Key takeaways

  • Understanding the Depth of Absenteeism: Delving into its social, emotional, and academic implications and the significant social and economic costs.
  • Addressing the Emotional Dimensions of Absenteeism: Recognizing and tackling the underlying emotional challenges contributing to chronic absenteeism.
  • The Power of Belonging: Exploring how fostering connection and well-being can effectively combat chronic absenteeism.

According to recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data, public school leaders reported an average daily attendance rate of 90% for students in November 2023. However, despite this figure, nearly 30% of students nationwide, or almost 14.7 million, were chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year. This chronic absenteeism poses significant risks to students and the broader community, impacting academic achievement, social-emotional well-being, and future success.

In our journey to combat poor attendance, we recognize that every empty chair holds a unique story deserving of tailored solutions. Yet, we aim to shine a spotlight on the social and emotional dimensions of absenteeism, believing that by nurturing connection and belonging, alongside instilling purpose and confidence, we can navigate the underlying currents that steer children away from school.

Behind each instance of poor attendance lie unspoken emotions, often left unaddressed. If left unchecked, these feelings can evolve into precarious situations where disengagement today may morph into exclusion tomorrow, both socially and professionally.

Our focus revolves around pivotal questions steeped in social and emotional terrain. How do we forge pathways for absentee children to embrace a sense of belonging, connection, and purpose within their educational environment? 

Absenteeism: Defining the Problem

Poor school attendance is not merely a surface-level issue; it's a window into students' complex web of challenges. Behind every absence lies a unique story, a set of circumstances, and often, criticism. Adopting an investigative approach and an intentional commitment to engage with students prone to absenteeism is crucial. We must recognize that absenteeism impacts academic learning and social, emotional, and human development.

Chronic absenteeism represents a significant loss for both individuals and society as a whole. Here are some related statistics and considerations:

  1. Dropout Rates: Research indicates chronically absent students are likelier to drop out. According to the U.S. Department of Education, high school dropouts are more likely to experience unemployment, lower earnings, and involvement in the criminal justice system than those who graduate.
  2. Economic Impact: Chronic absenteeism has substantial economic consequences. A study by the nonprofit organization Attendance Works estimated that it costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and increased social services.
  3. Social Engagement: Chronic absenteeism is linked to poor social engagement and decreased social skills development. Students who are frequently absent may miss out on opportunities for peer interaction, collaboration, and social-emotional learning, which are essential for healthy social development.
  4. Relationship with Violence: There is evidence to suggest a correlation between chronic absenteeism and involvement in violent behaviors. Students who are disconnected from school may be more vulnerable to negative influences and engage in risky behaviors, including violence and substance abuse.
  5. Work Engagement: Chronic absenteeism during school can have long-lasting effects on work engagement and career prospects. Individuals who lack a strong educational foundation may face challenges in securing employment, advancing in their careers, and contributing positively to the workforce.

Amartya Sen's concept of capabilities emphasizes the idea that individuals should not be solely judged by their resources or material possessions but rather by their ability to lead lives they have reason to value. He views capabilities as freedoms or real opportunities, enabling individuals to achieve valuable functioning.

Considering this and applying it to addressing children's poor attendance in school, it is important to provide students with the necessary capabilities or opportunities to engage in education and realize their full potential. This goes beyond simply ensuring access to school; it involves creating an environment where students feel empowered to participate actively in learning and where barriers to attendance are addressed comprehensively.

The powerhouse effect of belonging in schools

Read article

The Intersection of Poor Attendance and Adolescent Depth

In the United States, absenteeism rates fluctuate across school grades, influenced by the intricate interplay of age-related development, academic pressures, and social dynamics. Notably, middle and high school grades often bear the brunt of absenteeism's impact, with rates peaking during these critical stages of adolescence.

  1. Middle School: Transitioning from elementary to middle school heralds a period of heightened absenteeism. Here, students grapple with a multitude of challenges—shifting schedules, heightened academic expectations, and burgeoning social pressures. Amidst these changes, middle schoolers may find themselves navigating newfound autonomy in attendance management, leading to an uptick in absenteeism.
  2. High School: The zenith of absenteeism typically arrives in the high school years, especially in the latter grades. Many factors contribute to this trend, including the weight of academic stress, peer influence dynamics, involvement in extracurricular pursuits, part-time employment obligations, and familial responsibilities. Moreover, older high school students confront amplified repercussions for absenteeism, such as jeopardized credits or hurdles in meeting graduation criteria, intensifying attendance stakes.

Amidst these fluctuations lies the depth of adolescence—an epoch of profound transformation, exploration, and growth. Within the crucible of adolescence, each absenteeism statistic narrates a tale of missed opportunities, unmet potential, and untapped depths. 

Beyond Attendance: How Does the Belonging Effect Shape Student Wellbeing?

Belonging is more than a mere desire; it's a fundamental human need intricately woven into the essence of our being. As articulated in Maslow and Jung's Hierarchy of Needs, our sense of belonging profoundly influences all aspects of our existence, from mental and emotional well-being to physical health and beyond. According to this theory, belonging is a primary need that follows physiological needs and safety. It serves as a foundational requirement, paving the way for the attainment of esteem and self-actualization.

At its core, belonging provides us security and support, fostering inner harmony and balance. When we feel accepted and included by others, we experience fewer negative emotions and greater positivity and satisfaction. Research consistently shows that those who enjoy a sense of belonging are better equipped to navigate life's challenges, experiencing lower levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

But the absence of belonging can have dire consequences. When individuals feel disconnected and isolated, they may resort to negative coping mechanisms, leading to increased anger, anxiety, and even aggression. Mental health suffers, as does physical well-being, with impacts on sleep quality and immune function, to not name the effects on learning and growth

Recognizing within school settings the profound significance of belonging. It's not merely about ensuring students show up for classes; it's about creating an environment where they feel valued, supported, and connected. Students who feel like they belong are more likely to engage actively in their education, leading to improved attendance and academic outcomes and more positive achievements in life. 

Belonging is the antidote to resentment, apathy, and conflict. It fosters kindness, mutual interest, and communal well-being. By nurturing a sense of belonging within our schools, we cultivate a positive learning environment and lay the foundation for a future where empathy, understanding, and peace prevail.

Lost Connections: Exploring The Landscape of Absent Students

The lost connection experienced by absent students transcends mere physical absence from the classroom; it permeates multiple dimensions of their lives—social, emotional, and academic. We must explore each layer to address this multifaceted issue, questioning how best to mend the fractures through a social-emotional learning (SEL) lens.

  1. Social Dimension: Absenteeism erects barriers within social circles, leaving students isolated and adrift amidst the bustling sea of peer interactions. As educators, we must ask ourselves: How can we rebuild these fractured connections? Through SEL, we can cultivate environments that foster inclusivity, empathy, and meaningful relationships. By nurturing a sense of belonging within the school community, we provide the scaffolding for students to rebuild their social networks and forge enduring bonds.
  2. Emotional Dimension: Chronic absenteeism often breeds a sense of frustration, inadequacy, and disconnection from oneself. How do we help students navigate the waters of their emotional landscape? SEL equips students with the tools to explore and regulate their emotions, fostering resilience and self-awareness. By nurturing a safe and supportive environment where emotions are acknowledged and validated, we empower students to navigate the highs and lows of their inner world with confidence and compassion.
  3. Academic Dimension: Absenteeism casts a shadow over academic achievement, hindering students' ability to keep pace with their peers and engage meaningfully in learning. How can we bridge the gap between absentee students and academic success? Through SEL-infused teaching practices, we can tailor instruction to meet the diverse needs of students, fostering a culture of curiosity, motivation, and growth. Connecting academic content to real-world relevance and personal interests ignites the spark of learning and reignites students' passion for education.

In essence, addressing the layers of lost connection through SEL is our compass, guiding us toward the shores of reconnection and renewal. By nurturing connection and belonging within the school community and infusing purpose into every facet of learning, we embark on a journey of transformation where every student feels seen, valued, and empowered.

Cultivating Connection: Navigating Absenteeism's Social Landscape

How do we bridge the gap between disconnection and belonging? It begins with a commitment—an unwavering dedication to nurturing environments steeped in inclusivity, empathy, and meaningful relationships.

The social-emotional space of school serves as a crucible for connection and belonging—a place where every student can proclaim, "This is my place." But how do we extend this invitation to those grappling with poor attendance? It begins with intentionality—in constantly questioning how we can demonstrate our care, affirm each student's sense of belonging, and echo the practice of inclusion in every interaction.

At its heart lies the cultivation of strong, resilient, and durable relationships grounded in worthiness. Worthiness should not be tied to innate talent or intelligence but to the consistent effort and willingness to learn and grow. Students find their anchor through these relationships—a sturdy tether to self and others. 

Teaching methods that engage intellect and emotion offer students a lifeline—a pathway to engagement, relevance, and connection. Reclaiming real-world interactions and play from the clutches of screens reaffirms the importance of social skills, mental health, and active participation in school life.

Addressing the Emotional Side of Absenteeism

We acknowledge that behind each vacant chair lies a story waiting to be heard and understood.

Chronic absenteeism casts a shadow of isolation and disconnection over students' lives, leaving them grappling with feelings of loneliness and social exclusion. Their struggle to fully engage in school is underscored by a pervasive sense of insecurity and inadequacy, plunging them into the depths of uncertainty.

Yet, within their emotional landscape lies the opportunity for empathy and understanding, which allow us to connect meaningfully and intentionally. By questioning ourselves about the complexity of their emotions, we seek to comprehend the weight of their burdens, create opportunities for engagement, and, moreover, not add to present burdens. 

In this pursuit, we confront the external pressures and societal expectations that compound their emotional turmoil, rejecting judgment and stigma in favor of compassion and support. Through connection, we strive to break the cycle of hopelessness that pervades their world.

Dismantling negative emotions creates space for meaningful connections, fostering a culture of empathy and understanding beyond judgment. By modeling flexibility, non-judgment, and helpfulness, we open doors for absent students to re-engage and for all students to learn the power of connection.

We must first scout and acknowledge their emotions to establish meaningful connections with absent students. We must address isolation, frustration, insecurity, anxiety, humiliation, and hopelessness with care and empathy.

Anxiety, in particular, is a significant contributor to poor attendance. Addressing students' anxiety within the school setting and amidst repeated absences is crucial. Provide a safe space for students to express their anxieties and fears, offer relaxation techniques and coping strategies, and collaborate with counselors or mental health professionals when needed.

Moreover, tackling feelings of shame associated with chronic absenteeism is essential. Foster an environment where students feel valued and accepted regardless of their attendance record, emphasizing their worth beyond their presence in the classroom.

Here, we want to give you the opportunity to reflect and address some of these emotions so that you can maintain that place of connection and model meaningful relationships with the wider school community

Guiding Students Through Emotions: Tips for Supporting Attendance and Well-Being

This list does not attempt to be comprehensive. Still, it aims to provide you with the space to properly reflect on your students' emotions, provide tips and strategies to better relate to them, and model respectful and meaningful connections. 


Isolation manifests as feeling left out and disconnected from peers, fostering a sense of loneliness and detachment. For a child struggling with attendance, isolation may deepen their sense of disconnection from school, amplifying feelings of alienation and social exclusion.

Mind and Body Impact

  • Mentally, isolation can lead to feelings of sadness, despair, and low self-esteem, as the child perceives themselves as separate from their peers.
  • Physically, isolation may manifest as fatigue, lethargy, and psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches.

Tips and Strategies:

  • Create opportunities for social connection within the classroom through group activities, cooperative learning projects, or peer mentoring programs.
  • Implement buddy systems where absent students are paired with classmates who can offer support and encouragement.
  • Foster a classroom culture of inclusivity and acceptance, where every student feels valued and respected.
  • Encourage open communication and empathy among peers, promoting understanding and support for students struggling with attendance.
  • Provide avenues for students to express their feelings of isolation through journaling, artwork, or discussion circles, validating their experiences and offering a sense of validation and belonging.
  • Ensure that classroom policies and activities are inclusive and accommodate students' needs to avoid singling out absent students or making them feel further isolated.


Frustration arises from the inability to engage fully in school and achieve academic success, leading to feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. For students with attendance issues, frustration may stem from falling behind in coursework, struggling to catch up, or feeling overwhelmed by academic expectations.

Mind and Body Impact:

  • Mentally, frustration can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt as the child perceives themselves as unable to meet academic standards.
  • Frustration may manifest physically as tension, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating, hindering the child's ability to focus and engage in learning activities.

Tips and Strategies:

  • Break tasks and assignments into manageable chunks to prevent overwhelm and promote a sense of accomplishment.
  • Provide individualized support and assistance to help absent students catch up on missed work, offering extra tutoring or resources.
  • Encourage a growth mindset by emphasizing effort and persistence over perfection, celebrating progress and resilience in the face of challenges.
  • Teach coping skills for managing frustration, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or positive self-talk.
  • Foster a supportive classroom environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning and growth rather than sources of shame or failure.
  • Avoid placing excessive pressure on absent students to "catch up" quickly, recognizing that everyone learns at their own pace and progress may take time.


Insecurity stems from the erosion of self-confidence and self-worth, leaving students uncertain about their abilities and values. For students struggling with attendance, insecurity may arise from feeling judged or misunderstood by peers and teachers, leading to a lack of confidence in their academic and social skills.

Mind and Body Impact:

  • Mentally, insecurity can lead to doubt, self-criticism, and imposter syndrome as the child questions their worthiness and capabilities.
  • Physically, insecurity may manifest as tension, nervousness, and avoidance behaviors, as the child seeks to protect themselves from perceived threats to their self-esteem.

Tips and Strategies:

  • Provide opportunities for students to showcase their strengths and talents in areas outside of traditional academics, such as art, music, sports, or leadership roles.
  • Offer praise and positive reinforcement for effort and progress, focusing on the child's growth and development rather than comparing them to their peers.
  • Encourage self-reflection and self-awareness through activities such as journaling, goal-setting, or mindfulness exercises, helping students identify their strengths and areas for growth.
  • Foster a culture of acceptance and support within the classroom, where differences are celebrated and everyone is encouraged to be their authentic selves.
  • Teach assertiveness skills for advocating for their needs and setting boundaries in social and academic situations, empowering students to assert their worth and value.
  • Avoid creating environments that promote comparison or competition, instead emphasizing peer collaboration and cooperation.


Shame is a deeply painful emotion characterized by embarrassment, guilt, and unworthiness. For students struggling with attendance, shame may stem from repeated absences and the perception of falling short of expectations, whether from themselves, their peers, or authority figures.

Mind and Body Impact:

  • Mentally, shame can lead to negative self-talk, self-blame, and a pervasive sense of inadequacy as the child internalizes feelings of guilt and unworthiness.
  • Physically, shame may manifest as physical discomfort, such as flushing, sweating, or a racing heartbeat, as the child experiences heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

Tips and Strategies:

  • Create a safe and supportive environment where students feel comfortable discussing their shame and vulnerability without fear of judgment or condemnation.
  • Normalize the experience of shame by acknowledging that it is a universal emotion experienced by everyone at some point, helping students understand that they are not alone in their struggles.
  • Foster a culture of empathy and compassion within the classroom, where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth and learning rather than sources of shame or humiliation.
  • Encourage self-compassion and self-forgiveness by helping students challenge their negative self-perceptions and cultivate a sense of worthiness and acceptance.
  • Teach coping skills for managing shame, such as cognitive reframing techniques, grounding exercises, or self-soothing strategies, empowering students to regulate their emotions and navigate challenging situations.
  • Avoid shaming or blaming students for their attendance issues, recognizing that shame only deepens feelings of inadequacy and disconnection. Instead, focus on supporting and empowering students to overcome obstacles and succeed academically and emotionally.

Reimagining Engagement: Empowering Students Beyond Absenteeism

The academic impact of absenteeism cannot be overstated. For absent students, catching up becomes daunting, straining educators and peers alike. However, within these challenges, we need to scout for opportunities for growth and transformation; our duty is to recognize the potential within every student, regardless of their attendance record. We must strive to bring them back into the fold, ignite their passions, and infuse them with new purposes. We cannot afford to let them slip through the cracks.

By validating their strengths, fostering their interests, and giving them roles and responsibilities, we can reignite their enthusiasm for learning and engagement with school dynamics. Projects that allow students to take active roles and lead initiatives provide invaluable opportunities for purposeful participation and personal growth.

Consider initiatives such as new student buddy programs, language exchanges, skill-sharing projects, and artistic expressions. These endeavors cultivate a sense of accomplishment and validation and foster social and emotional skills such as self-confidence, decision-making, and positive community connections.

Furthermore, personalized support and coaching can empower students to explore their interests and passions, helping them discover their unique talents and contributions. Whether through gaming, art, sports, or other activities, the key is providing avenues for meaningful engagement that infuse purpose and fulfillment into their school experience.

We must ask our students: What do you enjoy doing? What are you good at? By sharing and infusing purpose into their pursuits, we can serve new opportunities and learning experiences from one of disconnection to one of empowerment and belonging

Beyond the school walls: The ripple effect of belonging

Read article


The risks associated with poor attendance extend far beyond the classroom walls, impacting students on personal, social, and academic levels. Absent children are often excluded not just from school but also from opportunities for growth and fulfillment in life.

It is our duty to recognize every student's potential and provide them with support and opportunities. We must be fearless in creating inclusive environments where all students feel valued, connected, and empowered to discover their hidden purposes with humility and curiosity.

I'd like to use Amartya Sen's words again: "Freedom is not only the absence of external restraints but also the presence of opportunities for individual growth and fulfillment." Our responsibility is to create as many opportunities as possible within our ability for our students to set them free.

Call to Action: 

Be fierce in advocating for your students and champion their belonging and connection within your school communities

Take bold actions to address the root causes of poor attendance, fostering a culture of inclusivity and interconnectedness. Be aware that nurturing a sense of belonging and connection empowers each student to forge their own path to well-being and self-growth. 


National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 

Research Brief: Chronic Absenteeism,

Attendance Works.


Back to the Satchel Pulse homepage


Author: Paola Mileo

Posted: 17 Apr 2024

Estimated time to read: 23 mins

Learn more about Satchel Pulse in your district