District Administration April 2018 - 44
sound harsh, but we are attempting to
shape and save lives. Attendance is necessary." Rex also focused on setting an
example of showing up every day, coming
early and staying late. By 2016, Central's
average number of teacher absences had
dropped to 8.2.
In some cases, teachers may not even
realize how many days of school they're
missing-and neither do their principals.
When Michael Stewart became director
of human resources at Tolleson Union
High School District in the Phoenix suburbs, he got to work on teacher retention,
which included minimizing absences.
1. Organize staff pep rallies.
2. Eliminate blackout dates.
3. Shift to paid time off, rather
than separating sick days
and personal days.
4. Start a teacher book club.
5. Cover classes on teachers'
6. Organize team-building
activities on PD days.
7. Provide meals for perfect
8. Give principals regular
9. Put up a "shout out" board
staff and parents can post
10. Offer bonus
44 April 2018
Stewart, now the director of Educator Workforce Initiatives at Arizona State
University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, helped principals identify
"abusers" of paid time off by pulling
attendance trends and determining how
much money was being spent on substitute teachers. "Previously, principals had
not regularly reviewed absence data and
their budgets," Stewart says. "The data
was quite surprising and very revealing
for many of them."
Teachers also needed to see their
absences on paper. Stewart's HR team
provided everyone's attendance records
to them in a sealed envelope. The team
also created a laminated poster with
all employees listed by code numbers,
instead of names. Each person's absences
and tardies were updated weekly.
While teachers with excessive tardies and absences didn't like it at first,
the poster became standard practice
and changed behavior. "People actually became excited to see it updated
and checked it for errors," Stewart says.
"Sometimes awareness is the only tool
needed to change behavior."
Procedures ... and prizes
In some schools or districts, normal operating procedures may cause absenteeism
inadvertently. For instance, at Central in
Pascagoula, teachers used to contact the
school secretary if they were going to be
absent or late. Rex changed the policy so
teachers were required to report directly
to her-which deterred some teachers
from taking days off.
In Tolleson, the school calendar had
traditionally included "blackout dates,"
such as the day before or after a holiday,
when staffers were not allowed to take
personal days. "This caused a hardship
for those whose families were not local
and needed travel leeway," Stewart says.
"Additionally, these dates often caused
staff to be dishonest about their reasons
for needing to miss work."
Stewart removed blackout dates and
transitioned to paid time off rather than a
specific number of sick days and personal
days. The new policy helped teachers
teams with the best attendance win
lunch at James Madison Middle
School in Kentucky.
feel respected and in charge of managing
their own time, which contributed to a
culture of goodwill and ultimately helped
improve attendance, Stewart says.
Just as teachers reward students with
"treasure box" prizes for good behavior,
some schools have found that rewards are
effective in getting teachers to school. At
James Madison Middle School in Kentucky, Principal Tim Roy offers prizes for
individual and team attendance competitions. His teachers often lead Hopkins
County School District in attendance.
Each month, Roy rewards teachers
who have perfect attendance. Winners
can choose two rewards, such as a pass to
wear jeans, having an administrator cover
before- or after-school duty, an extra
planning period, or getting their favorite
snack and drink delivered to their classroom. Twice each trimester, the gradelevel team with the best attendance gets
lunch from the restaurant of its choice.
These initiatives often cost little or nothing, but research (DAmag.me/absence)
shows they can improve attendance for
teachers and students-as well as boost
Plan for inevitable absences
When teachers do miss school, districts
can minimize the detrimental effects to
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