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All in the Family: How Teacher Home Visits Can Lead to School Transformation

This isn't the typical parent-teacher conference: At an NEA Priority School on the outskirts of Detroit, the national Parent Teacher
Home Visit Program is helping teachers and parents engage on a whole new level.
Barbréa Finney has something to tell the two teachers who have settled into her living room couch.
Finney, 70, has been fostering children in the Detroit area for 40-plus years and she’s probably welcomed more than 50 boys and
girls into her home. But the four girls, ages 6 to 11, living with her now are her adoptive daughters. Last year, after decades of
drug addiction and domestic violence, their biological mother was stabbed to death by their father.
As Judge Judy rules on the television nearby, Finney dabs at her eyes, and then tells sixth-grade teacher DeAnn Covert, “The girls
took it real hard… and sometimes, when they’re thinking back, there are days when they get sad. They loved their mother and she
was a nice, nice woman.”
This is not the typical parent-teacher conference, conducted in a classroom with test scores or discipline reports passed across a
table, and another parent waiting nearby for her 10 minutes. Instead this reciprocal conversation, shared in a cozy home with a
hand-penciled portrait of Barack Obama on the walls, is part of a coordinated home-visit program. Finney’s visitors are from
Romulus Middle School, a NEA Priority School on the outskirts of Detroit, and they have trained with the national Parent Teacher
Home Visit Program.

“With all of the children I’ve had, I’ve never before had a teacher come to my home,” said Finney. “When she called me, I was like,
‘Okay, this is different. This is nice!’”
It’s more than nice, actually. A home-visit program like Romulus’ can build meaningful parent-teacher partnerships — the kind of
family engagement that research has shown to boost school attendance and willingness to do homework, reduce discipline
problems and dropout rates, and raise student achievement and social outcomes. It also can end the cycle of parent-teacher
blame, especially in communities where children have traditionally underachieved, by building trust between teachers and
This is about identifying parents and teachers as “co-educators,” who share respective knowledge about that student. It’s about
helping teachers become culturally aware and parents seriously involved in their child’s education.

This isn’t “parent involvement,” in the form of Valentine’s Day parties, or “parent communication,” in the form of one-way emails.
Rather, this is about identifying parents and teachers as “co-educators,” who share respective knowledge about that student. It’s
about helping teachers become culturally aware and parents seriously involved in their child’s education.
When Romulus teacher Kathleen Forrest sits down at another mother’s dining-room table, she says simply, “The purpose of this
visit is to build a relationship…”

Teacher DeAnn Covert (middle) and Romulus Education Association President Shawn Shivnen (right) visit Barbréa Finney at her
Union-led Collaboration
Across the U.S., the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) trained nearly 5,000 teachers in 2014. Its partners include NEA
Priority Schools in Alabama, California, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington State; and also
two of the NEA Foundation’s “Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative” sites: Seattle and Springfield, Massachusetts.
Whenever I’ve had powerful change in a student, whether it’s academic or social, it’s because I’ve worked hand in hand with a
“NEA is the place where people are investing most effectively,” said Carrie Rose, PTHVP executive director — and that includes
NEA Priority Schools, where NEA has paid for PTHVP training to help local educators in their broad efforts to build community
partnerships, improve teacher quality, and transform their low-achieving schools into the schools that every child deserves.
“We realized early on that stronger relationships with families and communities would be key to transforming some of our most
struggling schools, so we made the investment,” said Andrea Prejean, Director of NEA’s Priority Schools. “The partnership with
THVP just made sense.”
“This is where it starts, folks,” said Romulus fifth-grade teacher Julie Hirchert, who helped kick-start Romulus’ home-visit program
three years ago. “This is the foundation for everything you want to do, as a teacher… Whenever I’ve had powerful change in a
student, whether it’s academic or social, it’s because I’ve worked hand in hand with a parent.”
And it’s not just anecdotal evidence. Studies also support Hirchert’s findings.
 In Sacramento, a three-year study found that teacher home-visits corresponded to a 6.5 percentage point gain in reading
tests and 9.8 in math, plus improved graduation rates.
 In Mason County, Kentucky, after seven years of home visits, researchers found the district had moved from 126th to 30th
on statewide tests, and that discipline referrals had reduced significantly.
 And, in Maplewood Richmond Heights, Missouri, discipline referrals declined by 45 percent and parent involvement
improved by 20 percent. Not surprisingly, student achievement followed.
What is a Home Visit?
Leave your paper and pencil in the car. When you walk through that front door, it’s just you. Actually, it’s not just you. Bring a
partner. And both of you must be trained and paid for your time.
These are the shared traits of all home-visit programs, said Rose. Also, and this is important: Focus the conversation on building
trust and relationships. This is not the time to talk about test scores or bring up that cafeteria fight. Ask parents about their
“hopes and dreams” for their children, and share your own hopes and dreams for your students.

Teachers Kathleen Forest and DeAnn Covert (right) meet with a parent and her child.
Erica wants to be a chef. Davvion’s mom won’t settle for anything else than a college degree. And Michael’s parents want to raise
a “man of integrity.” “To ask parents about their hopes and dreams, and to know that it might be the first time they’ve been asked
that question and that you’re getting that thought process started… it’s very powerful,” said Nick Faber, vice president of the St.
Paul Federation of Teachers, a joint NEA-AFT affiliate.
Four years ago in St. Paul, after an NEA grant provided training, about six teachers visited 15 homes. This year, “it looks like we’ll
reach 1,000,” said Faber.
But the most impressive number in St. Paul is this one: $75,000. That’s how much the district must set aside to pay teachers for
home visits, according to their collectively bargained contract. (It’s $50 per visit.) Teachers asked the union’s bargaining team to
put the program into their contract, forcing administrators to commit to the program. “We really wanted to be able to say that
we, as a union, are stepping up to get our members out into the community to better understand our students, especially our
students of color, so that we can start to break down some of the disparities in academic achievement and behavior,” said Faber.
Ninety percent of the St. Paul visits “have been to black and brown families,” he said, and many are poor or working-class.
Meanwhile, 90 percent of the visiting teachers are White. With those cultural and socio-economic differences in mind, home visits
can be a powerful tool. In a recent program evaluation, nearly eight out of 10 St. Paul home-visit teachers said it “changed
assumptions they had about parents.”
After You Say Good-bye
In both St. Paul and Romulus, teachers usually conclude a home visit with an invitation — “Please come to school for…” And
parents do. “If I invite them, they always come,” said Romulus’ Forrest, who coordinates a quarterly academic-focused Parent
More immediately, teachers return to school with great information. They have a better understanding of a child’s behavior, and
more appreciation of how a child’s home environment may be related to school performance.
“When you have a kid walk into class, you just see the kid,” said Hirchert. But after a home visit, when that student walks into
class “you see his aunt, his uncle, the drawing pad that he brought to share with you — it’s a whole picture. I get immeasurable
data about what inspires them and motivates them.”
Before the Romulus teachers sat down on Finney’s couch, they had no idea of the previous trauma in the girls’ lives. It is
information that is very valuable to them. “As I teacher I can now say to this mother, ‘I see your daughter withdrawing… Is it about
that time of year?’ And it’s something this mother and I can talk about, and work together on,” said DeAnn Covert, who reached
across the couch to Finney and told her, “I am blessed to be in your home.”
When the conversation turns to the “hopes and dreams” of the four girls, Finney tells Covert, “I want these girls to go to college.”
From around the corner, a small voice says, “I want to be a teacher.”
News and Features from the National Education Association
Parent-Teacher Home Visits
In order for educators to effectively partner with parents, they must have positive, trusting relationships with
them. This is particularly true in contexts where families are distrustful or disengaged from the school itself.
The concept behind Parent-Teacher Home Visits is simple: rather than blaming each other, teachers and
parents come together as equal partners to form a trusting relationship, which becomes the basis for
collaboration to support student learning.
The relationship-building model of parent-teacher home visiting supported by Flamboyan Foundation was
created by the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) in Sacramento, California. PTHVP’s seven core
components may seem like common sense, but they help maximize the impact of home visits as you build
relationships with families and engage them throughout the year. Most importantly, they keep you safe. Home
visits which do not meet these core components are not compensated and do not count toward your school’s
measures of success.
 The purpose of home visits is to build relationships with your students’ families. The focus of the home visit
is to meet and learn about your families, as well as to establish trust and respect. While there are many other
things a school may want to communicate about to families, such as dress code, homework policies, rules, etc., the
home visit is not the right time for that communication.
 Home visits are not conducted on school grounds. When teachers meet with families outside of school,
teachers break down families’ mistrust and uncertainty about schools. Furthermore, teachers learn more about
students’ backgrounds, interests, and life experiences, which they can then draw on to improve their teaching,
when they meet families in the home. If a family is highly resistant to a visit in the home, educators may offer a
neutral location in the community.
 Home visits are voluntary for teachers and parents. In order to build strong, trusting relationships with one
another, both teachers and parents must feel respected and valued. Forcing a family to host you in their home
doesn’t build respect. Neither does forcing teachers to visit families when they don’t want to do so.
 Home visits should not stigmatize students. Teachers must make sure to visit a broad cross-section of students
with differences in behavior and academic performance. While we encourage teachers to think strategically about
which students they visit, it is critical for parents to see these as positive visits. If word gets out that only
struggling students get home visits, families will be less likely to want to meet with you.
 Home visits are scheduled in advance. Scheduling in advance is a sign of respect and shows how much you
value parents’ time. Furthermore, because parents will know you are coming, it keeps you safe and ensures you
won’t see anything you shouldn’t see.
 Home visits are conducted in pairs. Going on home visits with a partner ensures you will be comfortable and
safe. It also allows families to meet an additional person in the school community, which makes them feel even
more welcomed. Finally, your partner is an extra set of eyes and ears to help you remember what you learned
after you leave the visit.
 Home visits which follow the model are compensated or otherwise incentivized. Flamboyan Foundation
respects the hard work teachers are doing to improve family engagement. Your principal will tell you more about
how home visits will be compensated or incentivized at your school.

Parent Teacher Home Visit Project
Copyright © 2018 Springfield Public Schools. All Rights Reserved.
Springfield Public Schools are proud to continue the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project. Through this program
teachers and parents build relationships and open the lines of communication with one another. This is a chance for
educators to learn about the community in which they teach, and for families to make connections with their child’s
educators. This program has been successful throughout the country by bringing communities together and promoting
academic success. At Glenwood School we not only value but participate in this program. If you are interested in the
Home Visit Project, please don’t hesitate to contact our facilitator Mrs. Haynes at 787-7527 to learn more about it.