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Tool: Home visits

While some parents may be reluctant to come to school because they feel uncomfortable, they don’t trust the school personnel or they have negative memories of their own schooling, others are unable to come because of transportation or child-care problems, or their work schedule conflicts with school hours. Many teachers around the country are trying out a practice that has long been part of the Head Start Program—making visits to the home.  They find that home visits help them get to know families and use that information to connect with their students. Home visits also help parents learn about the school curriculum and become more comfortable asking questions. By developing positive rapport, teachers can develop a partnership with parents in support of student learning.

How do I get started? Talk with your principal about whether your school has a Home Visit Program that specifies how you should proceed. If one does not exist, you could initiate one or two visits to students’ homes and talk with your principal about how the school could support you and your colleagues more programmatically. Here is a checklist to get you started:

Planning the home visit

  • Make appointments in advance and arrange the visit to accommodate family schedules. Find out if a brief 20-30 minute visit is feasible. The initial contact can be made by letter (see sample below) or telephone. Follow up with a phone call or a written note as a reminder.
  • Be clear about the purpose of your visit (e.g., get to know family, share curriculum materials). Assure the family that the purpose is not to pass judgment on the family members or their home.
  • If phoning, practice how you will explain it to the family member so your first communication goes smoothly.
  • Learn the names of family members and about the family’s culture so you can anticipate their language uses, social expectations and traditions. Arrange to take an interpreter with you if needed.
  • Plan a brief agenda and think about ways to initiate topics without playing “20 questions.”

  • How will you introduce yourself and establish rapport?

  • What do you want to know about the parents (e.g., background, interests, hopes and dreams, goals for child)?

  • What do you want to know about the child (interests, significant experiences, upcoming events, strengths, perceived learning needs, interactions with others)?
  • Learn about the area in which your student’s family lives and make plans to address safety issues as you would in visiting any unfamiliar area.  Make sure someone else knows where you are going, or pair up with another teacher. If you have a cell phone, take it with you.


Sample letter

Making connections: May I set up a home visit?

Dear Parents, 

It is very important to me that we find ways to communicate with each other to support your involvement in your child’s education.  This year I am organizing home visits as a way to reach out to families and get to know them better.  I would like to set up a time to come to your home for a brief 20-30 minute visit. I would like to learn more about you, your family and your hopes and dreams for your child’s education.

Please fill out the slip below and have your child return it to me by [date]. If you are interested, I will be contacting you soon. I am very excited about this new opportunity to get to know you!

Sincerely,
[your name and contact information]

Student’s name: _________________ Your name: ____________________

Relationship to student: _________________________________________

____Yes, we are interested in setting up a home visit! Please contact us by:

Telephone: ______________ Best time to call: _________

E-mail: _____________________

____ Sorry, we are not interested in a home visit at this time.


What happens when I’m there? Home visits are often as enjoyable for teachers as they are for families! Through less formal interactions, it is sometimes easier for parents to share information about their child and ask questions of the teacher and for the teacher to show s/he cares about the student. There are many things to think about during the visit:

Learning From the Home Visit

At the beginning of the visit, you might feel like you are doing a lot of talking to set the scene and get the conversation going.  Monitor the situation as it unfolds and be sure to provide plenty of openings for the family to share information and ask questions. Remember, you are visiting to learn about the family and will not come away with as much information if you do all the talking!

Families have a wealth of information and experiences they can share with you. These can also become valuable resources for your classroom as you and the families get to know each other better. Be sure to look for openings to encourage family members to become active participants in your classroom and school.

Let the family members know you are listening by giving non-verbal cues (eye contact, facial expression, gestures) and responding to information and ideas they share. Keep in mind that some parents may show great deference to you because of your role as “teacher” or because they think you know more due to your education and background. Try to help them see that you value what they have to offer.

Communication styles differ from family to family and how families communicate in the home may look very different from how their children interact at school. Depending on their cultural backgrounds and use of language in the home, you will need to take cues from family members about what communication style will feel comfortable for them. You may also learn new ways to communicate with students of a particular culture that will help you interact with them more successfully in school.

Be aware of the time and bring your visit to a close at the agreed upon ending time for your visit. 

Decide with the family “next steps” for your communication with them. For example:

  • Will you continue to keep in touch by phone or e-mail? 
  • Will parents volunteer in the classroom or school?
  • Are there materials, resources or other forms of support they would like you to provide to extend their child’s learning at home?

Don’t forget to thank the family for inviting you into their home. This may have felt like a great risk for them, and you want to acknowledge your appreciation for their willingness to share their lives and ideas with you.


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