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Oct 21, 2021

Sustainable Teaching Practices and Differentiated Learning

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Sarah Margeson, Coordinator of Connected Learning at Tippecanoe School Corporation in Indiana, has used the pandemic to help differentiate professional development at her school system through the use of webinars, how-to guides, and one-on-one classroom visits. 

In this episode of EdTech Heroes, she talks with Nef about the school culture that has made it OK for teachers to ask for help, the importance of connections, and sustainable education.


👋  Name: Sarah Margeson

🖥  What she does: Sarah is currently the Coordinator of Connected Learning at Tippecanoe School Corporation in Indiana, where she designs professional learning materials about technology for teachers.

🏫  Company: Tippecanoe School Corporation

✍️  Noteworthy: Sarah holds two degrees from Purdue University, including a master's in instructional design and technology. She's also a Google certified trainer and certified education technology leader.

📱 Where to find Sarah: Twitter | YouTube

Key insights

Last year, we didn't know how COVID would impact education, but now we do. So instead of designing materials just for this year of COVID, teachers need to focus on sustainable education. Sarah argues that teachers need to plan for more than this year because the content doesn't change from year to year, just the kids. "Then I'm able to focus on the things that I do need to change, which is differentiation for my students. There are style things that I don't have to worry about changing all the time. There are things in my classroom policies and things like that that are going to stay the same. But then I can focus my energy on the instruction for the students that's very specific to their needs," Sarah says.

Social-emotional learning and neuroscience education shouldn't leave out teachers if we want our students to thrive. Sarah points out that often social-emotional learning initiatives focus only on students and leave teachers out of the equation. If we genuinely want to make a difference in a child's education, we need to care for our teachers. "Teacher brain state is going to be the most important because if they're not okay, it's not going to be easy for them to make the students okay," she says.

Professional development for every staff member from teachers to bus drivers to food services needs to be differentiated just like we differentiate learning for our students. Sarah and the other TCS learning coordinators focus on whole group professional development, but teachers have responded powerfully to the differentiated professional development offered during the pandemic. "What we've seen over the last year and a half is that teachers feel more comfortable saying, 'This is what I want. This is what I need.' It's not just the topic, but it's the delivery method. 'I don't want a webinar. I want a how-to document that has screenshots. Or I want you to come into my classroom and show me how to do this?'" she says.

Episode highlights

⚡️ Connection with students inside and outside of the classroom will always be more important than any technology integration

"What is most important right now is not that the kids are getting the content, but they're getting the connection. We've tried to put tools in our teachers' and our students' hands to connect when they're not in the classroom face-to-face. Sending more devices home and that opportunity for teachers to use video or some other way to connect with their students is priority number one. 

That's what we're hearing from our teachers, too. 'I can catch Johnny up when he gets back to school with the content. But what's really important is that Johnny feels okay when he's at home, maybe by himself, depending on the age of the kid or when he's home, away from his friends.'"

💻 Professional development needs to be intentional to change the culture of a school or district

"It's about intention. We're very lucky in our district to have professional development time built in for our teachers. It's not a lot, but it is something. And so that culture shifts as we begin to introduce these resources during that professional development time. Then it becomes a part of the language. [...]

Everybody is on the same page. Everybody on every level, dealing with any student, is on the same page with language understanding what we believe at the TSC about regulating. [...] It's about change in the culture, and it's going to take time, and we know that, and then not every building is at the same level, but that's okay. It's just like technology integration. Not every building is going to hit it and go, but if we can get into little pockets and start to get champions in each building to look at this work and apply it with their students."

🙋 Teachers, like students, respond well to differentiated learning

"We would release at least two webinars a month on various topics and publish them in a newsletter. We put them out on our YouTube channel. We're just trying to give everybody something. There was really easy stuff. There were very difficult things. There were borderline things. So it was just a little bit of everything. That differentiation was huge because we were able to meet everyone's needs. [...] Now we're doing both whole groups still, and we're doing webinars, and we're starting to go into classrooms meeting with teachers individually."

👩‍🏫 Only once teachers understand that it's okay not to be okay can they start advocating for themselves

"It all boils down to acknowledging that it's okay if we can't do it all. Even though we really want to do it all, it's okay that we can't do it all. Who are the people around me that can help support me? Maybe that's [looks like an] honest conversation that you have with your grade level team: 'Let's all make a pact to be there for each other, and no questions asked, we don't need details. Do you need anything right now? Do you need 10 minutes right now? Okay, let me give you that. Let me support you at this moment. I know somebody that can come in and help.' You just start to build your network of people that can come around you and carry you when you need it."

Highly quotable

  • [3:47] "Try not to plan things that will only work for this year. Don't waste your time planning things that you'll have to throw away after this year. Let's be more intentional about thinking about sustainable education."
  • [13:34] "It's a lot about making sure that teachers understand that to regulate students, they need to be regulated themselves. [...] It's giving everybody a seat at the table, and it's opening the door for these conversations to say, 'I'm not okay, and here's what I'm feeling. Can you help me with this?'"
  • [33:50] "It's about you as the teacher getting better at what you do. If it happens to involve technology, great, I'm here for that, but if it doesn't, I'm not going to force it either."
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