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September 1, 2021
Vol. 79
No. 1

Step By Step / 3 Steps to Reconnect With Disengaged Students

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According to a Fall 2020 report by Bellweather Education Partners, a staggering three million students had stopped engaging with schools and classrooms since the pandemic began. Many districts are now taking steps to reconnect with unaccounted-for students, but reducing absenteeism requires adaptive solutions for reengaging with students. Here are three simple practices educators can use to foster meaningful relationships and learning opportunities for the upcoming school year.

1. Identify why students are disengaged

What do you know about your students’ lives and how to best position them for success in the classroom? Do they have siblings? Are they living in safe, stable environments with supportive caregivers? What was the experience learning in a remote or hybrid learning environment like for them (at least before they disengaged from it)?
You can survey students—trying to reach even those frequently absent—to understand their lived experiences, the relationships they have formed at school, and what they deem as high-quality learning experiences. Collecting and understanding data on how students perceive their learning environments may help you learn about students who are chronically absent and find ways to reestablish and maintain engagement for them.

2. Establish a network of engagement supports

Consider whether your school culture and classroom ­curriculum are truly meeting your students’ academic, social emotional, and behavioral needs. As districts and schools adapt to in-person, online, or hybrid learning for the upcoming year, teachers and leaders might want to adopt intentional and system-wide practices that can prevent students from becoming disaffected. Frameworks like multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) can give teachers access to high-quality instructional materials, help educators use early identification and intervention strategies for students whose engagement has diminished, and provide resources for students who are looking to reengage.

3. Show them you care

Research shows a strong connection between educators’ empathy and warmth and improved student behavior, motivation, and achievement. What does this look like in practice? To keep students engaged, move away from learning activities that are teacher-centered and create ones that empower students to see themselves in their work. Forming youth-adult partnerships characterized by student voice and shared decision making can build a classroom culture of meaningful relationships, which helps students feel connected and want to come to school.

Attendance Works. (2018). Chronic absence.

Korman, H. T. N., O’Keefe, B., & Repka, M. (2020, October 10). Missing in the margins: Estimating the scale of the COVID-19 attendance crisis. Bellwether Education Partners.

Mitropoulos, A. (2021, June 11). With return to in-person learning, thousands of students still ‘missing’ from schools. ABC News.

Tameka Porter is a managing consultant at McREL International.

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