Music has been a big part of my life since I was little. When I was three, I begged my mom to allow me to start playing the violin. She played the violin in the local orchestra and I longed to emulate her playing with vibrato and passion. Thus, when I had my daughter MacKenzie and she turned four, we tried violin lessons. As is so often the case when we try to nudge our children towards our own dreams, she didn’t fall in love. At the third lesson, when she nearly threw the rented violin at the wall, I decided we needed to try something else.
Since we all love to sing in my family and she couldn’t break her voice during a tantrum, we decided to try voice lessons. I found a local voice instructor who received rave reviews. When we arrived at the first lesson, MacKenzie’s four-year-old kinesthetic vigor exploded into Ms. Amber’s living room. I cringed and started to think about what alternatives I might start exploring once we survived this.
Immediately, Ms. Amber transformed MacKenzie’s music lesson experience. Ms. Amber gleefully said, “MacKenzie, have you heard a high note before?” Amber belted out the most lyrical and lovely high note and said, “We are going to sing a high note together. When we do, I want you to stand on your tippy toes and stretch as high as you can. Then we are going to sing a low note.” Again, she sang, and the loveliest low note tickled our ears and she said, “When we do, I want you to bend down and crouch low to the floor.”
I was mesmerized while I watched them sing both high and low. MacKenzie was moving, using her energy, and she was focused on learning to sing. Ms. Amber had immediately observed how our kiddo learned best and adapted her teaching approach to meet MacKenzie where she was. I left almost in tears having been reminded of the power of learning and great teachers.
MacKenzie grew to love singing and continued learning and growing with Ms. Amber. She started to tune her voice, she memorized songs, she performed in front of her peers and their families, and most importantly she fell in love with music and singing. Then life changed. When I joined the Canvas family, we moved to Colorado. After several unsuccessful attempts at recruiting a local teacher that matched our experience in Madison, I reached out to Ms. Amber in desperation.
It turned out that Ms. Amber had been teaching remote lessons. We signed up and it was remarkable. Even across many miles, with MacKenzie in Castle Rock, CO and Ms. Amber in Madison, WI, they did not miss a beat. As they reconnected through the magic of technology, MacKenzie’s singing skills continued to grow during weekly lessons. Ms. Amber even used Zoom to facilitate remote recitals. One recital even featured a student from Madison, a student from Mexico, and MacKenzie in Colorado.
As the potential impact of the Coronavirus pandemic started to intensify for Coloradoans, there were hosts of decisions to be made. As a leadership team, we at Canvas worked on immediate daily actions to ensure ongoing, essential support for our members. At the same time, we mobilized strategies to protect our Canvas family members’ (our employees’) health by providing resources for those with dependents and by growing remote work options. In the midst of marshalling resources and activating plans, we saw an opportunity. The same opportunity that Ms. Amber provided MacKenzie, to help provide learning to our family members.
The need to enhance social distancing and protect our Canvas family members as well as our members necessitated temporarily closing our Canvas lobbies, while leaving open our drive-thru services. When this occurred, nearly 200 people were temporarily displaced from their current member-facing roles. While we redeployed some of these family members to support other parts of our organization, we wanted to explore options to activate engagement with the remaining family members through this challenging time. Learning quickly became the answer.
As with most credit unions, learning is crucial. At Canvas, we are a learning organization. We strive to invest in our family members regularly. We believe that learning amplifies all of our lives. We have seen learning create opportunity, open possibilities, and build connections. However, one of the ongoing strategic challenges with learning we’ve faced is with our branch family members. The real-time necessity to always put our members needs first has often prevented us from reaching the levels of engagement with learning that would be ideal with this portion of our population. That all changed as the Coronavirus challenge emerged.
Presented with a moment to focus attention fully on a large portion of our branch family members, our Learning Team jumped into action. They began developing leader guides, curating curriculum, growing ideas for gamification and ongoing engagement, and then ensuring that all of it could be done remotely. Seeing the potential to come out at the end of this pandemic with Canvas family members who will be even more knowledgeable and skilled was joyful. During a dark time, as a leadership team, we felt that same awe of the power of learning that I felt years ago when I was watching Ms. Amber with MacKenzie.
Even more powerful than the original idea was seeing the concept grow. Our community involvement team jumped in and was excited to share their financial literacy content and teach our family members. We started developing a new addition to our leadership development curriculum featuring our leaders and showcasing their career paths. We are currently dreaming up an interview series so that our family members can hear from some of our Canvas heroes who have seen the credit union survive and thrive through adversity across the years.
By the time we find ourselves returning to normalcy, not only will our family members have even more skills and knowledge, but we’ll have grown our Learning competency even further. The curriculum will be wider and deeper. Our ability to deliver learning in new and more powerful ways will be extended. Our understanding of what it takes to marry subject matter experts with learning professionals to develop exceptional adult learning will be exponential. Our Canvas family will be experiencing learning the way MacKenzie did, and it will be life changing.
None of us ever wish to experience tragic and challenging circumstances. However, now is a time to decide what we want to be known for when we come out the other side. At Canvas, we are the first responders of financial services. We are essential and we are here for our members. We are known for our people. When this is over, we will also be known as an organization that invested in our people during this time of adversity — creating even more impact for human beings across the Front Range. That will be music to the ears of the people that need credit unions most.