Over the last few months, I’ve conducted interviews with educators and activists around the country who’ve been on my radar as people who are doing their best to change policy and practice in their communities. I’m going to run the interviews this week.
To kick off this series, I’m thrilled to introduce Christine Hendricks, the principal of a K-4 school in Glenrock, Wyoming, which implemented a no-homework practice in the Fall of 2007. Hendricks, who started out teaching 24 years ago and has been a principal for the past 12, is the single mother of a college-age daughter, a 7th-grade son, and a fifth-grade daughter. This coming Fall, she is moving to a new school in Fort Collins, Colorado, where the staff is “eager to learn more about her no-homework practices.”
Interview with Christine Hendricks
by Sara Bennett
“So many of our students are coming to school in survival mode, and I think, as a school, we need to help let kids be kids.”
–Christine Hendricks, principal, Grant Elementary, Glenrock, Wyoming
What motivated you to eliminate homework at your school?
We had been struggling with the concept of homework for awhile. There was a lot of conflict between teachers and students and students and parents over homework, we had parents asking for homework clubs, and I’d experienced the problem first-hand with my son, who’d been fighting me for years on doing his homework.
In the Fall of 2007, Kim Bevill of Brain Basics in Colorado came and did a workshop and she talked about how the research shows that homework doesn’t work. We went to a break and about 10 of my teachers came and said to me that we need to get rid of homework. And we just decided to try it.
Did you have the support of all of the teachers?
There are 25 teachers in my school, and most of them bought into it from
the beginning. Maybe it’s because we were struggling with homework; maybe it’s because most of my staff have children. My staff is pretty open and gung ho as far as trying new things. We do a lot of programs; we’re implementing an RTI model and we have a lot of programs in the area of literacy and math. For example, some kids get 60 minutes a day of extra reading. We were thinking: if kids were getting that much extra, they have to be exhausted and need time to go out and play. It was time to give them a break.
Were you worried about telling the parents?
I knew I was going to have to inform the parents of our decision. I contacted you and you gave me a letter another principal had written to his parents when he had taken a similar step. I adapted that letter and sent it out.
A lot of the parents were very grateful–“thank you so much, this is great.” At the beginning of the school year, kids are involved in a lot of activities, and some of them are 18 miles away. So parents are doing a lot of driving, their kids are getting home late, and everything just freed up.
But some parents wanted homework. We had discussed that as a staff in advance and we had decided that if parents asked for homework, the teachers would give them packets. So, in the beginning, a lot of parents were coming in and asking for packets. But that tapered off as the year went on. I think parents realized their kids were doing fine.
One of the biggest parental concerns was that homework was a way for them to know how their kids were doing in school. Our response was, “if you go through your child’s papers, you’ll have a great understanding.” We also tried to redo our report cards to better communicate how they’re doing.
You’ve had your no-homework practice for almost two full school years now. How is it working?
Even though we eliminated homework, we know what the research says about the importance of reading, so we encourage kids to read. We don”t require it, it’s not a homework assignment, it’s a suggestion. Many parents whose kids were struggling with reading started coming in and saying, “you know, he likes to read again. It’s not a struggle because he doesn’t have to fill in a journal entry, or answer questions about what he’s read.”
I don’t have any data, but I can tell you that not having homework isn’t hurting. I can tell you our test scores haven’t dropped, they continue to rise.
My teachers would attest that there’s less conflict at the first part of the day because there’s no homework. Children who didn’t do their homework used to start off the day on a bad note. The teacher would ride them about homework, they might have to call their parent, they might have been sent to my office. So there’s a big difference now in the relationship between the teacher and the student. And there’s a lot less conflict at home, too.
We also surveyed families and found that kids had more time to play outside, more family dinners, more reading, and an improved attitude towards school.
Some parents don’t realize that we don’t have homework, because their kid is still bringing home work that they didn’t finish during the day. So we have to change that. The kids aren’t using the class time wisely and the parents think they have homework. We have to figure out a way to work with the kids better so that they finish their work in class.
Did you have any trouble with the School Board?
No. I implemented a change in practice, not a change in policy. In fact, the middle school principal is trying to get his staff to give less homework.
Any parting words of advice?
Kids need to be kids again. They need to play, be outside, get enough sleep, they need interaction and talking and we need to get back to eating dinner together. Our society places so much stress on our kids. I know I do not like to work all evening after a day at school and would much rather spend time with my children than working on homework. I would guess teachers don’t like to work all night either, and I am sure neither do the children.
I don’t believe in high stakes tests. I wish they’d let us show that we’ve grown a kid each year rather than show how the child has done on one test.
6 thoughts on “Interview with Christine Hendricks, Principal of Wyoming Elementary School with a No-Homework Practice”
What a wonderful way to start the week!
Since their program has been in effect for two years, Principal Hendricks has the proof that a no homework policy does not turn children into the feckless drifters, the old school crowd seems to think children will become.
Has she gotten any feedback from the upper grade schools (her school only covers to 4th Grade) about the students from her school and how they handle homework?
This is a side issue but the comment Ms. Hendricks made about homework clubs caught my eye.
At our school, children in Grade 3 and up, who are in the afterschool program, must attend homework club. It’s mandatory. This means that after a 45 minute romp outside, the children must go in and do homework for 45 minutes or until they are picked up by parents. I was kind of OK with this as long as it meant homework didn’t come home. But I’m beginnning to see it differently now because 1) it discriminates between the kids who stay for afterschool and those who don’t and 2) it clearly is extra work that a child is supposed to do over and above their 6 hours of work and not this lovely family activity that teachers say they’re sending home. I also have a problem with afterschool staff having to supervise these kids doing homework, because invariably these people are the ones that the children turn to with questions. While they are wonderful people, they are not supposed to be teachers and I see no reason why they should be helping students with their homework.
Homework clubs are not a good solution, I think.
Excellent post! As a learning consultant, I have had many families tell me that they decided to pull their children out of school to home educate them, because they were spending all their precious “family time” arguing about homework, and there was no time left for relaxation and fun. For the first time in years, they were able to have meaningful and peaceful conversations with their children. Children were more rested, ate better and their angry outbursts ceased.
I just want to encourage this principal to please write about this experience and submit it as an op-ed to a newspaper or periodical for educators and administrators. She has some important, substantive, practical information to share based on her experience, which could help prompt dialogues on this subject in many communities.
I am a former first and second grade teacher who generally did not give homework which frustrated some of the parents. Several of them wanted something to occupy their children while they made dinner, or while they helped their older children with homework. It really had nothing to do with increasing their child’s education.
My students worked so hard in class that I felt they needed time to play and be with their families or friends after school.
Children who are just learning to read or who have reading difficulties benefit so much from one on one time with a grownup or being allowed time to explore a book of their choice at home. Students read required books and write journal entries at school. Why do it again at home? As someone else mentioned, giving children freedom to explore books, math, science on their own encourages excitement in learning.
I think educators need to rethink WHY they give homework.
Now, I am a stay at home mother of two preschoolers. I am dreading the thought that they may have ridiculous busy homework when they get to kindergarten! It almost makes me want to home school….almost.
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there any other web page which presents these things in quality?