Story and photos by REBECCA HALE
The new coronavirus has rocked the world of education, from preschool through college. Everyone has had to adjust to different ways of learning as this virus continues to wreak havoc across the world. Besides requiring face masks, sanitizing stations, closed water fountains, and more, COVID-19 has challenged parents, students, teachers, and staff to choose online learning, in-person learning, or dual learning.
Yet how are we getting all of the information we need? It has become imperative for schools to create cohesive ways to communicate with families.
Larry and Florence Weir never imagined a world as they live in today, even without COVID-19 stirring things up. Communication was easier when the couple worked in education from the 1960s through most of the 1990s. Both of the Weirs have their master’s degree, Larry in engineering, and Florence in business.
They agreed that communication between students and parents was rudimentary, a phone call to the parents or communicating any thoughts or concerns through parent-teacher conferences.
“We would rely on the kids to get their assignments,” Larry said during an interview. “At the junior high level, I always encouraged my teachers to contact the parents. Whether it be good news or bad news.”
Communication without resources is very difficult and time-consuming. Prior to email, faculty would try to reach parents at home. This outreach would often spill over into teachers’ personal time.
“I think one of the limiting factors, yes, work is a limiting factor, but we would schedule our parent-teacher conferences only in the day when I first started teaching,” Florence said. “But by the end of my teaching career, we had them in the evenings.” If that still wasn’t convenient, she said they would schedule another time to meet at the parents’ discretion.
Not having an established relationship with each child’s parents led to rocky support for teachers. If their child was ever in trouble, the Weirs said teachers were often blamed by the parent.
Once the movement to increase positive communication with parents was enforced, teachers saw a corresponding increase in effective, supportive communication from parents.
Today, two things are driving the need for communication. One is the requirement to report COVID-19 exposures and cases. The other is a desire for instantaneous information.
Carrier SI Inc., which specializes in designing a variety of networking solutions, is seeking ways to expand real-time connections.
Richard Miller, chief executive officer of Carrier SI, said it works kind of like an insurance broker. Carrier SI is a master agent for companies including Avaya, RingCentral, GoToMeeting, Zoom that designs customized unified communication solutions for all voice, video, SMS, chat, and wireless needs securely in the cloud.
“I think what’s so fun about what I do is it’s never boring. I’m always designing or helping with my team design something different for each business,” Miller said in a Zoom interview.
His company has many solutions for schools, ranging from minimal to expansive upgrades. Several services require less information technology (IT) support, which would actually reduce the cost. However, Miller said school districts are constrained by budget. Even adding a low-cost upgrade seems out of the realm of possibility.
“We called so many of our clients and I would bet a bit more than half of them just felt like they were being ‘sold,’” or being talked into a product they didn’t need or want. “Even with the upgrade being free for 120 days,” Miller added.
Some of the schools around Utah have been using tools including Google Classroom, Skyward, Canvas, Remind, and Alma to digitally engage with students and parents. This helps communication be cohesive among platforms — online, in-person, dual learning.
“I think there are so many things that are good with what’s going on with COVID,” Miller said. But, “there are better ways for teachers to communicate with parents.”
Finding what works for the needs of schools, staff, parents, and students may be difficult, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. However, Larry Weir said, “You do the best you can in any walk of life.”