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Text messaging strategies to improve student attendance

Cynthia Rogan January 21, 2021

Outreach to families about their students’ attendance is vital to solving the problem of chronic absenteeism. However, many school districts are wondering about new ways to implement this outreach so that it is most effective, efficient, and low cost. 

Schools often utilize traditional methods such as letters and phone calls alerting families about absences, while some distribute emails. These methods of communication have not updated with our new age of technology and shift to mobile phone use. Furthermore, these avenues of communication have frequent roadblocks, as home addresses change, phone calls go straight to voicemail, and even emails are often ignored or go straight to spam. 

These outreach efforts are also time-consuming on the part of student support staff, as many administrators have to individually call, email, or send letters to a large number of families every day in order to stay on track with attendance interventions. The task is often too time-intensive for these staff members, leaving them with little time to focus on other work. 

On the other hand, families want to receive up-to-date reminders and notifications about their students’ attendance, but these messages from their schools all too commonly get lost and are not sent in the most readily accessible manner. A study by Dr. Peter Bergman from Columbia Teachers College revealed that 50% of families reported hearing from their school district about their student less than once every three months. This is significant because families can be instrumental in helping their students get back on track and in class. 

New technologies have revolutionized the ways in which schools can provide communications to their families and students. Text messages are one new format of communication that has proven to be effective, as our world is more mobile-centric than ever before. Many are favoring texts because the open rates for text messages are much higher than that of email or traditional mail. Sending out reminders and notifications about absences over text messages is one way to ensure that families receive the updates they need in a digestible and timely manner. 

With these ideas in mind, school districts are now utilizing text messaging technology to provide assistance to families. Some implement strategies where student support staff send out individualized messages themselves or others use automated messaging that sends out blast messages to family cell phones about school-wide information and notifications. 

While text messages provide a more accessible route to school information for families, non-automated text messaging can require more work on the part of school staff. On the other hand, automated messaging systems can also feel impersonal and generalized. The goal is to create messaging campaigns that save staff time while also delivering customized and individualized support for each family and student. 

However, there is new technology that automates messaging for schools while also providing the level of personalization that families appreciate. Artificially intelligent chatbots can send out personalized messages to families about their students’ attendance while requiring no additional effort on the part of support staff. Using AI, the bot can also respond to questions as they come in, leveraging two-way text messaging communication to elevate support and assistance for families as needed. 

Not only does the bot send out nudges about student absences, it can also direct families to district resources to help families and students in the areas where they need support. These resources are already provided by their school or district, but sending out information over text allows for an easier and more accessible route to assistance. Instead of having to email a teacher or call the main office, families can simply text the chatbot with a question and receive an automatic and helpful response. 

Customized knowledge bases arm the chatbot with information so that it can respond to questions as they come in, providing families with support over text messages and enabling staff members to spend their time on areas other than answering routine questions over email. Families are encouraged to reach out to the chatbot over text messages to ask for help with tasks such as resetting passwords or finding school schedules, questions that are commonly handled by overworked staff. 

Especially now with the challenges of remote or hybrid learning, providing an additional source of assistance can streamline the communications process and offload some of the burdens of support staff. The chatbot can send out messages updating families about where to access district learning information and return to school schedules. Leveraging AI Chatbot technology can increase communications outreach with families, ensuring that they get the help that they need, while at the same time reducing staff workloads. 

Artificial intelligence enables the bot to point families to the resources they need to support their students, but it also allows for more joy and human-like empathy to come across over its outreach. Making sure that each text message is regarded as an offering of support and guidance instead of a punitive notification can make families feel supported by the chatbot and the school district. This positivity and compassion increases the likelihood that messages are read and responded to, instead of ignored or marked as spam. 

Best practices and research also point to the importance of not messaging families too often and keeping every message timely and actionable. This reduces the number of opt outs or messages ignored and builds the reputation that each message from the chatbot is important and helpful. Specializing each message and making them personal to each student and family also prompts families to engage with the message instead of ignoring it. 

With chronic absenteeism rates on the rise throughout the country, utilizing new methods of communication that can automate messaging has the potential to improve attendance rates and help overworked staff. 

Implementing these methods of outreach and text messaging with families can help schools and districts improve communications and reduce chronic absenteeism at scale. AllHere’s AI Chatbot utilizes these best practices to increase correspondences between schools and families, reduce staff time, and improve attendance rates amongst students. 

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