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.