Open Letter to Instructional Leaders: How to Plan for a Successful Adoption of Canvas

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Dear Site-Based Leader,

When educational friends think of Instructure, they often think of Canvas. The Canvas Learning Management System supports teaching and learning in both online and blended environments. What can be overlooked is the use of Canvas for site-based instructional leadership. For me, I began using Canvas as a leader first. I was a principal at a hybrid high school as well as wearing the hat of the Supervisor of Educational Technology.  Since these were my roles, I started in Canvas from the lens of a site-based leader. There were not a lot of resources at the time for those with roles like mine. I had to develop a vision and evaluation plan to determine if Canvas would be effective for all stakeholders at my institution.

In looking through research, I found that John Kotter’s Change Theory was exactly what I needed when we moved an entire district from one educational platform to another. Kotter’s Change Theory spoke to supporting the “people side” of change and the difficulty it took to do it. I often say to the leaders with whom I work that it is much easier to change resources than people, as there are many variables involved in changing hearts and minds. This takes time.  In education, we do not always have the luxury of time, so we made a solid plan and found the time.

First, our cross-functional team needed to develop a vision for teaching and learning using an LMS. Creating a vision should be a thoughtful and purposeful process that gathers many different perspectives about how to reach the end goal of improved student learning. Educators and educational leaders understand the importance of this process but may struggle to find the time needed to do it well. In my current role at Instructure as a Principal Learning Consultant, I spend a lot of time with various leadership teams. I deeply value being able to guide teams through an engaging, productive visioning conversation, based on our Canvas Success Model, that results in a clear vision and multiple success measures that serve as the foundation for a well-planned rollout of Canvas. One way to gather everyone together is to use the School of Reform Initiative’s Futures Protocol. Ultimately, this protocol is a process to backward design your vision and success measures with your team. It is an effective way to get all members to speak the same language and head in the same direction. From there, the adoption toolkit is introduced. 

Thankfully, Instructure’s Strategic Services team has developed a one-stop-shop toolkit to help in all of the areas that I had to mire through in the past alone. The Adoption Toolkit was developed to be hands-on with the Canvas Success Model as the foundation of an editable working document full of resources that help you progress through 5 Steps to Canvas Success. If only I had this when I began years ago…

Now, as one of Instructure’s Dedicated Principal Learning Consultants (PLCs) for the Commonwealth of Virginia, I have tweaked many of these resources to aid leaders in the process of adoption so they do not have to wade through the mire alone. Having access to a dedicated PLC has enabled many site-based leaders across Virginia to focus on the “Why.” Why should site-based leaders have and understand Canvas courses? Administrators must build a culture of risk-taking and trust, along with building effective systems for effective implementation. Administrators must be change agents with blended learning implementations. Leaders must have prior exposure to technology trends in order to apply the change and organizational theories to 22nd (yes, I said 22nd) century learning models. In addition, professional development should be differentiated, modeled by administrators, and collaborative for successful adoption. Finally, administrators need exposure to online/blended teaching and learning directly to reduce fear, increase the culture of learning, and facilitate an effective and successful blended learning implementation in a district (Testerman, 2019).

This is a call to all site-based leaders and administrators who have not fully embraced Canvas in their schools. Go for it. Watch this livestream to see how you can begin to use Canvas as a hub of information for your faculty and staff. Baby steps. Once you have started that, review the checklists below to make sure you are continuing on the path to model the language, usage, communication, and transparency that you expect of your faculty and staff. Model your “high-tech leadership” to gain a sense of empathy into your staff’s day-to-day life in Canvas. It can only get better from there.

Checklist for Site-Based Leadership

Checklist for Observation/Supervision

Checklist for Professional Learning

Canvas for Building Leaders LiveStream

If you need anything, please reach out to me. You do not have to do this alone.


Dr. K.C. Testerman