With the school year quickly approaching, families are re-arranging their schedules, students are sorting through supplies and chatting with friends about their classes, and teachers are decorating their classrooms and creating lesson plans that are engaging and informative. While everyone wants a great first day, what if we told you that you could have a successful school YEAR, starting with just one conversation?
IEL has had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Gina Martinez-Keddy from Parent Teacher Home Visits, D’Lisa Crain and Alicia Thomas from the Washoe County School District to learn more about the Parent Teacher Home Visit model as well as some best practices for implementation. Regardless of how many site-visits you’ve conducted (if any), you’re sure to learn something new.
Gina Martinez-Keddy, Executive Director, Parent Teacher Home Visits; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
D’Lisa Crain, Department of Family-School Partnerships, Washoe County School District; Email: DCrain@washoeschools.net
Alicia Thomas, Parent Teacher Home Visit Project Coordinator, Washoe County School District; Email: AThomas@WashoeSchools.net
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
What are Parent Teacher Home Visits (PTHVs) and why should this strategy be considered by districts, schools and educators?
The Parent Teacher Home Visits strategy is a specific model for doing relational home visits between educators, schools, and families, starting from Pre-K. It’s distinct from the kind of visits pre-k and social work practitioners conduct in that the focus is on building a relationship between families as co-educators with students. There’s no review of test scores or academic issues – the educators are not there to judge or assess the family. Visits create an equal playing field, recognizing the educators and family as jointly contributing to the education of the child; the educators bring great expertise around curriculum and the parents know and want what’s best for their child. This is a strategy that acknowledges the academic and social-emotional assets that both educators and families bring to the table.
The Five Non-Negotiable Core Practices for implementation are:
- Visits are Voluntary for all: Visits are always voluntary for educators and families and arranged in advance.
- Educators are Trained & Compensated: Teachers are trained and compensated for visits outside their school day.
- We don’t target Students: visit all or a cross-section of students so there is no stigma.
- We Share Hopes, Dreams & Goals: Focus of the first visit is relationship-building; we discuss hopes and dreams.
- Educators go in Pairs & Reflect: Educators conduct visits in pairs, and after the visit, reflect with their partner.
When do home-visits typically occur?
PTHV is comprised of a two-visit model. The first home visit can occur at any time as long as it’s focused on building and strengthening a relationship with the family. Most schools/practitioners will conduct the first visit at the beginning of the school year or as soon as they receive their class list to start off on the right foot and before there’s anything to report.
The second visit typically happens in the early spring and while it continues to build upon the relationship with the family, it’s okay to discuss academics and a specific strategy or issue that has come up.
How do home visits affect student outcomes? What impact has it had on schools, teachers, and families?
“When enough home visits occur, not only do you see positive outcomes for students, teachers and families, but it creates a foundation for any other program at the school to thrive. When you have people in meaningful relationship with each other everything else will work better.” – Gina Martinez-Keddy, Executive Director, Parent Teacher Home Visits
RTI International and Johns Hopkins University are currently conducting a national evaluation of Parent Teacher Home Visits’ model for 2017-2018. The first report focused on mindset shift and looked specifically at the connection between home visits and implicit bias between educators and parents (an unexpected outcome of PTHV). The second and third report (to be released by the end of 2018) will focus on various aspects of the impact on student outcomes. There’s also specific information on PTHV results in Washoe County.
Listed below are examples of outcomes for different constituencies.
Students: Research shows that students are more motivated about school and that it’s meaningful for them to have educators visit them at their homes. Students whose families received a home visit had 24% fewer absences than similar students whose families did not receive a visit. These same students also were more likely to read at or above grade level compared to similar students who did not receive a home visit.
Schools: Many schools struggle with finding ways to meaningfully engage families. Typical engagement activities include open houses or parent/teacher conferences, but schools want a deeper connection and often only hear from a limited number of families during these activities. Home visits provide increased communication between families and teachers, and, when enough home visits occur, schools begin to see a culture shift – more families engage in a more meaningful way and strengthen that partnership.
Parents: Home visits show parents that teachers care about all of their students, that they care about their wellbeing as well as their child’s academic success. A lot of parents did not have positive experiences in school, so they too come with their own biases about schools. Home visits helps them get past their initial reservations and become more open to partnering with their child’s teacher.
According to the report:
- Families’ beliefs and actions about educators and schools shifted: As a result, most families reported that they realized interactions with educators did not have to be negative or uncomfortable and began to develop stronger and more equitable relationships with school staff.
- Families’ perceptions of educators shifted from seeing them as distant authority figures to people with whom they could relate.
- Families reported feeling more comfortable communicating with educators.
- Families had a better understanding of what is expected of their child in school.
Educators: Home Visits create a space for educators to have increased communication with families, see how much parents care about their child and obtain a better understanding of what involvement means to them. Overall, they feel a stronger connection with the families.
In addition, the report notes:
- Educators’ beliefs and actions shifted related to families and students.
- Educators’ deficit assumptions about families’ capabilities and interest to support education shifted.
- Educators developed a new way of thinking about student capabilities.
- Educators developed empathy through home visits and reported that because of this, their reactions to behavioral issues changed for the better.
- Educators tailored instructional approaches by incorporating students’ interest.
What are the common challenges you hear regarding Home Visits and what suggestions do you have for overcoming them?
Discomfort: Because home visits aren’t standard, many educators experience discomfort about going to the homes of their students and are uncertain about what to talk about. While training from Parent Teacher Home Visits addresses this discomfort and uncertainty, having teachers go in pairs provides a sense of safety. After the visits educators have an opportunity to reflect on what they might have thought about the family going into the visit and how that might have changed based on the home visit experience.
- Make what will be discussed during the home visit clear to both the educators and families. In Washoe County, the most frequent topics discussed were: parents’ hopes and dreams for their child, the child’s interests and home life, homework, how to support their child’s learning at home, school activities, and referrals to community resources.
- Start small and share the experience widely. Often in a school site, there’s a small group of teachers that conduct those first visits. After they share their experiences others come on board.
- Have a Home-Visit “veteran”. Have a teacher who is comfortable with Home Visits conduct a visit with a teacher that has less experience. The teacher with the less experience can be a part of it without taking the lead in it.<
- Start with the willing and motivate others.
Time and Motivation: Teachers are incredibly busy and must manage multiple priorities. We recommend that teachers be strategic with their time and identify what they might spend less time on up front to reap the long-lasting benefits of home visits. In Washoe County, the school board honors teachers who have conducted more than 20 home visits at a special event. While this is motivational because most of its staff are competitive, it’s important to honor the work being done at the ground level and to see that it’s a district effort, not just the FACE (Family and Community Engagement) Team.
Additional Solution: Use school site coordinators, veteran teachers, and parents to share their stories to motivate others.
A core principal of the PTHV model is that educators must be compensated for their time. In Washoe County, this was problematic. Not only was funding limited, but they were only able to fund staff who were considered full time, which potentially excluded some of its support staff. To cover costs, they used Title 1 funds, state funds, and had to work with their payroll staff on how to pay support staff.
- Federal and state funds, foundation grants can be used to support compensation.
- Washoe County uses a tier-based system for funding based on performance. Tier 1 receives the lowest funding and is for schools that are just starting out and/or doing a minimal number of visits.
What are some best practices for implementing home visits as a district strategy?
Partnerships are crucial. It’s important that you identify strategic partners in the beginning. This includes the local school district, community-based organizations, teachers unions, etc. They all have a stake in the outcomes and can ensure the success of the efforts over time. When you have strong partnerships, it opens opportunity for creative ways of funding. In Washoe County, community partners held home visit rallies, highlighted and honored the work, and helped push the district to provide more funding. They were able to push back on the school district in ways that educators could not.
Develop a strategy and plan for home visits. Whether you are starting small via a pilot group in 2-3 schools or open it up to a larger group of schools, you need a plan. A plan helps to sustain the efforts over time. Start with sites that really want to do the work and will maintain the fidelity of the national model. Also, funding streams need to be established before implementation. This is especially true given that a non-negotiable of the program is that teachers and staff are compensated for their time.
Leadership is critical to the success of the program. Visible support from superintendents and other leaders signal to others that creating meaningful relationships with parents is a priority. To keep leadership engaged, staff (FACE Team, principals, coordinators, etc.) can arrange home visit weeks throughout the year, share highlights of the work, and ultimately make it clear that parent voice is valued and welcomed within the school and district.
Be open and willing to change. You must be willing to be uncomfortable at first because educators going into people’s homes can be awkward in the beginning. Educators come with their own assumptions and implicit bias and, while the initial PTHV training and orientation attempts to break down those barriers, staff must recognize their bias and check their assumptions at the door.
Implicit bias must be intentionally debriefed after the home visits. After the home visits, create discussion prompts that help colleagues address any implicit biases they may have had. Also, allow colleagues to brainstorm ideas on how they can adjust their classroom instruction and management to help the student they just learned about.
Collect the data. Data demonstrates growth and results. Home visits aren’t just a feel-good program, it’s a strategy that is sustainable and helps academically. Without data, you can’t prove you’re moving systemically across the board.
Is there anything you’d like to share?
The National Parent Teacher Home Visit annual conference is October 18-20, 2018 in Dallas, Texas.
Dallas is a place that has done thousands of home visits using the PTHV model and has experience positive results like better attendance and student engagement, greater job satisfaction among teacher and families feeling more connected to schools. The Dallas conference is a wonderful opportunity to learn for those interested in doing or launching home visits, and those who want to deepen their practice in new ways. Learn more about the conference.
Learn more about Washoe County School District Evaluation Process.