When is the last time you visited or called a parent or guardian without bad news?
How are you equipping teachers to build relationships with families through visits? Learn the benefits of home visits and best practices for how to prepare for and conduct them.
These are some best practices for teachers and administrators concerning home visits:
- Visits should be voluntary for educators and families, but administrators should seek at least 50 percent participation from a school’s staff.
- Home visits should always be arranged in advance. It’s helpful for schools to decide if they want educators to visit families once or twice per year and whether that first visit will take place before the school year begins. Some districts also follow up home visits with family dinners at the school to continue deepening school-family ties.
- If possible, schools should compensate educators for their home-visit work and train them effectively.
- Educators should visit in teams of two. In some cases, teachers partner with other teachers, social workers or the school nurse to help address a student’s well-being in a more comprehensive manner.
- It’s important that educators visit a cross-section of students—ideally all of them—rather than target any particular group.
- The goal of the first home visit is to build relationships. Educators should talk about families’ hopes and aspirations for their students.
Note to teachers: Take extra care when communicating with immigrant families about visiting their homes. Make it clear in advance that you are not from any government immigration agency, such as ICE, and that you will not talk with any such agency. Also, do not ask about immigration status during the visit—or at any other time.
Family engagement contributes to a range of positive student outcomes, including:
- Improved achievement;
- Decreased disciplinary issues;
- Improved parent- or guardian-child and teacher-child relationships.
Different Families, Different Visits
Just as instruction is differentiated, so too are home visits. Depending on the needs of the student and family and the previous history of the teacher-family relationship, a home visit might be:
- A formal conversation on the couch;
- A meal together;
- A guided tour of a home (including favorite toys and hangout spots);
- Walking the family dog in the park or another excursion to an agreed-upon meeting place.
Note: Keep in mind that some families may not be comfortable having guests in their homes and would prefer to meet somewhere else. In this case, you could offer the school or another location as a meeting place.
Story From the Field: Keep Your Eyes On the Speaker
“I once went on a home visit to a trailer home. We sat at the kitchen table, and I was astounded to see a hole around a foot and a half in diameter right in the middle of the kitchen, through which I could see the dirt underneath the trailer. However, as mortified as I was, I thought that it probably was even more mortifying for the mother who so kindly received me. She was probably embarrassed and the least I could do was to keep my eyes on her and focus on our conversation instead of on the material distractions around us. My job is to focus on the human being, not on the dehumanizing conditions many people have to live in.”
—Barbie Garayúa-Tudryn, elementary school counselor and TT Advisory Board member
Home Visit Checklist:
- Participate in home-visit training.
- Call each student’s home, and explain the purpose of the visit.
- Schedule the visit.
- Determine if a translator is needed. The student should not serve as a translator.
- Confirm the day before or the day of the home visit.
- Before the visit, reflect on the reason you’re there in the first place: to build a relationship with the family and collaborate with them for the well-being of the child.
- The visit should be 20-30 minutes long.
- Bring a partner.
- Get to know the family. Find out if they have other children in school.
- Talk about the family’s hopes for their students and share yours.
- Avoid taking notes or bringing paperwork, which can make families feel as if they are being evaluated and can cause nervousness and disengagement.
- If you need to share paperwork, wait 20-30 minutes before delivering it or plan to send it at a later date.
- Ask the family what they need from you, and make a plan to connect again in the future.
- Make a phone call or send a text or note thanking the parents or guardians for the meeting.
- Invite the family to an upcoming event.
- Document the visit, and share takeaways with appropriate stakeholders.
- Follow up with any resource needs that came up during the visit.
To learn more, read “Meet the Family” and watch our on-demand webinar Equity Matters: Engaging Families Through Home Visits.
Critical Training Elements for Administrators
Training and preparing for a home visit can be as important as the visit itself. Consider these pointers from the experts when designing professional development for your home-visit program.
- Review logistics, such as how to make contact, how and when to schedule visits, whether and how to record discussions with families, and what to do with the documentation and data.
- Remind teachers to leave assumptions behind and keep an open mind regarding each family, their culture and their values.
- Address implicit bias and the impact it can have on what educators or families will perceive during the home visit. To learn more about implicit bias, view our on-demand webinar Equity Matters: Confronting Implicit Bias.
- Some prior knowledge is essential, such as whether a translator will be necessary (it is not appropriate to use the student as a translator), whether the family has access to a working phone or if the child lives between two households.
- Coach teachers to establish the purpose for the visit ahead of time. Goals should focus on getting to know the child as a learner and setting the stage for partnership, not on problematic behavior or performance.
- Model how to talk about both the student and the family. Some families may have significant needs. Connecting them to resources can benefit their child’s learning.