Saturday, August 25, 2018

Set Yourself Up for Success by Starting Home Visits

Typically, when you start the school year, you don’t know your students very well. During those first few weeks, you get somewhat of an idea of who your students are, especially students who have behavior challenges. At that point in time, you contact the parent of the student who is not meeting expectations, set up a meeting, and your first interaction with that parent is for negative reasons. Then, you’ve started the year on a less than positive note, which tends to set the tone for the entire year. This can be very problematic because, as educators, parents need to be our allies. We MUST work together as partners, to help our students be successful.

So, instead of having the scenario above happen to you, I highly recommend starting your year on a positive note by doing home visits. You may be thinking, “What the heck is a home visit?” A home visit is where you as the teacher go over to a student’s home before the school year starts to get to know them and their family. As you’re reading this, you may think I’m crazy, but hear me out. I have done home visits the last three years and have had a significantly easier first day and year because of it. I have built positive relationships right off the bat, which we know is key to getting parents and students to buy in.

If you’re still reading this, which I hope you are, let me tell you all the things I’ve learned over the past few years with home visits. I will say though, I’m not an expert on this. I am sure there are far wiser people than me who may tell you I’ve been doing things wrong. With that being said, we are all different and have to do what works best for us.

I start out by creating a schedule of a week or two weeks when I will start my home visits. Now, I do home visits from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. I also don’t have kids and can do that. I cannot reiterate the fact that you must do what works best for you. I also do not have back to back home visits during that time. I just want to accommodate those parents who work or prefer that both parents are at the home visit. I schedule my blocks on my schedule in 30-minute increments. I attempt to stay at a home for 15-20 minutes, but I do love to talk, so I must really be careful. If you think you’ll need more time, schedule more time. It also depends on how far apart the homes in your boundaries are. So, keep that in mind.

Next, I make myself a sheet that lists the student, the parent’s names (you don’t want to call a parent by Mrs. Smith, when her name is actually Mrs. Downey, don’t ask me how I know that), their address, phone number(s), a spot to mark if they answered, if you left a message and need to call back, and a spot for notes. I then call every parent and make an appointment for a home visit with them. My colleagues have said that I’m insane for doing it this way and should have used Sign Up Genius to save time. Again, you must do what’s best for you. I just like to call beforehand.

When I call the parents, I say something like, “Hi, this is Brynn Westwood from _____________ Elementary. I am so excited to have so and so in my class this year. Before school starts, I’d like to come meet with you and so and so to get to know you better before the upcoming year. Would that be okay with you?” I then set up the day and time. Also, make sure you specify what school you are calling from. I had one year when I didn’t. I showed up at a house I thought was my student’s. No one answered the door. I finally called the parent. She said they had moved and thought I was the teacher from the new school and they were waiting for me. I felt pretty silly and was grateful the person whose house I was at didn’t answer.

Once all my home visits are set up, I create a little treat and label for my students. I’ve done suckers and written something like “Thanks for letting me POP in.” This year, I went to a local popcorn shop and bought a variety of flavors of popcorn and made a similar tag. I like to leave my students with a treat. I want them to be excited about school and about my visit.

On the day of the home visit, I make sure to dress my best. This is the parent’s and student’s first impression of me, so I put on a dressy outfit. I make sure I arrive right on time (call ahead if you’re going to be late for any reason). After shaking the parent’s and student’s hands and introducing myself, I immediately ask if they’d like me to take off my shoes. I then look for something to compliment in their home. I ask the students about their summer, what they like to do, and other questions that help me get to know them. I also ask the parent(s) if they have any questions for me or if there’s anything they’d like me to know going into the school year. I conclude my visit by giving the student a treat and then head to my next visit. Again, you must keep track of your time, so you may want to keep your watch or phone handy.

Now, I will admit, not all parents call me back. I usually call twice, and then let it go. I don’t want to show up at someone’s home and offend them because this is something that’s meant to be fun and positive.

I’ve had many questions about home visits, so I want to answer those next.

I do not get paid to do home visits. This is something I do on my own time. I am also not required to do them. It is something I’ve been doing, and other teachers at my school started this year too. Not everyone does it, it’s something I’ve had success with and will continue to do.

I’ve had people ask about safety (mainly my husband, actually). I would recommend giving a copy of your home visit schedule to your principal or secretary. This way, if something happened to you, they’d know who to check with. I’ve only had one experience where I wished I’d taken someone with me, but other than that, everything has been great.

I’ve also been asked what I do if the home isn’t clean. People, as I said this earlier, this is meant to be something positive. Who cares if a home isn’t clean. Let’s be real, my house during the school year is a complete disaster!

I was asked what parents think of the home visits. Parents LOVE the idea of getting to sit down one on one with their child’s teacher. This RARELY happens except for negative reasons or for a brief time during parent teacher conferences. At my school, we hold back to school night. I do not use my home visits as a time to explain  the same information I share at back to school night. It is more for building relationships, not for sharing rules, expectations, and procedures, although I am always happy to answer anything during home visits.

The students also love it. Especially the students who have anxiety about coming to school. On a home visit this year, I had a student set out cookies, fruit, homemade lemonade, and a sign that said “Welcome Mrs. Westwood!” It was AWESOME!

Home visits start the year out right and seriously make a difference. If you’re thinking of starting home visits, do it! If you have any questions, please let me know, and I’ll help you in any way I can! 

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