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Both: Are Home Visits Right for our School Community?

Are Home Visits Right for Our Community?

 
 
 

A home visit is exactly what it sounds like—a teacher comes and visits the students and their family in their home.

At first glance, this may seem like a new and crazy idea. Going into someone’s home is incredibly personal. Inviting a teacher to your house? Is that in their job description?

We should pause here and remember that educating someone is complicated business. But certainly a genuine, personal relationship is at the heart of effective teaching (and parenting). You gotta care about the person you are trying to educate. And we know that teaching someone doesn’t happen in a single classroom--it happens in the complex web of a school community.

 And how do we build that caring school community? There are many ways, but when you think about it sitting down to break bread together as an act of community building is, in fact, an ancient idea.

To get a more inside look at home visits, we turned to Carrie Rose, the director of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP.org)

The catalyst for the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project was a small group of parents who wanted to build trust in their school community and break the cycle of blame that plagues low performing schools. In 1998, with the help of teachers and community groups, the idea evolved into a pilot project where parents and teachers could sit down, as equals, away from the formal, institutional setting of a school and talk about common goals.

Now the PTHVP has grown to a non-profit that helps train communities in making a home visit program that works for them. They work with rural, urban and suburban communities across the country.

Home visits? Why would I want to do that?

Time and time again teachers and parents say the same thing—instead of driving in a wedge of fear and judgement, “a home visit increases empathy and understanding of their co-educator.”

We know what you’re thinking—That sounds nice and all but who has time for that? What if someone gets hurt? Couldn’t the district get sued? Is it safe? Is this respectful of parents—do they really want me bothering them? Do I really want my child’s teacher in my home? What will they think of us?

You’re not alone. At the PTHVP they hear these objections time and time again. As Ms. Rose explained, basically most objections to home visits boil down to this: time and fear.

The way that Parent Teacher Home Visit answers these objections is simple—ask the teachers and parents who have done it.

Time and time again teachers and parents say the same thing—instead of driving in a wedge of fear and judgement, “a home visit increases empathy and understanding of their co-educator.”

 Just by meeting as equals in a setting far from the classroom, teachers and families have been able to forge a positive relationship that makes a big difference for kids. Then when homework comes home, parents are more likely to make sure it gets done. When parents reach out with a concern, teachers are more likely to respond. And this result far outweighs the fear and time involved.

Another benefit of a home visit program is that it can break up the entrenched cycle of blame that haunts many communities. The parents blame the schools and teachers for not helping their kids and the school blames the community for not supporting the work they are trying to do. After that cycle is broken, communities start to work on the actual problems and barriers they have. As Ms. Rose said, “Breaking through that cycle is the real gift of home visits.”

But what do you DO at a home visit?

It’s very important that the visit serves one purpose—to build relationships.

Ms. Rose explained that it’s very important that the visit serves one purpose—to build relationships. So the teacher doesn’t come with evaluation forms to fill out and the parent doesn’t answer the questions to an annual survey.

 Instead they sit down and have a simple conversation about each other’s hopes and dreams for the student. That’s it.

 According to Ms. Rose, through this simple interaction, a relationship begins to form where the two adults in a child’s academic life can be begin working together to help the child succeed.

 Another important component of the home visit program is that it is always voluntary. But as Ms. Rose explained, once a few parents and teachers have tried it, the rest of the community starts wanting to do it, too.

 How do you get started?

As you can probably imagine, you need someone to light the fire in your community. But it doesn’t have to be the school. Ms. Rose explained that some of the home visit programs in California have started with parents driving them. In Minnesota, a home visit program was started by the teachers of the district and even funded by the teachers union. In one community in New York, the district started it.  

 However it starts, in order for a home visits program to be successful in your community, you need your teachers, your district administrators, and your families on board.

Are home visits just for elementary schools?

Nope. Although many school districts use them at the elementary level, other schools have found them to be very useful for the years when kids are in transitions—late elementary to middle school, middle school to high school and even high school to college. Some schools have a few home visits throughout the year and/or right before summer to help families take advantage of summer activities or prepare for the next grade.

Ms. Rose explained one of the beauties of a home visit program is that once it is built on the five core principles of the PTHVP, it is very flexible and can be adapted to fit the community’s needs. And once those relationships have been built, the home visit program can help so many other parts of your program be successful, too.

So are home visits right for my school community?

 Well, if you want to live and work in a school community where trust, teamwork, and children thrive, than yes--home visits might be just what your school community needs.

Start here: Talk to someone in your school community about home visits.

Challenge: Read more about the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project here.

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