Months ago, I received the notice in my inbox saying that I had been selected to work as a teacher for Springboard Summer. I remember this because the feeling of having the opportunity to learn a new teaching program and having a summer job made me feel excited. I attended my first training and felt welcomed in a room filled with teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators.

I eagerly sat with my binder and pen in hand, ready to begin my first training session.

Prior to the session beginning, I flipped through the pages of the handbook and noticed the phrase “home visits.” I didn’t think much of it until my Site Leader described it in detail. As teachers, part of the program would be making visits to our students’ homes. My initial internal reaction was, What? Make a home visit? Why? How am I going to find the time, plus I have to teach and learn this new program? Externally, I smiled, nodded, and took the time to listen to the reasons for home visits.

The purpose of home visits is to establish a connection with the family and build home-school partnerships.

While I understood the purpose, I still felt reluctant. Couldn’t I establish partnerships when they attend family workshops? How about when I see parents for morning drop-offs and after-school pick-ups? While I understood the need to establish partnerships, I felt, as a teacher, it could be done without entering the home.

After trainings, my Site Leader had a meeting with the staff and further explained ways to connect with parents in their home. He also said if parents did not feel comfortable meeting at their home, we could meet them in a public space. He wanted us to make our phone calls to parents before the end of the day.

I felt nervous about reaching out to parents when I had not even met their children.

We were given a script to use when making the phone calls and were told we had the flexibility to state what we needed to say in our own words. I found a list of my students’ names, their parents’ names, and phone numbers. I dialed my first number reluctantly and remember thinking to myself, They probably won’t pick up a strange number. I know I wouldn’t.

I was wrong. The parent picked up on the second ring. I introduced myself and stated that I would like to make a home visit. The parent wanted to know if something was wrong and if I wanted to assess their home. I told them that the goal was for us to form a partnership and discuss more about their goals for their child’s reading and writing. This automatically put the parent, and myself, at ease. We were there to learn from each other and create goals. The parent and I easily set up a date and time to meet.

I continued calling all of the parents on my list. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking my job was done.

I had a few days before my first home visit, and that’s when the real work would begin.

One of my first home visits took place at a parent’s place of employment, a fast food restaurant. As soon as I walked through the door, she greeted me, offered me a seat, and gave me something to eat. I remember feeling welcomed, as if I were in her home, even though it was in a public space.

We talked for a long time and she told me that her son prefers to play on the tablet or on her phone instead of reading. During our discussion, I found out that, while she spoke a limited amount of English, she had a strong desire for her son to excel in reading and writing in English. I asked her if he had access to books at home, and she said he had a small amount. We talked about her taking him to the public library and getting a library card in order for him to have a wider selection of books. I offered to help her navigate the steps to obtaining a card. She thanked me and agreed to take me up on my offer.

We discussed strategies that would help him read fluently, and she told me she would follow up with him at home. I told her that I would do the same at school.

After this home visit during the first week of the program, I remember seeing an immediate change in him. He went from being quiet and reserved to participating in every class discussion. Within the time of my meeting with his mother, his confidence grew. In situations where he did not know the answer, he always tried his best. His mother attended every workshop and she told me that he started independently reading for 20 minutes daily at home. Prior to attending the program, she told me that he did not enjoy reading, and she would have to bribe him with screen time in order to read.

I reflect back on his progress and wonder if the home visit played a crucial part in his motivation. I would like to think it did. Due to making the phone calls to parents, all the parents had my cell phone number. I was never reluctant about giving my number to parents; I feel that it’s an excellent way to make a connection.

Weeks after home visits were made, I would have parents contact me to ask me questions about readings, or questions about progress made on the students’ goals.

They would share stories about home progress, and I would share stories about school progress.

My initial reaction of hesitation and nervousness in regards to completing home visits ended up paling in comparison to the partnerships I formed with my students and their parents.

By placing myself in my students’ and parents’ homes, I connected to my families in a more meaningful, personal way.

I stepped outside of my comfort zone (my classroom) and interacted in a more genuine way with my families. Home visits took away the protective teacher barrier that I would have between my students and their parents and helped us all relate to each other due to this shared experience.

This blog was contributed by Lashon Gittens as part of our Spotlight blog seriesLashon has been an early elementary school teacher for 4 years. Her goal is to instill a lifelong love of reading in every student who enters her classroom.