s the truant” rather than the student who is chronically absent. It would make a big difference to a child or youth if adults would view him or her as a victim and potential survivor.

An article worth reading

New Research: Teachers Can Reduce Absences in First, Second Grades

"Unlike a typical truancy-prevention program for older students, the pilot leveraged the close relationship that students in primary grades typically develop with the teacher with whom they spend most of the day. “We thought the teacher would be the adult who was best positioned to step in if an intervention was necessary,” Cook said. “So it was just taking advantage of what is already there.” Read more about Duke University researcher Philip Cook's Early Truancy Prevention Project

Risk detectors save lives!

A number of years ago, when I was principal at an elementary school, the fire captain came up to me after a fire safety presentation to the students.  He commented on the students’ participation in the presentations, particularly on how smoke detectors can save lives. He had told everyone that smoke detectors need to be checked regularly.  He was impressed when one student enthusiastically raised his hand and shared, “My dad tests the smoke detector every week on Sunday morning when he burns the English muffins in the toaster!” We both had a good laugh when I told him that was my son.

Helpful villagers walk towards the child that needs raising

In spite of our best efforts to act like good villagers, we often end up trying to raise a child on our own as a school, a family or human service agency.  

Tom, not his real name, was enrolled in the international baccalaureate program, one designed for high academic achievers.  He did well at school. He played soccer in the summer and hockey in the winter, along with whatever sports season it was at school, at least for Grade 9.

Grade 10 started off well, and then Tom stopped showing up for hockey practices. He started missing the occasional day in the fall.  He soon quit the team and he had missed 2 months of school by the time of Semester 1 exams. His excellent marks had dropped like a stone.