Schools across the United States have opened their doors to kick off a new school year. Teachers and administrators have engaged in professional development to revise procedures and protocols in hopes of making this next school year even better than the last. In these efforts, many schools have identified relationship building as a target. Many districts expect to attend to this focus is by having their teachers conduct home visits to their students.
I often think back to an unannounced home visit I made to a student. I traveled to Kevin’s income based apartment complex. As I stood on the stoop ringing the door bell, I remember examining my surroundings in trying to learn as much as I could about this student’s environment. It was then I caught Kevin peeping out an upstairs window. We made eye contact and then the blinds jerked shut, making it clear he was blocking me and my good intentions out of his apartment. During the drive home, I kept reflecting on why I had not been invited into his home. Was he afraid If he had invited me into his apartment, my being there would have made for an unsafe, awkward or embarrassing situation for him? For me? Whatever his reason, Kevin had reservations about allowing me into his domain.
There are concerns when teachers make surprise and sometimes even announced, home visits. However, there can be real value in conducting these visits when they are well thought-out. The training and dialogue teachers are engaged in to prepare for these visits cannot be minimal or teachers are inadequately equipped to be most effective when out visiting homes, as evidenced in my visit to Kevin’s. If a district is creating a policy suggesting that all teachers engage in these visits, it’s essential to engage in thorough thinking, planning, and dialogue before the plan takes action.
Key questions that may need to be addressed include:
- Have the administrators engaged in the home visit protocol? If so, what insight are they able to share with their staff about the process? What was successful? What was unsuccessful?
- What does the research show about schools with similar demographics?
- Is there funding for this process or are teachers asked to use their own time and money to travel to the homes?
- Have parents/guardians been informed of the policy? What feedback was received?
- Will the visits be unannounced or scheduled?
- What does the teacher hope to learn during the visit? Is there a scripted set of questions he/she is asking the parents/guardians?
- What procedures are to be followed if the teacher has concerns for the safety or well being of the child or for himself/herself?
- Is there follow-up to these visits like an email, postcard, or phone call? What are next steps?
- How will teachers report and use the data gathered from visits to positively impact student performance?
The visits need a clear and focused purpose for everyone involved or the impact will be minuscule and in some cases damaging. When done well, home visits bring positive results in building relationships.