How to Use Small Group Counseling to Improve School Attendance

Group counseling can be useful in addressing school truancy issues.

Poor school attendance or truancy can present serious impediments to a student's educational progress. When students miss classes, they eventually fall behind on their academic work and typically receive lower grades. Many truant students may fail to pass required courses, which can eventually lead to school drop-out. If you're working with students who have attendance problems, group counseling can be an effective way to initiate a support system within the school community. Peers often encourage each other to change bad habits, and counselors can dedicate more time to students by working with groups.

Identify students in need of support by closely monitoring attendance records. Work with your school's attendance coordinator to create a list of students who are frequently reported to have full-day or partial-day absences from classes. You should also note student's current grades in classes they have frequently missed. Use this information to prioritize students at risk of failure due to poor attendance.

Meet with students and parents to address the need for consistent attendance. Once you've identified a group of students, you can set up conferences with their parents to inform them of the group counseling opportunity. Most districts require parental permission for ongoing counseling. Students should join this meeting, and discuss any serious issues that may be preventing them from attending school on a regular basis. Set goals to improve attendance and also create a plan for the parents to communicate with the school on a regular basis.

Select a meeting time that will not interrupt class attendance. Once you've met with the parents and the students, you should choose a meeting time for the group. Lunch hour, free periods or after-school time are all good options that fall outside of required class meeting times. Make sure group participants know the time and meeting place.

Convene the group and encourage students to set goals. Your meetings should start by building a sense of community in the group. Group discussions should always be kept confidential, and students should be encouraged to share their reasons for poor attendance and short-term and long-term goals for improvement. Peers will often provide each other support by understanding each others issues. For example, family problems can often cause inconsistent attendance, and as students build a rapport with each other they may find that the connections make them more likely to feel supported at school.

Pair students together to offer extra support with meeting attendance goals. You can create a buddy system by identifying students who share a positive rapport with each other or have common attendance patterns. Students should be encouraged to support each other by offering wake-up calls in the morning or having lunch dates with each other to check in on their progress. It's critical that students see the value in connecting with each other as a support system.

Mark short-term and long-term progress. The group can keep a chart of each member's attendance, marking improvements each week. At the end of each month you may wish to plan a short celebration and recognize students who have made notable progress. It's also helpful to have an administrator acknowledge the student by either attending the group or signing award certificates. Parents should also be apprised of student progress on a regular basis.

Christy Bowles has 15 years of experience in the field of education, with 10 years working in mental health and wellness. She specializes in the treatment of depression, anxiety and substance abuse, with a focus on alternative treatment modalities. Bowles holds a Master of Education from Harvard University.