I get it! Educators, teachers in particular, are hesitant, reluctant even, to conduct home visits to families of students. Though grounded in fear, and the uncertainty of change, it will be considered a necessary component of teaching. Learning is not confined to a building dedicated to educate children. Learning occurs in all environments-anytime, anywhere. As we move towards a multi-generational approach to teaching and learning, parent partnerships are recognized as critical , and educators must develop a mindset conducive to engaging in alliances with families and adult caregivers to maximize student achievement in school.
Home visits are not novel approaches to school teachers at all. There was a time when teachers were invested and involved in the communities and with the lives of students and their families. There was no mandate; it was voluntary and indicative of a teacher’s sincere interest in the ‘whole child’. As I like to put it, ‘going home’ was an avenue into personalizing learning and demonstrated authentic caring.
When we say that we care about every learner, yet we are clueless about their lives outside of school, is that true? When we hear students say,” You know nothing about me, my life or my family.”, or when students disengage because the material presented to them is irrelevant, it should touch a nerve. In an attempt to establish and sustain meaningful relationships with students’ families, tremendous insights are possible. When we enter ‘their world’-the ‘real’ world-home, we can identify strengths and address needs and concerns. It is the knowledge and insights obtained in their environment that will inform instruction in the classroom environment. But, how do we get there?
We must know that there are effective ways to engage families in their comfort zones. Despite any initial discomfort, with the right approach, families will do their very best to make you, too, feel ‘at home’ and will welcome your sincerity. The first thing that must precede visits is a positive mindset, and cultural proficiency for appropriate responsiveness. Having some cultural knowledge about the families ill be visiting is vital.
Home visits can offer such things as:
- information about the actual physical space in the home
- family size -siblings, ages, sleeping arrangements-this knowledge will inform you as to where the quiet places are for studying and homework, etc
- student responsibilities at home, such as caring for younger siblings, morning routines, meal time rituals, retrieving siblings to/from school bus,
- Helping to identify norms established in the home that may transfer into the classroom and could be perceived as maladaptive behaviors and impact a student’s ability to adapt and exercise self-discipline. You’ll gain insight to discern which behaviors and responses constitute automaticities.
- opportunities to suggest doable environmental changes, no unreasonable, but respectful and mindful of parameters of autonomy and within the realm of possibility. Small tweaks that enhance a parent’s ability to support the learning process. For example, there may be no designated space to study or do homework assignments, which may help explain incomplete work. You may suggest that a kitchen table can be allotted for school work during a set time slot. If tardiness is a concern, you may suggest that an alarm clock, if present in the home, be placed in the same room as the student to ensure on-time arrival.
With a myriad of insights that can be gained with home visits, a teacher’s job can be made less difficult. An information- armed teacher is a more effective teacher. Familiarity with the community and its resources, allows you to provide referrals and linkages to provider agencies to families based on identified and stated needs.
- Infant and child safety awareness
- Advice and support concerning healthy lifestyle choices, including family and child nutrition
- Household and time management
- Student study tips
- and so much more…
Here’s how you can go home, empower and build capacity in the best interest of families and their children and link your efforts to learning:
- Begin with a clear plan that will outline goals and objectives
- Determine which staff members will perform such outreach, how often, time of day, etc…
- Prepare your safety plan, i.e., will staff conduct home visits alone or who will accompany staff
- Determine accountability measures, if during school hours such as a prep period, you will need a sign-out sheet or a log detailing the 5 w’s of the visit
- Outline time expected to stay in each home and frequency of visits. i.e., 30 minutes 2x per month unless critical concerns need to be immediately addressed
- In your safety plan, how will you report any emergencies, and to whom-also what constitutes an emergency[needs to be defined]
- Determine how parents will be notified, visits scheduled, confirmed or will you surprise them? Careful, though. You may be surprised and unprepared for appropriate responses. Providing advanced notice to parents means that you decrease any wasted visiting when paperwork, planning, and other duties could get done.
- Design a standard form for documenting visits- activities, like progress notes- outcomes and follow-up planning
- Be respectful, ask questions, provide positive feedback, build on strengths and address needs to link all to learning-if not the student, the parent
- Return to your work setting and take the insights and personalize learning for your students and maintain ongoing alliances with families.
In short, in order to engage in successful and mutually beneficial home visits, it begins with your mindset and your goals. Do your research, know your families, plan strategically, be flexible, and focus on strengths. Create your plan of action based on insights and collaboration with parents, and as often as possible. Home visits are a great way to begin to bridge those home-school divides and raise student achievement, and…build adult capacity. That includes educators, too.