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3 Anchoring Canvas Principles for Virtual Elementary Teachers

As I enter my fifth year coaching elementary teachers, I see on a daily basis what it’s like for educators to expose our youngest learners to the world of learning. A task, to be sure, that becomes near-insurmountable when made completely virtual.

To start our 2020-21 academic school year, School City of Mishawaka (SCM) was completely virtual. Having never been 1:1 or had much exposure to technology in the classroom, over 3,300 devices were passed out to students in less than ten days to ensure that classes started on August 12th. After having been exposed to what we called “remote learning” in the spring, (mostly printed work, with no online or in-person instruction) our teachers expressed a desire for a more streamlined approach to virtual learning that would support connection outside the classroom. Our secondary schools were already utilizing Canvas, so SCM moved towards a K-12 adoption of the LMS.

Rigorous training and learning provided us a springboard to a fall start, but like most technology, Canvas wasn’t something we learned overnight. For six weeks, our elementary schools provided live virtual instruction. Thereafter, 25% of our elementary population wished to remain at home while their peers returned to in-person. 

Below are the lessons that were learned from virtual live instruction:

Lesson #1: Communication is King

Being in a brand-new digital environment for teachers, students, and parents, it was extremely important for expectations to be understood by all parties. Using the Canvas Inbox for communication, being transparent with instruction on Canvas Pages, and creating Parent Observer accounts were all important steps to ensure everyone was on the same page. The most important thing was streamlining that communication, so processes were in place and teachers weren't over-working themselves to teach in this environment.

Lesson #2: Prioritize Simplicity

Teachers learned that creating the most simplistic Canvas environment possible needed to be a core focus. New crazes such as the Bitmoji Classroom and the interactivity of numerous LTI tools are great, but having a Module created with a specific linear function definitely had more benefits for our learners. Not only are simpler course designs easier for students, but it also was helpful for the teachers that were designing. Learning new tools takes time, and by focusing on the basics teachers could prioritize what was most essential to the learning experience.

Lesson #3: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

As we all know, plans rarely go exactly how they’re supposed to; in fact, most teachers will say they NEVER go as they’re supposed to. That’s why our training on Canvas focused on multiple ways to do one simple task (i.e. assignments creation & submission). That way, teachers weren’t at a loss when something didn’t work the way they thought it would; they could quickly adjust and still continue the virtual work that they were doing.

In summary, our teachers learned the virtual environment wasn’t a scary place to be feared; instead, we had an opportunity to create a wonderful learning experience for students as long as we followed basic rules and expectations. As SCM has transitioned back into the classroom they see now that there are many different ways to educate our students, and our community has nothing but praise for what our teachers have done given the circumstances we’ve all been placed under.