Education is a profession built on relationships. The better we create relationships with our students and families, the better we will be in supporting them.
Moving to a new school district (Hudsonville) put me in a spot where I didn’t know as many names, faces, and stories as I did after 18 years in Cedar Springs. A couple months ago I decided to try something I’ve never done before to address that. I sent a welcome video to all the parents of our soon to be 3rd-graders. In that video, I offered to visit them at their home in August prior to the first day of school. I shared that my purpose was simply to get to know them, talk with them, and start a relationship prior to open house.
I had done some home visits as a teacher, but never to a large group as a principal. Our school is an upper elementary that houses grades 3-5, so I started with 3rd-graders, as they would be new to our school. Later in the summer, I also extended that offer to students of new families to our district. I wish I could say it was a well-organized and tactical approach, but it wasn’t. I simply sent out a google doc to all 100+ families and they signed up with on a day and time (between 4-9 pm), their child’s name, parent names, and address. 67 people signed up and I made 67 home visits in a 2+ week stretch.
Here’s a little summary of 5 main things I discovered.
1. People were very appreciative that I made the visit
Over and over again I was thanked for taking the time to stop at their house. Some were shocked, others surprised, but universally appreciative. I hope this has set the tone that our school is willing to go above and beyond to develop a relationship with their family. Most 8-11-year-old kids still think their principal is cool! That was fun to hear. We have a lot of school of choice students and their parents make long drives to get their kids to our school every day. That was humbling.
2. I learned some things about kids I may not have learned in their 3 years at our school.
One of the things I asked each and every student was, “tell me something about yourself that not a lot of people know or is special/unique about you.” The things they said and items they showed me gave me a perspective into their lives that I might have otherwise not gained. I’ll never forget the one student who showed me the birthmark of a heart on her hand and told me her mom says, “it’s a kiss from God.” I will remember the student who showed me an inactive grenade from WWII and how it led to our discussion about his love for history. I would’ve never guess one student could put her tongue to her nose, a kid fessed up to farting a lot, and we have a couple of future chefs in the group. I now have specific conversation topics for so many kids as they begin school.
3. Parents shared with me questions about our school and ways we might be able to grow in their eyes.
I asked each parent:
– What is something our school system is doing well that you’d like us to continue?
– What questions, worries, or concerns do you have about this upcoming year?
– What is something you’d appreciate more of, or differently, from our school system?
I’ve asked those questions before in my office, classroom, or hallway. But when I asked it to them in their living room, I believe I got more honesty and transparency. That gave me great insight into what is important to some families and not as much to others.
4. I learned the stories of so many families.
We are getting a lot of 3rd-graders who are the oldest child in their family. That speaks to the number of youngsters we have all around Jamestown! We have so many families who have been in their homes for less than 3 years. That directly reflects in us being one of the largest growing townships in the state of Michigan. I know about some challenges families have had, many of their celebrations, and more about where their family is in the journey of life at this time. Knowing those stories will help us to develop trust, collaboration, and bonds with so many of them.
5. ALL parents want their child to succeed in school.
As educators, sometimes we make the mistake and form assumptions about parents based on small pieces of information. We think because they don’t help with homework, they don’t care or because they don’t show up for conferences, the school carnival, or the walkathon, they don’t want their child to be successful. That’s simply not true. I walked into homes of every socioeconomic status you could imagine and every single one of them cared deeply about the success of their child at school. I admit that they are armed with different tools, skills, and strategies to support their child at school, but they all care.
Yes, I drove around in circles for a couple weeks. I got lost a few times. People noticed me and wondered why I kept driving thru their neighborhood. I was pretty tired when I hit the pillow those nights (having July off doesn’t prep you well for 14 hour days). But, to be honest, I’m really excited to do this again next year! I have ideas on how to find my way into homes that didn’t signup this year. I am going to leave something about our school with each family when I stop. It’s just one step along the way of trying to live up to the phrase, “If you are going to be unlike any other school, you have to be willing to do things other schools won’t.”