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Camp Canvas, other trainings help prepare teachers for new school year


The 2020-2021 school year will not be like any other for educators across the world. Johnson City Schools is hoping that their proactive technological approach and training will help teachers better understand and utilize the digital tools at their disposal.

Over the summer close to 100 teachers participated in Camp Canvas, an exploration of Johnson City Schools’ learning content managing system. The district is also preparing to host its 5th annual Summer Technology and Innovation Academy, which 350 Johnson City Schools’ teachers have signed up to attend.

“We are really helping teachers utilize all the different tools that we have to stay focused on the instructional piece for students,” Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Secondary and Instructional Technology David Timbs said. “We always ask the ‘why’ first and then we build out from there. Obviously, the why this year, for us, is to provide the best instruction in whatever the environment is for our students.”

Richard Marshall is the theatre teacher at Science Hill and never really thought about transitioning his class to digital. But his eagerness to provide students with instruction has him digitizing his class so that it can be delivered to students wherever they are.

“I’m glad to learn a new tool for my teaching bag because Canvas allows me to reach out to the students who want to do it online and still be able to accomplish the same objectives as in-class,” Marshall said. “I am hoping we are going to be together, and that I can teach face-to-face because it is better for my particular subject, but if that can’t happen, we still have an option.”

Theatre isn’t the only non-traditional class that will receive a digital twist. Band and chorus teachers have also attended some of the Camp Canvas sessions to see how they can better serve their students.

Amy Rollins, a 4th-grade teacher at Fairmont Elementary, attended a Camp Canvas session over the summer. While she was familiar with the platform for assessments, she has not used it to house her lessons.

“I’m learning it, just like my students will be learning it,” Rollins said. “It’s exciting to learn new things and implement them in our classroom.”

The district has also developed a standard template on Canvas, which has been distributed to teachers. It is beneficial because it will allow teachers to focus on content instead of design and will give each teacher a uniform appearance.

“This provided us another opportunity to get into the Canvas platform and build their classes and be ready for whatever type of instructional situation they face this fall,” Timbs said.

No matter the form of instructions, Rollins admits that the most important thing to her, and many other teachers, is the connection they make with their students. 

“The connection is number one, just being able to connect with them,” Rollins said. “To go through this journey together is a bond that I don’t think we will ever forget.”

This year teachers will emphasize the use of videos so that students will see and hear their teachers a lot more. While the year will be different, Rollins said that the district administration has prepared teachers with the proper technology to face any scenario.

“(The district) has gone above and beyond as far as preparing us for the worst,” Rollins said. “I don’t feel like I’m floundering, I don’t feel like they are just throwing me in the pool. They are teaching me how to swim and how to make sure my students are successful, even if we are at home.”

Any Johnson City Schools’ teachers looking for professional development are encouraged to visit The Learning Center website, which can be found here.