Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The POWER of Home Visits...

My first 6 years of teaching was spent at wonderful charter school named Carolina School for Inquiry in northern Columbia, SC.  One of the things that the school prided themselves in was that each teacher did everything they could to visit every child in their class.  My colleagues and I would schedule visits together and get as many done in one day as possible.  I remember one day where I drove over 200 miles zig-zagging  across the Capital City.  Columbia is not a huge place, but our attendance zone was huge, and I had a ton of students to see.  Despite the driving in a truck that only gets 12 miles to the gallon, the days that I did home visits were some of the best days I had in my teaching career.

Today I took two 4th grade teachers with me on a home visit to see a student in their class that they were worried about.  The student wasn't home when we got there and never came while we were there, but we had the immense pleasure of speaking with his grandmother.  When she opened the door, she wasn't sure what to make of the visit, but after we explained why we were there, she welcomed us with open arms.  She continuously commenting on how great it was that we came and saw her.

After leaving the visit, the teachers were informed, relieved, and excited.  It made me start thinking and reflecting about the power that a simple home visit has on the classroom all the way to school culture and community views of the district as a whole.

7 Rationales behind The POWER of Home Visits...
*not in any particular order.

Team Building - As soon as that doorbell rings, there is a very interesting team that is forged.  Student, family, teacher, admins, district personnel, etc. (YES...even people not on the visit can benefit!)  KNOW that everyone is willing to meeting in the middle and/or go out of their way to make the educational experience a successful one for everyone.

Teacher's Understanding - The teacher is afforded an opportunity to assess the home life of a child.  Not in a judgmental manner, but in a way that will benefit the child.  If the teacher observes an impoverished environment they will be able to plan, act, and react accordingly.  The teacher will also be given the opportunity to meet the persons that make up the household.  It may be a nuclear family, or it may be a very eclectic family made up of aunties, or cousins, or family friends, or any other combination.  Regardless, this information will help the teacher connect to and relate with the student.  The teacher may also discover hidden talents, interests, skills, and/or accomplishments the child has that would not otherwise be shared.  All of these will assist as the teacher strives to make the learning engagements more relevant.

Parent's Understanding - Many times parents will pass their baggage of poor school experiences off to their children.  When a parent sees a teacher uncomfortably out of their confines of the classroom, it levels the playing field.  The parent can view the teacher as a person, as a regular, good ole' human being.  The lines of communication can be opened that would otherwise be closed.  Trust can be built!

Student's Understanding - I once heard it said that "you can't teach 'em until you can convince you care!"  I know it's cliche-ish, but dag gum it's so true.  A home visit is a very "un-mushy" and "un-Hollywood" way to say, "I care and I'm here for you!"  The times that I jumped on trampolines, played X-Box, Wii, checked out family pictures, ate Grandma's home-made fried chicken and collard greens, listened to a impromptu piano concert, at popsicles on the back porch, helped clean a fish tank, and so many other things that I did on home visits were in a sense uncomfortable for me, but the students understood that language.

School Culture - Students, teachers and admins have a very big role to play in the building of a positive and quality school culture.  I just struggle in understanding how a culture could be bad in a school that values students enough to take time out of their busy schedules to visit students and their families on their turf.  Conversations begin to change from, "blame blame blame" to "let's work together as a full team to figure this out."  Students are valued, parents are valued, teachers are empowered, admins are supported...sounds like a solid recipe to me!

The poverty stuff makes sense - Dr. Pawloski from the Francis Marion University Center of Excellence came to Lexington County School District 2 to talk with the employees about honoring students of poverty.  However, she surprisingly did not define poverty using the income scale, but instead simply said that poverty is a condition in which a child is missing something of importance or a basic need (think Maslow).  This can possibly \ include even children from filthy rich families.  A home visit can help assess the needs the children are having met on a daily basis, but also identify needs that are going unmet that may hinder academic performance.  Again we have more information that can be used to better make the curriculum relevant to the needs of the individual child.

Improves reputation - When teachers are willing to go out of their way...they look good, the schools looks good, the district looks good...HECK even the state department of education looks good!

FUN - Home visits are just fun.  You get to see students in their their environment...dong what they do!

I'm sure I'm missing some more reasons on why home visits are so powerful, if I did please add what you think in the comment section!

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