Each year we award six educators, (three in K–12 and three in higher education) with the title “Canvas Educator of the Year.” This year’s award recognizes outstanding educators in the United States who are working to embrace remote learning, prepare students for the workforce, and support student success and achievement in an evolving education landscape.
Aside from the remarkable ways these winners are shaping the future of education, they're also going above and beyond to serve their communities during a year of unprecedented change. To get an inside look at their teaching backgrounds and what fuels their passion for lifelong learning, we connected with the winners, Sean Nufer, Suzel Molina, and Vivian Faustino-Pulliam in higher education and Colleen Haag, Tracey Jensen, and Andrea Fitch in K–12, in two virtual roundtable discussions.
These discussions covered many topics, from how they began their teaching careers to what they're doing to support students during sustained school closures to how COVID-19 has changed their approach to teaching and learning altogether.
Paving the Way For Holistic Student Development in Higher Education
“Campus doors may be closed, but it’s important to remind students that our school is not closed,” said Sean Nufer, adjunct professor at the The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, when asked how his approach to teaching has changed this year. “We need to be listening to our students more than ever. We need to be patient with them and recognize that while there is more than one way to teach, there are also multiple ways to learn.”
The group agreed that maintaining a sense of community and creating opportunities for students to apply their learning to real-world scenarios are more important than ever, with the expectation that learning will remain online for the foreseeable future. As Canvas users, each of them has a favorite tool or feature that supports their pedagogy as well as student engagement.
Suzel Molina, an associate professor at Palo Alto College, expressed her love for Portfolium, an ePortfolio tool that enables students to showcase their achievements and set goals that extend beyond the classroom. “We are retaining more students because they want to finish that portfolio at the end of the semester.”
Vivian Faustino-Pulliam and Sean Nufer shared their appreciation for the way Canvas seamlessly integrates with other apps and platforms. “I’ve used so many LMS platforms in the past, but I am so grateful for Canvas and the way it integrates seamlessly with other platforms and simplifies the student experience,” said Vivian.
Sean agreed, while sharing that one of his most memorable teaching moments was seeing students’ reactions to his personalized audio and video feedback on assignments, and his Canvas Discussion prompts that enable students to connect and get to know one another beyond the assignment.
Although Canvas tools and resources have helped each of them establish a foundation for collaboration, they all agreed that classroom connections can’t simply be replicated online. They all believe in taking a relationships-first approach to instruction, enforcing the idea that the value of higher education is centered around the learning and personal connections students build that will last beyond graduation, rather than the grades they receive along the way.
With relationships at the forefront, they can hone in on the holistic development of each student and ensure they have equitable access to the learning resources they need to succeed. Vivian Faustino-Pulliam, Professor at City College of San Francisco, exemplifies inclusivity in education. Aside from the work she's doing at her institution, she also uses Canvas to independently teach students in refugee camps in countries such as Kenya, Malawi, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Syria.
“Refugees and displaced people all over the world are really needing support to continue with their life although it has been disrupted,” said Vivian. “I’m very thankful that online education is possible and that we can use Canvas to serve these populations.”
To close, we asked each of them what they hope their students will take away from their classes as they prepare to enter the workforce. Here’s what they said:
“I want my students to adopt a growth mindset and be comfortable with change. That’s the best way to thrive in their academic and professional lives.”
“One of my goals as a professor is to have a student that is maybe not interested in taking my class, but somewhere in my class they spark an interest for the subject that inspires learning beyond my class.”
“I want to inspire my students to trust themselves, be open minded and embrace curiosity. I want them to question the purpose of human emotion, thought, and behavior. I want to tell my students where to look but I don’t want to tell them what to see.”
Watch the full discussion below for more insights on the changes in higher education and how these dynamic educators are building learning communities that will last well beyond graduation.
Moving Toward Equitable Access With Personalized Learning in K–12
To kick off our conversation with the K–12 winners, we asked each of them to describe their personal experience with transitioning to remote learning in one word. “Flexible,” “surprising,” and “confusing” were the words used.
“Suddenly everything went from ‘This is the way my class is run, you show up on time, when the door closes, you are tardy’ to teaching on an online platform where students may not have power or access to the internet,” said Tracey when asked about the challenges she faced at the beginning of the pandemic. Colleen agreed and shared that her middle school was given one day to transition all of their courses online, train teachers, and prepare students for the change with no insight about when they would return to the classroom.
One question that sparked a lot of discussion was: If you could go back and start your teaching career over again, what’s one thing you wish you would have known? The group agreed that teaching is not about being perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s important to show students that progress is more important than perfection.
“Teachers are not perfect people and that is okay. Let the kids see that. Sometimes those are the best life lessons for those kids,” said Colleen. Especially in today’s learning landscape, all three educators believe it’s crucial to think beyond the curriculum and create opportunities for connection. “It’s not about presenting the perfect lecture, it’s about helping each of your students learn,” said Tracey.
Although each of the educators teach in different states, districts, and schools, each with their own unique challenges, they have one thing in common: They’re all currently offering multiple modalities of instruction, allowing students and parents to choose between in-person, remote, or hybrid learning and using Canvas LMS to keep everyone connected.
With the expectation that this school year will be difficult for many students and their families, each of them shared their favorite Canvas features that are helping them meet students where they are regardless of where they’re learning from.
Colleen is using MasteryPaths to give students more choice in their projects and personalize learning experiences based on their math level. This process allows her to customize her course so every student can learn at their own pace.
Andrea uses Canvas Quizzes and third-party apps to create interactive assessments that allow students to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways. These frequent checks for understanding allow her to quickly identify learning gaps and adjust instruction as needed.
Tracey enjoys using Canvas Pages and Modules to plan her units in advance and create intuitive paths for students to follow. With each step of the curriculum mapped out, all students–whether learning online or in-person–can stay on the same page.
To close, we asked each of them what they hope their students will take away from their classes, aside from a better understanding of the curriculum. Here’s what they said:
“I want my students to be confident and believe they can do anything.”
“Learning doesn’t stop at the end of the school day or the year. Find something you are interested in and pursue it.”
“Success is not finishing first. Success is making progress. Putting one foot in front of the other everyday.”
Watch the full discussion below for more insights on the changes in K–12 education and how these dynamic educators are using technology to meet individual student needs and emphasize growth beyond grades.
We’re honored to be a small part of the work these educators do every day to support student growth. To contribute to the culture of lifelong learning they’re creating, we also awarded four students with a $25,000 Canvas Student Scholarship Award this week to support them on the next step of their learning journeys.