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It’s been three years since I’ve started my second stint in the classroom and without a doubt my favorite new practice as a teacher is home visits. Home visits create an opportunity for home-school collaboration that is hard to find any other way.
Home visits aren’t a new practice, but they’re gaining more attention, and for good reason. It’s hard to list all the benefits, but to name a few:
- They show families you care and are willing to go the extra mile.
- They provide a chance to learn more about the interests, family values and culture of the students in your classroom.
- They provide a chance for you to share your vision and goals as a teacher.
I almost always walk away from a home visit feeling like I’ve gotten to know something about a student I might never have learned otherwise. Also I end up feeling like I’ve entered into a partnership with that student’s family, much stronger than anything I’ve created through phone calls or even parent-teacher conferences.
Of course home visits aren’t easy. They’re time consuming, and if you do them once the school year has already started it’s difficult to find the time and energy. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t have any kids of my own yet! Additionally, some families are wary of inviting teachers into their homes, especially if it’s not a common school or district practice.
To manage these challenges, there’s a few practices I’ve taken on. First, I set clear boundaries for myself. In my first year of home visits I did them any day of the week, and they often would last an hour per visit on average. To safeguard my time better this year, I’ve let families know I’m available Monday to Thursday and to expect a 30 minute visit.
To help families understand the purpose of home visits — I’m not coming as a social worker or in any evaluative capacity — I send a letter home and discuss them early and often during in-person interactions over the first days of school. I also offer to meet families at other locations — the library, a restaurant or school — if they prefer. I want home visits to show families that they don’t have to come to school to work with me, that communication and cooperation are a two way street. But meeting wherever they prefer is more important than inadvertently sending the wrong message by visiting them at their home. Each year there are still some families who aren’t willing or able to schedule a home visit, but overall I’ve found clarifying the goal of home visits has helped a great deal.
Schools and districts could better support home visits through policies that provided extra time (via half-days perhaps) or compensation for teachers to complete them. Speaking as someone who does home visits voluntarily however, there are still ways to make them more manageable. But given the benefits of home visits, I highly encourage you taking them on even if your school or district isn’t giving you the time or money to do so.
If you’re going to try home visits and successfully keep within a 30 minute conversation, it helps to have a little script. Meeting in a more personal space — whether it’s at home or in a restaurant — can sometimes lead to an extended discussion. Three guiding questions can help focus your conversation, and make sure you get the most out of your time.
1. What are your hopes and dreams for your child this year?
You may find this language cheesy, but I choose this language in an effort to convey the awesome responsibility I feel as a teacher of someone’s child. I don’t have any children of my own yet, but I can imagine the deep sense of investment families have in their children’s future. I want to show respect for those hopes and dreams and I want families to know that their hopes and dreams are as important, if not more so, than my academic goals for their child.
2. You are your child’s first teacher. What can you tell me that will help me to teach them best?
Again, I seek to show respect, even deference, to the expertise of my student’s family. I may know how to lead a guided reading group or the best way to use manipulatives during math, but only a family member can share a valuable fact like a child’s love of dance, or the way they shut down if they’re feeling embarrassed. This question is intentionally broad and open-ended, so I can learn about student’s interests, academic strengths and weaknesses, learning style and so much more.
3. Do you have any special interests or skills you’d like to share with the class?
This final question I include as an invitation. There are many types of knowledge valued in my classroom. It is my responsibility to impart teach to the standards through the methods I feel comfortable and skilled in. But inviting families offers a way to bring in content outside of our curriculum or bring a fresh perspective to what we’re already planning to cover. If I can bring in a family member to lead an art activity or to help students make a personal connection to a social studies lesson, then my classroom will truly feel like a community.
Once I’ve learned a family’s unique perspective on their child and their own skills or interests, I take some time to share my own philosophy on teaching and learning. Sometimes this almost feels unnecessary, because my questions have hopefully shown that first and foremost, I try to create a classroom where student’s identities and cultures are fully seen and valued. However, it is still important to share something about myself as a way of repaying what families have shared with me.
I won’t tell you that home visits are easy. Taking the time to schedule meetings with my student’s families in the midst of finding my back-to-school rhythm can often be exhausting. But the energy it takes to make home visits happen comes back ten-fold in a feeling of accomplishment and excitement I receive when I leave a student’s home having learned something powerful about who they are beyond what I can see on my own.