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Teacher Home Visits Create Meaningful Learning Opportunities

As kids head back to school this month, kindergarten teachers across Multnomah County aren’t just waiting for kids to show up in their classroom. They are going to them. 

Home visits connect parents and teachers, helping parents feel more comfortable in the school environment and recognizing them as partners in supporting their child’s learning. Home visits also help teachers get to know children so they can make learning more meaningful and personal. This is especially important for children and families of color, and families from immigrant and refugee communities.

This summer and fall, teachers from 28 schools will meet with hundreds of incoming students and their families to ease the transition into kindergarten. Sarah Adams was one of those teachers. She has taught kindergarten in David Douglas School District for 10 years. We asked her about her experience doing home visits for the past two years. 

Q: First, what’s the toughest thing about being a kindergarten teacher? 
A: There are a lot of expectations for kindergarteners and they aren’t all going to be in the same place developmentally at the same time. Sometimes you have to push kids to get places that they aren’t ready to go. 

Q: And, what’s the best thing?
A: The kids have so much energy and they are hilarious! They are so excited to come to school. It’s pretty easy to make learning really fun in kindergarten. The vast majority are just so enthusiastic and they love everything! I also love to see how they start and where they end up, especially because I teach in a school with super high poverty. It’s amazing to see their growth.

Q: How long have you been doing home visits? 
A: I was formally trained in Spring of 2015. Last year was my first my first year doing home visits using this model. I had gone on home visits before, but only with the school principal when there were problems with the child in the classroom, or if we were going to deliver food to a family. It was never a visit that was focused purely on building a relationship.  

Q: What results have you seen? 
A: It engages families and gets them more involved and feeling more comfortable. For the families I work with, language is often a barrier, and many of them live in high poverty. After I meet with them, they feel like they have a right to participate in their child’s education. The whole point is to make them comfortable and show them that we’re in it together.  

Q: How have your relationships with families changed? 
A: I hear from parents a lot more. They are able to reach out more to me. Some of them even text me! Lots of parents don’t come to parent-teacher conferences, but many of the parents I’ve seen during home visits do. Many are families that we would never reach, if it wasn’t us going to them.  

Q: How does it change the kindergarten experience for kids? 
A: It’s been huge. It means so much for the kids. They are so excited and want to show us their rooms, their toys and house. They talk about it when they come to school. When they are writing in their journals at school, I can suggest ideas of things they can write about based on what I learned when I was in their home—like their dog or their baby brother. You know them better because you’ve seen it and you remember. You are part of their community rather than just another authority figure. 

Q: Has anything surprised you? 
A: I had a student in my class whose brother I had also taught. They were Burmese refugees. When I taught her brother, the parents didn’t come to conferences and I couldn’t ever get permission slips signed for field trips. I didn’t know what was going on. I pre-judged the family as not being involved and not caring. Then I did a home visit. They didn’t have much and the mom told us she was working hard, making only minimum wage. I felt really bad for judging her because clearly she didn’t have the means to do anything. It was really eye opening. It made my approach with that student all the more loving and caring. I was just happy if she came to school. I never would have known if I hadn’t visited the home. 

Q: Would you recommend home visits to other kindergarten teachers? 
A: I have to say I wasn’t super excited about doing them at first. I thought it would be awkward.  But after doing them, I really love them. That’s the experience of other teachers I’ve talked to, too. It’s really powerful. Hopefully it’s something that will just become the norm. There are families we would never reach, if it wasn’t us going to them.

For more information about Kindergarten Teacher Home Visits, get in touch with Brooke Chilton-Timmons at brooke.chilton-timmons@multco.us.