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Community, Home and Schools—Relationships We Can’t Ignore

Going into children’s communities is the best way for teachers to learn about the cultural wealth existing in homes and to understand the importance of including families in the education of their children.

Editor’s note: A longer version of this blog originally appeared as a paper in the November 2013 edition of the GIST Education and Learning Research Journal and has been posted here with permission. The paper detailed research conducted jointly by Dr. Peralta and Ms. Galaviz.

Today, of the 74 million children in the United States, 59 percent are white, 19 percent are Hispanic, 15 percent are black, 4 percent are Asian and 3 percent are “other.” However, because our nation’s teachers are predominantly white, female and middle-class, their decisions, perspectives and perceptions are likely to be derived from lived experiences very different from those of many students. The ways in which this negatively impacts the education of diverse populations has been well documented.

As teacher educators committed to preparing our students to teach effectively across differences, we have found that going into children’s communities is the best way for teachers to learn about the cultural wealth existing in homes and to understand the importance of including families in the education of their children. We’ve designed three tools that scaffold in-service teachers’ exploration and incorporation of family cultures and contexts into their teaching—tools that any teacher could use to affirm the experiences and lived histories of students, their families and the communities in which they live. 

The following three tools reflect our attempt to create bridges between the local community, family and school. The first two are intended as preparation for the third, the home visit.

Neighborhood “walk.” This tool familiarizes educators with the process of assessing the features of a neighborhood and whether and why the neighborhood is considered “good.” We asked the teacher to answer questions about the features of her own neighborhood (types of housing available, access to public transportation, stores, schools, parks, traffic levels, etc.). Teachers were then instructed to ask their students to take the teacher on an imaginary “tour” of their neighborhoods (important buildings, descriptions of their homes, places they go regularly, etc.). Both activities are designed to help teachers think critically and compassionately about why children feel the way they do about the places they live prior to a home visit.

Community resources. This tool requires educators to identify and contact community resources that support parent(s) and families. The community resources serve as a basis for understanding and developing the sort of questions that contextualize the lives of the students in specific communities.

Home visit. The goal of this tool is to learn about the ways of knowing that exist in a child’s home and how this knowledge is transmitted to the child. It is also an opportunity to discover the expectations of the family related to schools and teachers, as well as academic goals for their children. While open-ended visits allow families to ask their own questions and extend the conversation, here are a few sample questions to get your visit started and keep it on track:

  • Tell me about your family.
  • What are your favorite things about your child?
  • What are elements about your child that make you proud?
  • From your perspective, what are your child’s academic strengths?
  • What are your child’s academic challenges?
  • Tell me about the social emotional aspects of your child?
  • What are the most important things to you regarding your child’s education?
  • What do you need from me, the teacher?
  • What goals should we make together with your child for this school year?

Educational success, especially for students from nondominant cultures, may depend on the optimization of relationships among communities, schools and families. When the strengths and resources of all of them are tapped into and welcomed, schools can become places of possibility, learning and hope for a better future. Teachers play a pivotal role in this process by initiating the processes that bring all these resources together. 

Family and community engagement is a subset of Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education. Read how these tools fit into a host of recommended practices that honor student identities and diverse classrooms. Professional development modules are also available.

Keep an eye out for the fall issue of Teaching Tolerance, where you can read about implementing a home visit program in your school or district!

Peralta is a professor in the Literacy Department at Boise State University.

Galaviz is a fifth-grade elementary teacher in Boise, Idaho.