TODAY   |  October 08, 2013

Teachers make house calls, see payoff in classroom

More and more schools across the country are encouraging teachers to meet parents outside the classroom as part of a drive to build stronger relationships with students and their families. TODAY’s Erica Hill reports.

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>>> this morning on education nation, we're talking about house calls . across the country more schools are encouraging teachers to meet parents outside the classroom.

>> but does it really make a difference when your teacher comes into your living room. well, erica hill went to st. paul minnesota to find out.

>> hi.

>> hello.

>> reporter: it's not every day your child's teachers come to call. yet across the country, home visits are becoming more common. the goal, stronger relationships and better learning.

>> often times we forget that the parents are the first teachers so when you go and build a relationship with families and they show their children how enthusiastic they are, that transfers into children.

>> reporter: in minnesota , the st. paul parent teacher home visit project is now in it's third year. modelled on an initiative started in sacramento 15 years ago, there are now similar projects at more than 200 schools across 14 states and the district of columbia . at each visit, teachers ask parents a simple question. what are your hopes and dreams for your child.

>> there's nothing more powerful than for a child to hear a mother say this is what i dreamed for my child.

>> reporter: veteran teacher sarah benedict is just weeks into her first year with the program. already she sees the benefits.

>> julianna's mom said one of my main concerns is that math homework is so difficult because of the language barrier. i have been able to make adaptations in how i'm presenting the homework.

>> your teachers go to all of your houses.

>> yeah.

>> yeah?

>> reporter: the kids are also inspired.

>> i was excited about telling her stuff that i like because i really like to do a lot of stuff in the classroom because i want to learn and i want to like get in college and be a good student.

>> reporter: across town, he is in his third year with his teacher. but it wasn't until she started home visits that things clicked.

>> that sealed the deal because we're all on the same page.

>> a lot of creativity with playing. so it's been enlightening for me.

>> reporter: better understanding of home life means a different approach at school and it's paying off.

>> she is not just a teacher anymore, you know? she's part of the family.

>> reporter: atikis is more comfortable and better about doing his homework.

>> you use a lot of your personal time .

>> totally worth it.

>> reporter: a seemingly small investment in time with an enormous pay off. for today, erica hill , nbc news, st. paul minnesota .

>> it's a great idea but if your teacher doesn't make house calls , we've got information for parents this morning.

>> that's right. this is exciting. parents can do a lot to help their children continue to learn outside the classroom. nbc news launched a new website called the parent tool kit. it gives parents guidance on how to do that. it's being rolled out as part of education nation. it's a great resource for parents.

>> what's the goal here?

>> to allow parents to have an online resource they can go to. standards are changing all the time and it's arranged by grade level . parents can click on the grade and see benchmarks and ensure their children are reaching the academic milestones.

>> you talk about the standards and benchmarks they can be confusing. so if i have a first grader, how do i find out if he is hitting the benchmarks?

>> you can click on the benchmarks and growth charts. it tells you these are things your child should be doing. read and write numbers from 20 through 120. quickly read words that appear in text by sight and you want to guide them through the process in learning and it's an additional resource to work along side with what the teachers are teaching in the classroom because your kid's success in school is so dependent on parental involvement .

>> also information about if your child needs help outside the classroom?

>> exactly. these tips for parents, first grade, they should be counting using items like blocks, pennies, candy, play word games with your kids. read words on road signs . just some examples and it goes through pre-k through 12th grade .

>> all part of education nation. natalie, thank you very much.