As we embark upon a new school year, for educators, establishing partnerships with families should be one of this year’s top priorities. Whether your work is in schools or community settings, involving and engaging parents is a MUST. Simply because there is a school-wide parent liaison employed in the building, the total responsibility for parent partnerships does not rest with him or her completely.
Liaisons engage parents individually, but their main focus is on the groups of parents whose children attend your school. Home-visiting is a shared responsibility. In fact, it is not in the job description for liaisons to partner with every parent of every one of your students. The liaison’s role is to build parent capacity to navigate the education system, as the chief advocate and influence in their child’s life, growth and development. Parent liaisons are there to foster atmospheres which invite participation, alliances and are responsive to parents as a group.
Parents are critical influences who impact their children’s academic success and overall school performance, and we need them. Parents are the first and the supplemental teachers in children’s growth and development. If you wish to know the young person with whom you engage in the classroom, parents can’t be left out of that discovery.
Some parents are more readily accessible to educators, and are more often active engagers at school. Some parents are reluctant engagers, whether by circumstance, past experience or no cultural history of active engagement at school. No matter which, they all are still active in the home and necessary allies with schools.
Parents and families who are traditionally under-served by policy, practice or circumstance, tend to be misunderstood, maligned, feared and in turn-they make up your reluctant engagers.
What this informs us is that, since it is often difficult[but not impossible] to have them come in to the school as active participants in the learning process, we have to meet them where they are. That is if we are sincere in the aim to connect with them and promote achievement of their children.
Meeting parents where they are is both literal and figurative. We must seek to understand their lives, concerns, strengths and experiences. While an increasingly diverse population attend our schools, a large number of students are learners living in poverty. They are increasingly black and brown and educators remain largely white.
Cultural differences can create real divides between teachers and students. If teachers entered the field aiming to educate ALL learners, then it is essential that they learn about them and their families, as well as the communities in which they live.
Teaching in the 21st Century will be somewhat reminiscent of practices at a time in history when teachers were considered a real member of the school community family. They knew the children and they knew the parents of those children. They knew the community, needs, strengths and concerns.
Their intent was never to rest on a ‘status quo‘, particularly if it serves to normalize any disparities or avoidable stress. A part of the solution, not the problem, teachers were not silent, distant, or disinterested in the wellness of the children and families served. Though they weren’t always required to be residents of the community in which they taught, they were definitely invested.
Now called to establish meaningful relationships with parents, this means planning for entering their communities and comfort zones. When contemplating how this is to be done and what it looks like, first it is important to know that most homes are safe, no matter where they are.
According to U.S. Department of Health & Human Welfare, only 3-7% of homes pose threats to worker safety. What is important to know is that you do have a personal responsibility for your own safety. With that said, you should be aware of your surroundings at all times. You want to take precautions before you make your first visit. And you will want to be preventive and proactive with every home visit you make. Let the following precautions and considerations become a health and safety- conscious habit.
Before your visit:
- Gather information about the area. You need to know what to expect and yet, you don’t ever want to expect the worse case scenarios. You just want to be informed.
- Call the home to confirm your appointment time. This gives the family advanced notice, a reminder that you are still coming. It allows them time to put the dog away, remove any drug paraphernalia, get properly dressed or wash dishes. It simply gives them time to spruce up.
- Plan visiting during daylight hours. Try for the sunniest part of the day. This will be the most active times in the community, and that decreases risks of harm or danger.
- Charge your cell phone ahead of time to make certain that you can communicate with your office, or school, if needed.
- Make sure you have at least 1/4 tank of gas in your car if driving a personal vehicle. If traveling by bus, become acquainted with the routes and schedules. Plan accordingly.
- Supply your office or supervisor with your visiting schedule. Also, should any changes arise, update the office right away. You want your whereabouts to be known at all times for your safety.
- Leave any valuable items in the trunk of your car for safety, and you want to place them there before arriving at your destination.
What you should also have in your car at all times is:
- very little money,
- a phone charger,
- a first aid kit in the trunk,
- a change of clothes, in a sealed plastic bag,
- hand sanitizer and hand wipes,
- car battery jumper cables, too. It is best to have a battery- powered cable. This way you won’t need another vehicle if your car battery dies.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Think about what you wear. You should avoid any expensive-looking items or provocative wear. Don’t make yourself a target. Be professional.
This is not exhaustive of safety considerations for home visiting. Safety first! Prepare for safe and successful visits. Next up, we explore considerations upon arrival at your appointed homes.