Schools and Communities: Looking beyond the Classroom

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We commonly hear about how important it is for parents to be involved with their child and school. Yet both teachers and parents often feel frustrated over what is expected in terms of parent involvement. One way to reduce teachers' frustration over perceived lack of parental involvement as well as reduce parents' feelings of inadequacy is to increase the amount of communication between parents and teachers. One method for increasing communication is through home visits. A recent article in Education Week (1997, September 3) reminds us that outreach efforts between home and school need to go both ways. This article describes the efforts of teachers and principals across the country who are learning that in order to get to know students and their families it helps to knock on some doors.

What Have They Learned?

Many schools have learned that home visits can be useful. Home visits are a way to build relationships between home and school as they open up the lines of communication with parents as well as provide teachers and administrators with valuable information about their students.

Carole Kennedy, principal of Lange Middle School in Columbia, Missouri, has found that many of the elements of her home visits are the same: friendly greetings, "props" from school (floor plan, school supply list, newsletter, and an invitation to the school Open House), and reassurance for the student and family. To Carole, home visits are simply part of her job as an educator. Many educators are coming to believe that home visits are one of the best ways to foster parents' support of children's learning, which researchers have continuously pointed out as one key to student achievement.

Tim Messenger, a third-year teacher in Flint, Michigan, has found home visits to have a positive impact on parent participation. For example, after visiting all 19 of his first-graders' homes during the first few weeks of school last year, he reports that every child in his classroom had a parent or guardian show up at the school Open House. In addition, his class won four top prizes for parent participation at the school last year.

While these two educators believe in the benefits of home visiting, the article notes that many schools have people specifically hired to make contact with families (such as social workers). It is noted, however, that visits from family liaisons do not replace those from principals and teachers. Instead, the schools that are most likely to benefit from such workers are also the schools that would most likely benefit from the extra outreach of faculty. While teachers and principals may not always be the best qualified to evaluate family needs, they can uniquely define the work of the school.

Barriers to Implementing Home Visits

Despite demonstrated successes with home visiting, the article provides the following reasons for the lack of home visits in many schools:

1. Many teachers do not see home visits as part of their job. Some teachers already spend numerous hours outside of the classroom on their work and may believe they do not have time to conduct home visits. In addition, some teacher contracts may prohibit administrators from requiring teachers to perform home visits.
2. Some teachers are afraid of parents. Some teachers may have concerns over their physical safety, but more are worried that they would not be welcome in the home. Yet as Pat Dingsdale, the chair of the National PTA's Education Commission, points out, "Most parents would welcome a home visit."

To overcome such barriers, the following guidelines are offered.

Do's and Don'ts for Home Visits

* Define a goal for your visit. Examples: Say hello, get acquainted, leave information, discuss a problem, or any combination of these.
* Listen carefully and ask whether there are any questions.
* Try to bring a translator if necessary, but don't abandon the idea of a visit if none is available.
* Consider alerting the family to your visit (telephone, note home, or postcard).
* Bring a token of the school or a talking point (a book to share, information about the school, a picture of your own family).
* Set a reasonable length of time for visits (20 minutes up to 1 hour).
* Plan for at least some late afternoon or evening visits.
* Don't require parents or guardians to read or fill out anything in your presence (they may not have good literacy skills).
* Don't go alone if you are hesitant about your safety or ability to overcome cultural barriers.

Source

House Calls. (1997, September 3). APA Monitor, pp. 37-40.
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