In my first classroom forays on the teacher side of the proverbial desk, mumble-mumble years ago, I recall among the earliest routines I had to master was taking attendance. (Truth be told, I remember the process from the student side of the desk too, a litany of teachers reading a litany of roll calls, names pronounced with varying degrees of accuracy, "here" periodically called out in response with varying degrees of interest as tick marks did or didn't dot the page.)
As a first-year teacher, I collected from a mail cubby in the main office a tattered folder containing a sheaf of Scantron bubble sheets. I made marks "complete and dark" in one column for students who were present and in a neighboring column for those absent. Once completed, the Scantron landed in a folder taped up outside the classroom, to be gathered in the purposeful sweep of an attendance coordinator who would feed all the sheets through the noisy machine that would process the day's, week's, year's attendance record for each pupil.
That pseudo-magic has migrated online, #2 pencils scratching replaced by fingers clicking -- with one seemingly ageless anachronism: paper hall passes. Eleven months ago, every part of that familiar system buckled under the pandemic. The familiar ways of accounting for bodies in seats proved ill suited for distance learning. Where I teach, we hatched a new system for, what we (like a team of amateur marketers) called "tracking engagement." We filled in weekly spreadsheet tabs that reduced each student's appearances on class video calls and the related completion of learning tasks to a number from 1-4. A small team of staff members continued to translate that data into our existing attendance system. Meantime, the numbers also served as a screener to show students who were or weren't doing new school, which guided subsequent follow up, whether in celebration or intervention. The whole thing felt like a relative Covid win.
With the next transition now upon us, a return for ~80% of our students to in-person learning, we're about to revert to the old clicky system. It's a decision driven by efficiency and probably even necessity. Yet, there are also questions about how attendance routines can or should apply to the 1 in 5 students at my school who will still be joining classrooms by video calls. Our march in March will teach us plenty about this, the first lesson being attendance is on the list of professional responsibilities I had come to take for granted, but don't anymore.
P.S. If you've got winning experiences in the school attendance realm, especially in blended or hybrid environments, I hope you'll share them in the comments and add to my learning.