One of the things I’ve appreciated about my second year of teaching as it winds down is NOT being a first year teacher anymore. It has allowed me to focus more on my strengthening my relationship with my students. It also helps that my school is a part of the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP). I don’t think I realized the impact of the relationship and trust I built with my students, until today when I seemed to have lost it over a particular unfortunate incident. A student who ignored me at first and was angry with me over said incident was able to have a conversation with me about how she felt–something that wouldn’t have happened in October. We were able to address some of the miscommunications (I think). While it will take time for her to understand (or maybe she won’t ever really understand) that my actions were justified, I’m confident that she will be able to trust me as someone who is rooting for her and supporting her. I don’t know if I would have been able to say that at any point last year.
I had mentioned in my Sunday Summary that one of my goals for this week was to reflect and blog about the parent teacher home visit conference that I will be attending this week in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had hoped to reflect on parent teacher home visits before I flew out, but that didn’t happen, but alas…
So on to parent teacher home visits.
The general idea: In March, pushed by community eagerness and desire to be involved (and a lot of other people), our UFT chapter leaders introduced the Parent Teacher Home Visit project to our staff. The goal: Visit ALL of our incoming students before school begins in September. After showing initial interest, we were visited by parents and teachers from the national project from Burbank, California who spoke of the impact in their school community since they started the project about 13 (I might have my numbers wrong) years ago. Listening to their story, I was further convinced for the need in our community. Our school was founded by the community, for the community, and since there is a huge community organization presence in our school, it just made sense that as teachers and advisors of the students, we go out and learn about our students and their families from the people who know them the best, namely their families! I was touched by their stories and lasting impact. We modified our goal, realizing that completing all 140+ visits before the school year began was not feasible for us, so our current goal is to visit the homes of our students by December.
Hopes and Dreams: One of the non-negotiables for the visits is asking our parents to share their hopes and dreams for their child and in turn for us to discuss our hopes and dreams for said student. This was the most powerful moment during our training as we heard from parents and from teachers who have been involved wit the project. I must admit, there were few dry eyes in that room when we all shared our hopes and dreams for our students.
Teaming up: Our classes, nicknamed “houses” have two teachers who serve as the advisors for the students in the house. So roughly each advisor is in charge of 14-15 advisees. Each advisor was paired up with another staff member or community member to facilitate the home visits. I am paired up with the 6th grade guidance counselor and our teamwork and experience has been amazing. It is really helpful that she is multi-lingual which has come to use when working with our Spanish and French speaking parents. We’re able to balance the academic, social, and emotional aspects of our students in our conversation with parents.
I was beyond nervous about making my first phone call about the parent teacher home visit. During our training we practiced all kinds of scenarios, especially worst case scenarios, so in my head I was expecting to make at least 5-6 calls before getting a parent to agree to visit their homes. However to my surprise all the parents I called on the first day were so eager. About 2 months into school, my colleague and I have completed half of our visits and students and parents have been asking when we are visiting them, so the word has been spreading among the parents and students.
Impacts so far, Part ONE:
- Getting to know students and their families, becoming a student in the process: First and foremost, I’ve been learning about my students from people who have known them for so much longer than me. I get to know the academic, emotional, and social side of my students. I have great rapport with my students, but it usually takes a few months to getting to know their likes, dislikes, and temperament. I am finding out about them so much faster through one conversation. I always start my visits by saying, “I want to be a better teacher for Johnny and I can do that by knowing more about him, so what are some things I should know?” It turns the tables and gives parents a chance to open up and allows me to be a student because its my turn to listen. I get to know about their home life and begin to see and hear about obstacles and stressors the student might bring into the classroom. I’ve become mindful of them and my check-ins with students have become so much more meaningful because I know (for most part) what some of the issues are.
- Calling home: Prior to doing any home visits, calling parents was always such a painful thing to do. I loath making phone calls home especially in the beginning of the year when I haven’t had a face-to-face with parents. It’s not that I love making phone calls home, but I definitely hate them a lot less. I know how my call is going to be received. During the visit, I start off my saying “We want to create a partnership, a team so that Johnny can be successful…so let’s see what we can do to make sure that happens.” Almost always parents mention to what extent they want to be communicated and about what things. They share what they expect and in turn I share my expectations. So the phone calls home become less of, “Johnny is at it again….” and more about working together to resolve issues because we have the same goal in the end.
- Academic Support in school and home: It’s not even about the behavior most times. Many of my parents are at a lost about how to support the students academically and thats where we as the school come in and I feel that now I know to what extent I can assist my parents and have realistic expectations. For example, one of my mothers is willing to sit with the students and work with him on khan academy or practice exercises so when that student struggles with something I know what message I can send home. For another student, mom explained her work schedule and she really can’t help him, so I know that he needs something independent or further support during school hours. So now the messages and supports going home are so much more relevant for my students. Clearly I’ve only visited half of my students so far, so there is a long way to go–but I think that there has definitely been improvement.
To keep this from becoming a long list, I’m going to pause on this and return to it at another time. To be continued…