Reflections of a First Year Canvas Admin

Community Advocate
Community Advocate
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My Canvas journey begin 6 years ago.  I was a middle school math teacher for twenty years teaching Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry.  I have always been very interested in technology and how I could use it with my students.  I used the TI graphing calculators with all of my classes during my years in the classroom including the TI -Nspire with the TI - Navigator system.  In the fall of 2013 I accepted a new roll as the eLearning and Information Specialist at the high school where my students would go.  During my time as the EIS I helped to on board the high school using Canvas with the students, trained teachers in the use of Canvas, and even helped set up the online summer school program for the district.  I learned a great deal from the teachers during that time, but the real learning came in the fall of 2019 when I moved into my current position, the Coordinator for Canvas and Online Curriculum. In this roll I am the sole Canvas trainer for the high school (approximately 200 teachers), career center (approximately 40 Teachers) , three middle schools (approximately 70 teachers in each building) and the alternative academy (approximately 15 teachers).

When I began in September the teachers had already had some "training" over the summer with the free version of Canvas and then had access to their live production version of Canvas for a month.  The teachers had already been using a different LMS for several years, so they were a little skeptic of the change and since there really wasn't anyone to ask questions of or get them started at the beginning of the year with Canvas they used what they were comfortable with, which was NOT Canvas.  Below are my top three lessons I have learned over the past several months.

LESSON # 1 Build Relationships

Just like when I was the eLearning Specialist, I spent the first week or so getting to know the teachers.  I attended the before school Canvas Cafes and answered questions, but I spent more time getting to know the teachers, administrators and anyone else that could make my transition easier.  I visited classrooms with the instructional specialist in each building and was starting to be known as "The Canvas Guy".  I met the teachers and got to know them, what they taught and what they thought the expectations and benefits of Canvas were over the current LMS they were using.

This reminded me of being back in the classroom, because before you can help the students (or teachers in this case) they have to know that you care about them and that you are willing to listen to their concerns.  The more I met teachers they found that I was just like them, someone who wanted to help them grow and to help them educate their students more efficiently.  

Take away: For any first year Canvas admin, get in the classrooms to meet the teachers and the students.  Introduce your self to the teachers and have genuine conversations with them.  The sooner the teachers know you are here to help the more open they will be.

Lesson # 2 Listen and Start Small

When I started meeting with teachers, I had to shift the way that I thought about coaching.  I wasn't there to give them all of the information about Canvas at once.  I found that I had to start to learn to read the facial expressions of the teachers just like I would read the expressions of my students.  I knew in the classroom when a student understood or that it was time to stop and let them reflect so many times I would ask them a series of questions

1.) What are you using your current LMS for?

2.) What would like Canvas to do for you?

3.) How can I help you to make this transition easier?

4.) Would you like to hear a couple features that will make things a little easier for you?

Once they had time to voice their frustrations they were more open to help and I always started with the phrase "This is a Marathon, not a sprint"  You don't have to have everything ready tomorrow.

Many teachers I met with felt overwhelmed because they thought they were being asked to change everything they were doing after school had started.  Many were frustrated they didn't have time to begin with Canvas over the summer building their lessons in Canvas.  They thought they were expected to all of a sudden drop what they were doing in the other LMS and start from scratch and we know as teachers adding some thing new to a teachers plate after the school year has started can be very overwhelming.  So we talked about starting small.  We talked about one goal they could work on and then they would contact me and we would set another goal.  I have now found that several of the more frustrated teachers are now the ones that said they are so glad they moved over to Canvas.  I have even had a couple of them volunteer to lead a professional learning session.

                                                                                                                                    "This is a Marathon, not a sprint"

Take Away:  Remember like our students each teacher is different in their technology ability.  Work with the teacher to create goals that they would like to achieve and then check back with them.  Start small.  This could be just posting a home page or uploading a document to a module.

Lesson # 3 Include Administration

I am very lucky to have an administration that believes in the idea "Lead by example"  from principals, to counselors, to assistant superintendents they are all utilizing Canvas to communicate with faculty and staff.  Principals are now moving their weekly staff newsletters to a Canvas course as well as posting important documents for the staff to access.  By doing this the principal is encouraging the staff to work inside Canvas, thus helping them to familiarize themselves with Canvas and then hopefully feel more comfortable using it with students.  The assistant superintendent for secondary education has created a Canvas course for the secondary administrators and is using the Canvas conferences feature to hold her virtual meetings though Canvas.  She is also using assignments to place items on their to do list when things need to be turned in to her.  Counselors are creating courses to share information with not only students but also with counselors at other schools.  They push testing information, scheduling information, college information, and other grade specific information to the students.

Take Away: Show administration that Canvas is not just for the classroom, but that it can be used as a communication tool for students, teachers and all faculty.

1 Comment
Learner II

alunsfor@warren.k12.in.us‌, Congrats on getting though your first year. These are great lessons and takeaways and still relevant for us even after three years into using Canvas!

About the Author
I spent 20 years teaching middle school math, including Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra I Honors, Geometry and Geometry Honors. I was the eLearining and Information Specialist for Lawrence Central High School for 5 years. I am currently the Coordinator for Canvas and Online Curriculum for Warren Township Schools in Indianapolis, IN. I have been married for 26 wonderful years to Tracey Lunsford who I met at Indiana University and she is the Clinic Coordinator for Franklin College in Franklin, IN. We have a son who is attending college and is going into his sophomore year studying Wildlife Biology.