Home Visits and Hope for the Future
Though home visits are widely used in early childhood education and social service agencies for assessments and connection to corresponding community services, K–12 home visits usually are triggered by problematic student behavior (e.g., attendance). These outreach efforts, even though well-intended, may reflect the 14th-century definition of the French word visit, which means "to come upon, afflict."
The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, a unique partnership forged between a teachers' union, a school district, and a faith–based community organizing group, came together to design a model of parent-teacher home visits that turn traditional home visiting upside down. Since 1988, this collaboration has led a local project while becoming a statewide and national model for effective family engagement across K–12. So what's so different about this model of home visits?
The key difference in our home visit model for parent engagement lies in the presumption that someone may be lacking vital information important to the success of students, but it isn't the parent or guardian! Rather, it's likely the educators who have not had a meaningful opportunity to engage the families of their students. Our model is designed to first provide an opportunity to build relationships with families and then, based on established trust and open communication, to provide an opportunity to build leadership capacity for all. In fact, our model reflects the older version of the word visit from the 13th century, which was defined as "to know, to see."
To see these types of home visits working to change the culture of parent engagement, take a virtual trip to Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif. Over the past four years, teachers and other staff have made 1,500 home visits. Teachers and staff receive professional development credit for attending home-visit trainings prior to making visits and are paid a stipend for each visit they make. Out of these visits, parents have helped initiate an internationally recognized family literacy project, and they have planned and participated in a school-based Parent University. Data collected on the effect of these home visits—especially during key transitional times—show positive outcomes for student success.
We need to invest time in getting to know each other. Why? Common sense and decades of research tell us that students will do better if families and schools partner effectively. Yet many schools are isolated from their local communities. Educators worry that they are imposing themselves on families or feel vulnerable about stepping into the homes of their students. Sometimes the resistance comes from parents and families who tell us that they don't want someone coming to the house to get into their business or make judgments about how they live or parent. How do we address the resistance? By ensuring that home visits are absolutely voluntary for teachers and families, that training and a respectful structure is provided, and that visits don't just target troubled students.
Many schools sincerely want to engage their families but are searching for concrete, affordable, and effective outreach strategies—especially for families who are feeling unwelcome, intimidated, or disconnected from the school. There is tremendous interest in this home-visiting model. The Parent Teaching Home Visit project has launched projects in schools and districts in six other states and will expand to five more this summer.
The most important tool educators have to engage families are their ears, put to good use listening. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen."
Carrie Rose is executive director of The Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project. Larry Ferlazzo teaches English at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif. He is also coauthor of Building Parent Engagement in Schools (2009) and writes the blog Engaging Parents in School.
ASCD Express, Vol. 5, No. 21. Copyright 2010 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.