Just typing home visits I can feel a huge sigh coming from those who are reading those words. I am a teacher and I know that teachers are busy. We have a lot on our plates. We also hear about and read all these great ideas/strategies/activities that we should be doing and the fact we can’t do them all can make us feel inadequate. We have to be choosy with what we incorporate into our lesson plans and about how we spend our before- and after-class hours because the time fill so quickly. So before you say, “How am I going to squeeze one more thing into my day?” please read about how much you can learn from taking a few minutes to visit where your students live.
Two years ago, when my principal brought this idea to our grade level, I was excited about it. Before I became a teacher I had several different jobs that took me into the houses of the students/adults I worked with, so the idea of a home visit wasn’t new to me. Working as an exceptional children’s teacher for almost a decade also allowed me to visit my student’s home when parents weren’t able to get to school to sign the required paperwork.
It’s not completely uncommon to have families that you struggle to connect with at school events (PTO, Open House, Meet the Teacher, curriculum nights) but as soon as I walk through those families’ front door, that connection is there. No matter how much time (or money) we spend making our classroom feel warm and welcoming, some parents still view the classroom as the “teacher’s turf.” When you meet the parents on “their turf” there is an automatic connection. I have never been in a home where I wasn’t completely welcomed.
Every student has their own personality at school. Without being stereotypical, or sounding too much like the ending of the '80s movie The Breakfast Club, there are the quiet kids, the kids who want to please the teacher, the energetic kids, the kids who are naturally funny, and the kids with big personalities. The thing that I learn every year is that for many of my students, what I know about them is only what they have shown me. This year I have a student who I heard talk more at home in the first ten minutes than I had heard her say at school the whole year. Her personality took me by surprise and it was fantastic to see her bring that personality to school the next day because she felt more comfortable. We had made a connection.
Last year, during an awesome home visit, a student showed me her dance pictures and danced around the living room for almost the entire visit. During the course of the year, this student struggled with completing her work so I created a behavior plan that incorporated her love of dance. It worked wonderfully and she only needed to use it for about a month. Seeing students at home surrounded by their possessions and passions really helps narrow in on what motivates them.
One student who started kindergarten with some behavioral issues already had a fantastic behavior plan at home that the parents had worked really hard to create. During the home visit I was able to see their system in action, heard the vocabulary they used, and was able to incorporate that language into our classroom.
Every time that I have a home visit scheduled and the student knows about it, it’s the first thing I hear about when they come in that morning. “Are you really coming to my house today?” and then the others start saying either, ”I remember you came to my house.” or “When are you coming to my house?” When I walk in the door the student is there to greet me and will usually show me their pet or their favorite toy. It makes a connection that you can’t duplicate with any other activity and it makes a memory that a student will never forget.
Home visits are not mandatory. The letter that I send home each year makes it clear that the home visits are optional. There are no judgments if a family welcomes me to their home or if they don’t.
I have also gone on home visits with other teachers. If you aren’t comfortable going by yourself, then invite another teacher or administrator.
Just like with parent-teacher conferences, offer a variety of times for home visits. Our administrator allows us to offer a few times during the day when a teacher assistant can cover our class for a few minutes.
Take an interpreter when needed.
Don’t take a list of things that the parents need to work on with their child. The idea behind the home visit is about making connections.
Yes, home visits do take time but that time cost is far outweighed by the benefits of connection that happen with my students and their families.
I can’t wait to see you next week.