How should you deal with frequent student absences that come with winter?

I thought I did a pretty good job summarizing and commenting on the first questions of #mschat so I’m inspired to continue today with question number two. The second question was a two part question that dealt with the absenteeism that comes with the cold winter months. The first part was:

 How should you deal with frequent student absences that come with winter?

This is an issue that all of us have to deal with and I know I’m not alone when I say it fills me with a fair amount of trepidation in how to handle it…


“I’ve had many Ss absent this week, & I’m covering the Enlightenment & some hard lit. Handing Ss what they missed I cringe”

 the second part of the question was a follow up:

How do you make sure the absentees don’t fall behind?

 Now before I go through and read the responses I want to put my thoughts down on digital paper. So here goes…

 Dealing with absenteeism is a difficult task for any teacher. I would have tweeted that it really does depend on the age that we are dealing with. The level of personal responsibility changes over the course of a student’s academic career. I would not expect a 2nd grader to follow up with the teacher but I since I do not teach elementary school, I will not comment on how they handle it. As for middle school students, it is also a mixed bag. I often refer to middle school as the bridge (and 6th grade really being the bridging year).

 At the start of the school year I am usually a little more flexible with students who are still trying to figure out what class to go to at the end of each period. But, by the time winter sets in, students have been taught to bear the responsibility of their own work. This includes when you are absent. Setting the policy at the beginning of the school year helps kids understand that when absent you have to check in with the teacher the following day. That being said, it is extremely difficult as a teacher to make time for all the students who are absent. Imagine fifteen kids crowding your desk at the start of the school day asking about ‘what they missed’ while you’re trying desperately to complete an evaluation, copy worksheets, or maybe finish writing the agenda on the whiteboard. It can be overwhelming. I’ve tried a number of things over the years and still have not found a system that works well for both me and the students. It looks like I’m not alone because @gypsywriter65 also found this topic challenging with this tweet:

A2 This is a difficult one. Really interested in suggestions.

I usually try to keep it simple. I post all my lesson agendas and homework on my website with digital copies. Most of my work that gets turned in is usually done through Google Forms if the expectation is to have something written.

When looking at the tweets, it became apparent pretty quickly that most of us were on the same page and use some sort of combination of the following three tactics:

  • Make sure information is available for students either online or in class when they return


“I post all lessons on my Class blog  so if absent students can see what we are doing!! and attempt at home”


“Absences are tough. Having your website/blog/edmodo up to date is pretty important.”


“Email, Edmodo, Remind are all great ways to keep in contact when someone is out of the building.”

There was one tweet that really intrigued me. this is the second time in two posts where @AnIowaTeacher has piqued my interest level.

“I’ve played with Livestream a little bit. It would show promise to allow students to “watch” class from home!”

Live streaming a class for parents and students to follow along with is a huge astep forward into 21st century teaching! I’ve been saying for year that I wanted to make my classroom more of a public learning space. By live streaming a class @anIowaTeacher is making my dream a reality. (Dear @anIowaTeacher, please message me and teach me how you do this! AWESOME!)

  • Teach students the skill of personal responsibility and accountability  to keep up with assignments. Shifting the burden of responsibility is a skill that takes time to learn so it is important to get it instituted as early as developmentally appropriate.

By having a dropbox system like @nyrangerfan42 and @cskiles do in their classroom makes perfect sense for student who are in grades 4-8. Love this idea.


“We have an ‘absent, check here’ hanging folder system – Ss find the day they were out.”


“I have While You Were Out folders, plus I keep my classroom website and my google classroom up to date”

My question though is what is the process for student who constantly forget to check the folder hanging on the wall? What support systems are in place for those kids?

The answer comes from the students themselves.


“Some absences truly cannot be avoided. However, we need to make clear that showing up matters, not easy to catch up.”


Students need to learn how to ask questions to catch up what they missed: Must model”

  • in class mentoring/tutoring/partnering with a student that was in class so there is a peer to bounce questions/idea off of.


“one classroom job is to explain the work in the folder to the absent Ss.  Lunch time is also used for catch up.” 

It was a good feeling knowing that what I have been doing, somewhat instinctually, over the years was corroborated by many in the #mschat community. While it is unavoidable that absenteeism rises during the winter months, it is imperative for teachers to have a three pronged approach that allows students as many avenues to participate in the learning that they missed. From live streaming your class, posting materials on your website or blog, having extra materials for students when they return, and high expectations that students are responsible for their own learning when they are absent for any reason.


2 thoughts on “How should you deal with frequent student absences that come with winter?

  1. Here is a major reason why we flip. I like to think that *everything* we do in class is important … but what I post online is the truly essential information. Even students who were physically present for an in-class reading/discussion/lecture might not have been mentally present.
    I will have one student away on vacation this week (in mid-January….). All I need to say is “Check the Schoology page for this week’s video,” and he should be at least 75% on-track with the rest of his peers by the start of next week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Andrew! Making comscious choices about what is truely essential information forces we, the teacher, to constantly reflect on what the real objectives are for the student experience we designed!


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