M.Ed. at Sweet Briar: It's All About Differentiating

According to Julie McAndrews

I chose Sweet Briar’s M.Ed. program because it was the best program and value for my money in the area. The faculty is top-notch and the quality of education beats every other program in this region. I looked in to UVa, Lynchburg College, Randolph and Longwood and talked with students who had graduated from, or were in these programs. In the end, I felt that Sweet Briar's program was the most academically minded, providing real opportunities to complete research which mattered and would be respected.

I was able to work my job and attend class at night. In addition, any questions I had were answered by the staff in a timely fashion and I never felt that my needs as a student were overlooked. Doors and phone lines were always opened. In fact they still are!

Although my core values as a teacher didn't change, my understanding of how to differentiate students' needs has changed and matured over the years because of Sweet Briar’s program. In addition, I now plan with the end (assessment/outcomes) in mind at all times. Lesson planning is a cinch now because I know how to do it efficiently and how to connect concepts fluently.

My students have definitely benefited from my Sweet Briar education because I can make better connections between concepts and teaching units; as a result, they also see the bigger picture, the overarching themes, the greater concepts now because I see it clearer now. It lessens their confusion and prevents them from saying, "Why are we studying this again?" Also, my students and I plan and answer big idea questions now together as a team, which is amazing and unifying.

I have told so many friends and co-workers that this program is the right one since the philosophy behind Sweet Briar's program is based upon differentiation. Small cohort sizes and the [education department] educators are another great reason to attend Sweet Briar.

According to Kimberly Quynh-Khanh Gibson-McDonald

After I graduated in 2005, I felt like Sweet Briar had the strongest program that focused on differentiation in the classroom.

The program worked great with my full-time job as a teacher and provided me with a lot of tools to bring back to the classroom, as well as great conversation and insight from other teachers in the program.

I would have to say my students have benefited greatly from my ability to find out who the students are as learners, and to create differentiated lessons that allow them to be challenged appropriately and be successful. For example, I wrote my master's research on the inclusion of special needs students in the art room. I have often found that some teachers find having severely different learning abilities in one classroom is stressful and "too much work."

The Sweet Briar undergraduate and graduate program taught me how to create lesson plans using the "backwards design" method which enabled me to be clear about my goals for the students and I just adjust them to meet the needs of the different students in the classroom. Because of that, my classrooms are more diverse and students who may have never met before get to share their joy of the arts together.

The education professors at Sweet Briar are ahead of the curve when it comes to educational policies and methods. The things I learned in the program are now being required of every teacher in my school system to learn as part of professional development, and I was proud to be sitting in the professional development courses knowing that I had been taught these things years before. I would also recommend the program because the professors truly care about your success as a professional and have continued to be helpful and supportive even after the program.

According to Lori Young

There are several reasons for why I chose Sweet Briar’s program. While deciding how I wanted to further my professional development, I knew that I wanted to learn how to strengthen my ability to differentiate within my classroom. It is a skill that I was weak in. During the time that I was researching the various local programs I found myself coming back to the information that I received on Sweet Briar due to many factors. The small class sizes appealed to me. I viewed the required classes for the program and thought that the classes assigned were geared very much to how and what I wanted to improve upon.

Also the fact that the M.Ed. program is geared toward the schedule of a working teacher was very helpful. Knowing that my instructors are aware and respect the fact that I work full time as a teacher is comforting. I like the fact that classes are held after my contract days. The fact that campus is close is also very convenient. I also was impressed by the price per credit. Compared to other local programs, Sweet Briar was by far the least expensive. However, that is not to say that I am not getting the same quality of education as the other schools. The combination of the classes required for the program, the schedule, the location of campus, the small class sizes and the cost per credit were all reasons that I chose SBC.

The program is still working very well for me as a student (I graduate May ’12). The fit of the program for me is amazing. I really enjoy the flexibility of the schedule. Most of my classes do not start until 4:30 p.m. My contract day for my work is 4. Campus is close, so I don’t feel rushed as soon as I walk into class.

The class size is small. This works for me as a learner. The instructors have been amazing. I feel very comfortable with going to any of them with any questions or concerns I may have. The program allows M.Ed. students up to 5 years to finish the program. This has helped me pace myself as I felt I needed. When I started the program I had a 1-year-old son. The pacing has allowed me to work full time, be a first-time mom, and work hard and succeed in my studies as an M.Ed. student.

I have noticed that since I have been in the program at Sweet Briar, I now make a more conscious effort to plan for more differentiation for my students. I feel more comfortable in knowing that my students need different things in order to help them learn and master a concept and being able to provide those opportunities. I feel that because I have been more aware of what my students need, they are receiving more individualized instruction at their appropriate level. Rather than seeing my class as a whole, I am now better able to see my class as a group of individuals with individual needs.

I would absolutely recommend this program to others. I have already! I feel that the program is comprehensive in its content. Also, I feel that the schedule of the program and small class size are also great benefits. I really feel that I have gotten the most “bang for my buck” with the M.Ed. program at Sweet Briar. I have grown to feel like a more prepared teacher who is better able to do for my students what they need.

According to McKinley Tucker

I chose Sweet Briar’s program because I was interested in working on my M.Ed. while continuing to teach elementary school. I wanted a program that wasn’t completely online because I wanted the class interaction with peers and professors. Sweet Briar sent a flyer to my elementary school about summer classes and I took a summer course in 2007. Once I completed the summer course, I started looking into the program and applied to the school. Then I took one to two classes a semester and during the summers, and graduated in May 2011.

The program worked for me because I was able to attend classes after school and in the evenings. Usually my classes were once a week, which was convenient for me while I was teaching full time. The professors were excellent. They were very helpful and knew of my experience level within the classroom and that I needed practical instruction and techniques that I could implement in my classroom. They also understood if I had work or schedule conflicts. I also enjoyed the interaction with other M.A.T. and M.Ed. students, some of whom were also teachers. It was interesting to be able to compare experiences in the classroom with fellow teachers, and to discuss with the M.A.T. candidates what the “real-world classroom” is like.

The program has helped me plan more effective lessons for my students. The class on backwards design was very beneficial, because with the standards of learning (SOL) tests, I have to know what my students are going to be assessed on in order to teach them the skills and understandings they need to be able to demonstrate. This class [backwards design] also helped me breakdown the standards to see all the “hiddens” — vocabulary, prior knowledge and basic content that students need to have an understanding of before I can teach them the new standard.

The classes on differentiated strategies and multiculturalism helped me to look at my own misunderstandings and biases about learners and helped me recognize within my classroom things I was doing well and things that I needed to improve upon. The research course and project taught me that all research is not necessarily valid, and what I need to examine in research to know if it is worthwhile. I have been better able to group my students for activities and assignments based on readiness, interest level or learning style. I have also been able to help my colleagues with lessons or questions about how to better meet the needs of their students.

I would recommend the program to others because of its personal nature. The interactions with the professors and fellow students are not something you necessarily get with an online program. I learned a lot from classroom discussions and being able to share my own experiences face to face with peers was beneficial to my learning as well as a great stress relief! For the most part the program allows you to work at your own pace, continue to teach full time and is flexible with your work schedule.

The classes are relevant to what is happening in public school education today. Differentiation is a popular buzzword, however there are many people that do not fully understand the concept. It is more than just grouping kids a certain way. It is a philosophy that involves designing the curriculum and lessons to meet student needs in various areas and to make research- and data-based decisions regarding instruction.