This teacher and parent are sharing their insights about the value of family visits as a way to open communication and work more closely together to support student learning. There is a great deal of national conversation about the need for children and older youth to feel connected to adults who care. In today's large bureaucratic schools, teachers often find it impossible to meet the demands of their classes and know their students as individuals with specific needs and gifts. Families have become increasingly busy, and they often reflect structures different from the traditional two-parent, two-children prototype. New media and technologies emerge almost daily, affecting family time and communication in ways we had not imagined even 20 years ago. These societal changes can be viewed as positive and progressive. Most schools, however, have continued to operate in traditional ways by delivering instruction that has little to do with students' present or future lives. Thus, the disparity between home and school continues to widen.
Creative minds are beginning to tackle this issue in different ways, and this brief offers one: connecting meaningfully to students' families. Schooling in the 21 st century must be different than in recent decades. Teachers must see their work as educating the whole student, rather than as merely delivering facts. To educate effectively, teachers must reach out to students' families in ways not traditionally imagined and help bridge the ever-widening gap between home and school, so that students realize they are known, cared about, and expected to achieve.
Researchers at CREDE have been studying the academic and social development of rural and urban children of Appala-chian descent in Kentucky in the context of the curriculum and instruction they receive at school and at home. Teachers participating in this project, "Appalachian Children's Academic and Social Development at Home and in Nongraded Primary Schools: Model Programs for Children of Poverty," have visited with their students' families on a regular basis, and have discovered the power and benefits of such visits, including the development of caring connections between students and adults. All the families visited have been positive about the experience as well. As students' first teachers, parents and families have much knowledge to share with classroom teachers. When parents are respected as experts about their children, they tend to share willingly. Teachers who arrange for several family visits over the course of a school year can learn a great deal about their students, the students' families, and the communities. They can use this knowledge to inform teaching and build a connected and caring classroom community.