Viewpoints and Findings from the REL Mid-Atlantic
Family Matters: The Role of Home Visits in Children’s Learning
By Jeffrey Terziev, REL Mid-Atlantic and Sean Fitzwater, District of Columbia Public Schools
Children’s academic performance hinges largely on parents’ involvement and engagement with their children’s education. Visits by teachers to children’s homes to meet with parents enable teachers and parents to create connections that can help foster parent involvement in their children’s education. The Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic and the District of Columbia (DC) Public Schools are teaming up to study the impacts of home visits conducted by district teachers to build relationships with parents. Although considerable research points to the importance of family engagement, little evidence exists on the specific strategies that work to promote it. This partnership will provide some of the first rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of relationship-building home visits and help the district decide how to use its resources most effectively to improve family engagement.
What Are Relationship-Building Home Visits?
The concept behind relationship-building home visits is simple: teachers and parents come together as equal partners to form trusting connections, which become the basis for collaboration to support learning. Home visits meet families where they are—figuratively and literally—with the goal of creating trust and ultimately improving educational outcomes. Engaging with families outside of school helps form a shared understanding and shows that teachers care about their students. A trusting relationship with teachers might encourage parents to become involved in their children’s education, leading to improvements in attendance, behavior, and learning. At the same time, home visits allow teachers to learn more about students’ backgrounds, interests, and life experiences, which they can then draw on to improve their teaching.
Family Engagement and Home Visits in DC Public Schools
DC Public Schools is committed to building and sustaining trusting relationships with families. Relationship-building home visits represent crucial tools in achieving this goal. Each year, hundreds of DC teachers conduct home visits as part of three district programs: the Family Engagement Partnership, the Family Engagement Collaborative, and an early childhood home visit initiative. The programs share a common home visit procedure. The home visits typically last a half hour; start with introductions and getting to know one another, followed by discussions on the parents’ hopes and dreams for their child’s future, expectations for the child’s education, and communication preferences; and end with an invitation to continue building a relationship. Through these programs, DC teachers visit students’ families in pre-kindergarten through middle school. During the 2017–2018 school year, district educators have conducted more relationship-building home visits than ever before. So far they have made almost 13,000 home visits, and the number continues to grow.
REL Mid-Atlantic and DC Public Schools are partnering to study the impacts of relationship-building home visits conducted through the Family Engagement Partnership and the Family Engagement Collaborative. Focusing on elementary grades, we are examining the impacts of home visits on families’ engagement at school and involvement in their children’s education, as well as students’ attendance, disciplinary incidents, and achievement. The results will provide some of the first rigorous evidence on the impacts of relationship-building home visits, helping DC Public Schools and other districts that have implemented, or are considering implementing home visiting programs, decide how to use resources effectively to encourage family engagement and help improve student outcomes.