The homes of all 7,000 students in Henderson County, Kentucky will be visited by the District’s 1,000 teachers (I assume that number also includes other staff) in one day. It sounds pretty impressive, and you can read more about it in this article.
Appointments won’t be made in advance, and, ordinarily, I don’t think that’s a good idea. However, it can work well in this type of situation where it’s a very well-publicized community event….
Learning Begins At Home is a video about a New York City school that makes home visits. The process and content of the visits that we do are different, but it’s still worth viewing (if you’re reading this post on an RSS Reader, you might have to click through to the blog to view the video):
Regular readers know that I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project. Our school has been a big supporter, I’ve written about them in my book and in other articles, I’ve helped with some of their trainings and, of course, I’ve made plenty of home visits.
The Project recently held a national conference in Reno, Nevada, and Elaine Smith, a parent from our district — the Sacramento City Unified School District — agreed to write a guest post about it. Here is her report:
Personal stories from teachers and parents who turned their schools around deeply moved educators at a recent conference in Reno. The national gathering focused upon the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP), a program that is catching on as studies show its effectiveness in creating connection between schools and their communities. Principals and school board members from eleven states shared both data and anecdotes crediting home visits with improved attendance, discipline and academic achievement, including higher test scores.
“The discoveries that parents and families make when they connect on a home visit change their lives,” says Carrie Rose, Executive Director of the non-profit sponsor of the conference, the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project. “I know that sounds dramatic, but the research, and these stories, show how strongly it affects people.”
“My home visits did more than help me deal with behavior issues in the classroom more effectively,” says Denver special education teacher Janel Possiel, “What I was learning was the kind of growth you can’t get in a million meditation retreats. My assumptions about the parents decreased, and as they went down, my love and understanding just kept going up.”
“Home visits make me a better teacher. And because they break down barriers, make us a stronger community,” says Possiel, who was trained in the Parent/Teacher Home Visit model at a Denver workshop four years ago.
The PTHVP training helps teachers and families connect even when there may be linguistic and cultural differences. While, ultimately, academic issues are addressed, the discussion also covers the adults’ mutual hopes and dreams for the child, creating a common goal. The program emphasizes that visits are voluntary for both families and teachers, and that the school avoid stigmatizing “problem” students by visiting as many families as possible.
How-to sessions at the conference were seasoned with personal testimonies, which quickly became emotional even for classroom and administrative veterans. Tua Moua, a Principal in Roseville, CA, shed a few tears herself as she spoke of the impact of home visits on her own immigrant Hmong family.
“I was born in Ban Vinai refugee camp, in Thailand, and have 9 brothers and sisters. My father, grandfather, and uncles fought for America during the Vietnam War and were forced to flee to safety after the war. I started Kindergarten in America like so many of our children today. I’ve never sat a day in a preschool class prior to Kindergarten, nor did I speak any English.”
“But, it wasn’t until the 3rd grade that I felt a true connection with a teacher,” Ms. Moua continued. “She’d encourage me to do my best, despite the fact that I lived in Section 8 apartment housing in southeast Fresno where crime prevented my parents from ever allowing us to go outside….One special day, Mrs. Spolsdoff came inside my home. She entered and sat on our one couch, and graciously accepted the glass of water my mother gave her. She told my mother what a special daughter she had, and that it was a pleasure to have me in her class. And naturally, I translated that to my mother. In that moment, I KNEW I wanted to be a teacher.
That one home visit by Mrs. Spolsdoff changed my perception of school. After that day, she and I had a secret. She had come to my house! Mrs. Spolsdoff was in my house! You better believe I NEVER EVER wanted to disappoint her afterwards.”
Ms. Moua grew up to be a teacher and now serves as a school principal who uses home visits to connect her school with a diverse community.
“As the Principal of Earl Warren Elementary School, I encouraged my teachers to do home visits,”she said. “We built it into our pre-service days. Working in schools like Earl Warren, and like John Burroughs Elementary, the elementary school I grew up in Fresno, meant we COULD NOT GIVE UP on our kids. And not giving up starts with having a positive relationship with our children, and our families.”
Single father Paul Lumpkin, age 28, of Springfield, MA, eloquently explained the risks, and the rewards, of participating in home visits as a parent.
“My experiences with bureaucratic intuitions have not been pleasant to say the least especially with the foster care and education system,” said Mr. Lumpkin. “So when I was asked to be apart of The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project I was extremely reluctant. “
“I was thinking that something was wrong when I was picked for an actual home visit. I was nervous, thinking that these teachers are trying to get in my business because I am a single man raising a boy and a girl alone…I would soon find out I was wrong and my assumptions were creating unnecessary barriers that could potentially damage my children’s future level of sociability.”
The relationship forged with his daughter’s teacher, Marguerite Foster Franklin, has contributed to his growing role as an advocate for involved fathers, and his enrollment in college after completing his GED.
“After my visit with Mr. Lumpkin, we now have a special bond,” explained Ms. Franklin. “I continue to encourage him in all that he does for his children and his self. Parents need encouragement also, especially those who are single because there is not another adult around to discuss feelings with or support each other.”
“Participants emotional response to conference presentations makes sense,” says Ms. Rose, “because they feel the power of transformation. This isn’t just another school program. It is a fundamental change in the school’s relationship with families, and that makes fundamental progress in student and school performance.”
Mai Xi Lee, Burbank High School Assistant Principal and parents Terrence Gladney and Angel Whitfield do an exercise on stage.
Generally, I don’t recommend going unannounced, but if a school widely publicizes it throughout the neighborhood and most parents know they’re going to happen on a particular Saturday it can usually work out fine. It sounds like this school might have done it that way.
I’m not too thrilled with staff giving parents the gift certificates for talking with them as described in the article, but, all in all, it sounds like they’re doing great work….
The movie “Dangerous Minds” is engaging, but it’s one in a long line of nauseatingly paternalistic hero teacher films out there. However, it does have a great two minute clip of a teacher home visit that shows the importance of telling parents positive news about their children. It’s embedded below (unfortunately, it has been removed from YouTube by Disney):
Here’s a video Mai Xi Lee, one of our school’s Vice-Principals, made about our school’s home visiting project and Parent University. For what it’s worth, that’s me speaking after the text introduction….
In the past, interaction with parents was almost always one-way: teachers telling parents what they should know. Often the meeting was about bake sales, report cards or discipline.
Kristin Ehrgood is the founder of the Flamboyan Foundation, which is working with teachers in 20 D.C. schools. She says she envisioned a two-way exchange where teachers learn from parents. “What are your hopes and dreams for your child? What do I need to do so I can be a great teacher for your child? That in and of itself changes the dynamic radically.”
Since the project’s beginning with just eight trained teachers, to now with more than 250, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers has been instrumental in ensuring the program’s run. Though in addition to their assistance, trainers still go over guidelines and “nonnegotiables” with interested staff. Teacher-home visits are voluntary. If a teacher does decide to participate in the program, they must go with another teacher to both ensure safety and to be a second point of contact for families. Teachers are also required to attend training and after the visit, their experience. And again, they must be compensated for work done outside of the classroom.
year Faber says he’s encouraged teachers to recognize the importance of diversity. He says parents and the neighborhood take note when visits seem targeted at one type of family, or student.
“Then it starts to become not about building relationships, rather the community gets the notion that is about fixing them,” Faber said.
Hundreds of D.C. teachers will spend weekends and evenings fall visiting students and their parents at home, hoping to lift academic achievement by creating stronger partnerships between families and the schools. The push to visit students on their own turf is a shift for the District’s school system, which often has been accused of alienating the families it serves. Now, the aim is to help teachers and parents become allies instead of adversaries in the day-to-day work of educating the city’s children.
One of the few good things that have come out of year’s NBC Education Nation is a short segment on the work of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project.
“We’ve figured out a way for people to sit down outside the regular school and have the most important conversation that needs to happen,” said Carrie Rose, executive director of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project in the California capital.
The K-12 program began in 1999 as a faith-based community effort but quickly found support not only in the Sacramento school district but also with local teachers unions. The National Education Association has also endorsed teacher home visits, citing a “critical mass of research evidence” connecting high student achievement with involved parents.
No longer do parents only hear from teachers when there’s a problem, or during brief school conferences that leave little time to go beyond the surface.
Meet the Family is a good article form Teaching Tolerance about teachers making home visits.
Here’s an excerpt:
The social, emotional and academic benefits of home visits are well documented and widely acknowledged. But although the number of teachers doing home visits across the country is steadily growing, the consistency with which these visits are conducted varies greatly, a fact that limits the scope of their impact. More administrators, however, are taking note of the importance of home visits and grappling with the scalability challenge: How can a school or district launch and maintain a successful home-visit program that benefits all students?
This isn’t “parent involvement,” in the form of Valentine’s Day parties, or “parent communication,” in the form of one-way emails. Rather, this is about identifying parents and teachers as “co-educators,” who share respective knowledge about that student. It’s about helping teachers become culturally aware and parents seriously involved in their child’s education.
Too Plugged In is an article in this month’s issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership.
In it, Thomas R. Hoerr, who is a “head of school” in New York (I assume that’s the same as a principal?), talks about how he’s training to emphasize face-to-face conversations with parents instead of emails.
I often disagree with The Washington Post’s education writer Jay Mathews, but I think he’s generally pretty thoughtful. In the past week or so, though, he’s written a couple of columns where I’ve heartily agreed with his main idea. At the same time, though, some of his reasoning has been completely off-base.
Mathews begins and ends his column speaking positively of new Chicago Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard’s effort to implement a teacher home visit program there, and mentions that many spoke negatively of it there. But Mathews misses the main point, which is the mistake made by so many (though, not all) of those who label themselves “school reformers” — Brizard announced his plan without any consultation with those who were going to have to be actually doing the work, the teachers!
Oh, and what else was happening in Chicago then? Brizard announced his home visit plan within days of the Chicago School Board retracting its promise to increase the salaries of teachers while increasing the salaries of its Central Office staff. At the same time he proposed the home visits, he recommended eliminating teacher professional development days and pay increases due to seniority or teachers obtaining additional credentials. Again, without any teacher consultation.
When I talk about parents connecting to schools, I suggest that schools need to move away from one-way communication to and, instead, move towards two-way conversationwith parents. That might be a good policy for school reformers and Superintendents to follow with teachers, too.
I do have issues with a couple of other items in Mathews column. First, he quotes the director of a Washington, D.C. non-profit saying this:
“Home visits by themselves do not correlate into academic achievement,” he said. “However, if done with academic goals and targets as the objectives, they do work.”
In my book and in my Educational Leadership article, I cite research studies that have indeed shown a direct connection between home visits and student academic achievement. In addition, the premiere organization in the United States promoting these visits, The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, emphasizes that building a relationship between teacher and parent needs to be the primary goal, not academic targets (that’s not to say those can’t be mentioned, but relationship-building is the key).
Also, Mathews describes teachers going to parent homes unannounced. Hey, I’m all for teachers doing them whatever way they want, but my experience, and the experience of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, clearly points to a better practice of calling to arrange an appointment ahead of time. It’s more respectful, and some parents might prefer to meet at a nearby coffee shop instead. The Industrial Areas Foundation, the national organization that employed me as a community organizer for nineteen years prior to my becoming a teacher, sometimes worked with schools to organize special Saturdays where teams of teachers and parents would sweep through a local neighborhood for visits, but those were always widely publicized ahead of time.
So, yes, Jay, teacher home visits are great. But let’s try to include a little more context, please. The word “context” comes from the Latin contextus, which means “a joining together.” If Superintendents and school reformers kept that idea in mind, some of their ideas might get a more positive reception among teachers.