The Greatest Solutions
for the Latest Students:
Stop Tardiness, Build Attendance and On-Time Behavior
The time to start teaching attendance and punctuality skills is Day 1, Week 1. For many school staff, that time is the start of your school year. Remember: You can be the best teacher or counselor on the planet but if your students are late to be taught or counseled, it doesn't really matter how good you are. The bottom line: students must be present if you are to successfully work with them.
Hello from Author and Workshop Presenter Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I've worked for decades to develop innovative, state-of-the-art methods to teach children and teens to arrive on time every time.
The bad news is that many kids have problems with tardiness. The good news is that often tardiness can be rapidly and effectively addressed. Punctuality is another essential school skill we consistently expect without consistently and fully teaching. Once trained to be punctual, many kids show lasting improvement. Punctuality is like any other key school school: you must teach it before you see it from your students.
How to Reduce Student Tardiness in 4 Steps
1. Motivate Them
Motivation is usually the most important step to stopping lateness because so many students see no reason to be on time. Convincing students that on-time behavior is an essential skill, often generates more change than any other approach. You can find hundreds of motivation-makers throughout our website, in our articles (see the index at right), and there are hundreds more in our Maximum-Strength Motivation-Makers book. You can also try the sample intervention below, but as you know, you will need to use far more than just a few motivational strategies to have the desired impact on students' tardiness and attendance problems.
Ask your students to complete humorous multiple choice questions like this one from our Quickest Kid Fixer-Uppers Book, Volume 1:
Julio forgot to pay the water bill again. Julio will discover that the water company will…
a) Never notice
b) Completely understand that Julio "just forgot"
c) Quickly turn off his water.
A fun follow-up to this particular question: ask your students to determine how the loss of water will affect Julio. Be sure they notice that he will be unable to operate his bathroom, plus, be sure they notice the re-connection fees he'll face. Help your students to understand that mastering punctuality in school prepares them for the punctuality skills they'll need as an adult– especially if they ever plan to flush or shower.
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2. Identify the Causes
Students have problems with lateness for many reasons including distractions, cultural differences, skill deficiencies and poor motivation. To most effectively build on-time behavior, identify and address the source of the lateness. For example, an elementary student may be late because she lacks adult help to wake up and prepare for school each day. Her problem may be best modified by giving her skills to plan a wake-up-and-get-ready schedule for arriving on time.
Make a chart with two columns and call it "My Countdown to School Schedule." If you are not in a school setting, simply substitute the name of your site in the title. In the left hand column, list times. In the right hand column, list the tasks that the child must do to prepare for school. The chart shows the child the tasks she must do, and the times to do them. As the child can manage tasks, include waking up, washing up, eating up, and leaving for school.
This external structure may help substitute for that lack of adult guidance. Our live and online Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Students Workshop gives dozens more approaches if you need more lateness-busters.
3. Step-by-Step Help
Most students can not just instantly start being on time any more than you can just instantly lose 10 pounds or instantly start speaking Swedish. That is part of why consequences can be a particularly ineffective way to improve attendance and punctuality. Once the source of the lateness has been identified, offer step-by-step help.
Many students have not been fully trained to promptly perform routine tasks like completing homework or being seated prior to the bell ringing. Stop assuming they have these skills. Consequences and rewards will not compensate for skills. Plan to teach these skills in a manner that is as systematic and organized as the approach you would use to teach spelling or algebra.
Just as you can't rely on consequences or rewards instead of instruction to build competence in algebra, you can not rely on consequences or rewards instead of instruction to build competence in the area of punctuality. Potentially, this is a completely different way of thinking about and managing punctuality issues.
Be sure to teach students when to stay home from school– and when it's not necessary. Check out our Poster #5 at right for an example of this type of training that can reduce tardiness and absenteeism. Click to enlarge the poster for better viewing.
To make your own version, entitle the poster "Find the Reason to Stay Home From School," then use humorous cartoons to portray rather poor reasons to stay home from school. Include common excuses like these: "I didn't know what day it was," and "I missed the bus."
To appreciate how this humorous approach can convey crucial attendance information far faster than a more conventional or didactic approach, be sure to take a second to notice how funny and cute our poster is. If you make your own version, be sure to capture that element. Order the poster here or call 1.800.545.5736.
4. Expect Incremental Change
Students whose lateness is primarily due to skill deficiencies or cultural differences, may show improvement only gradually. Mastering new skills requires time and practice so hold reasonable expectations. Students often detect and react negatively to adults' impatience. The pace of change may be more rapid in students whose tardiness is primarily due to motivational problems. When finally convinced that punctuality is important, these students can change quite rapidly.
Reconsider the wisdom of the common practice of suspending chronically absent students. Suspension doesn't teach attendance skills. Suspension teaches "staying home" skills, plus it has no parallel in the adult work world. Ultimately, you are preparing students for the real world where they can expect to be "either prompt or promptly unemployed"– a catchy line that you may wish to repeat to students.