George Lucas Educational Foundation

Mesquite Elementary School

Grades 3-5 | Tucson, AZ

Differentiated Instruction: Helping Every Child Succeed

Mix teacher collaboration and innovative leadership with a big dose of differentiated instruction and you get Mesquite Elementary’s winning recipe. Read more.
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Differentiated Instruction: Fast Track to the Top (Transcript)

Connie Erikson: My name is Connie Erikson. I was the founding principle of Mesquite Elementary. I began my teaching career here in Vail at Acacia Elementary and I was there for about four years. I thought oh if I could do my dream school what would I do? And then when I was asked to be the planning principal for this school and help plan it I was thinking, you know, what can we do different? What can we do to really help children? And then as we went into our second and third year, you know, the state testing became more and more and more. When the test scores came in we just, you know, were really, really devastated to see that say for instance that fifth grade I remember we were like in the thirty-ninth percentile in math. You know, you think you're teaching and that you're doing a good job, but then when we see that we knew that something had to change.

Katie Dabney: Well let's go ahead and get started. In the enrichment strategies, of course Jen, it's going to play an important part with that.

Connie Erikson: We just started, you know, talking here as a team and we came up with a plan. We were going to start implementing Reteach and Enrich in the second semester which we did do.

Kirsten Knox: When the new system came and we started all collaborating, the tracks were gone, the collaboration was occurring, the sharing of ideas, so there has been this great collaboration piece where we all really help each other.

Connie Erikson: The staff came together. We were able to design the Reteach and Enrich program and it was just amazing what happened.

So these formatives are a way of assessing everything that you have learned about prime and composite numbers.

Katie Dabney: We wanted to give students an opportunity to be retaught skills that they did not learn, so what we did is we made sure that we had a time in the day where if students did not master the skill that was previously taught, we gave them time to master that.

Connie Erikson: And the math scores jumped tremendously when we got them back after that aims test and we went from a performing school to an excelling school. It was the key to moving us up. The leadership in Vail, you know, starts out with people like Katie.

Katie Dabney: Connie was my mentor. I worked for her as a teacher and really kind of followed in the footsteps of what Connie started at Mesquite and have just expanded upon that. I'm Katie Dabney. I'm the principal of Mesquite Elementary in the Vail School District in Tucson, Arizona.

Calvin Baker: Connie Erikson was promoted and Katie's name popped to the surface because leadership is not something that comes with the title. Leadership is enhanced with a title.

Katie Dabney: We're a team in the Vail School District, and just as our teachers collaborate and work together and share ideas, we do that at a district level. I really believe that it's exciting to be a part of something successful. And I can go home every night and know that we have positively impacted the life of a child, and that what we're doing, we're doing the best that we can for kids and so that helps me go to sleep at night but it's also what gets me up in the morning.

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Video Credits


  • Zachary Fink


  • Mariko Nobori


  • Daniel Jarvis

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely


  • Cameron Trejo
  • Zachary Fink

Production Assistant and Audio

  • Jason Canfield

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Executive Producer

  • David Markus

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Dana Murray's picture

Collaboration is the key to success. It is so important that we work together and not against each other. It starts with one person! When a school has a strong leader and teachers that work together a school can succeed. What great role models we will be for the students!

NBVF's picture
Middle School science and special education teacher, San Antonio, Texas

Teachers working together as a united team to help students learn the best way they can is the key to student and teacher success. One teacher cannot do it all but, it is a start. If you work at a school where most teachers prefer to work in isolation and are uncomfortable sharing ideas with other teachers, start a small group of collaborating teachers. Soon, the word will get out that it is actually an exciting learning experience.

lucy helveston's picture
lucy helveston
K-6 stem teacher at a project based learning school

I am new at this and looking for any who have taught stem at elementary level. All stundents come to my lab/garden once a week. Help?!

Valerie in Kent WA's picture

I am a middle school science teacher. I am looking for insight to teachers who rotate students every 6 weeks to another science teacher to allow for highly effective teachers teach less topics of science and excell in the specialized area of their curriculum. Any thoughts our there?

Mariko Nobori's picture
Mariko Nobori
Former Managing Editor and Producer, Edutopia

Hi Valerie - I'd love to try to help, but I'm not sure I understand your question. Would you mind clarifying?

Amanda's picture

Hi! I am a new teacher looking for lesson plans showing how to integrate technology at the classroom level for each diversity...address cultural diversity, special needs, and varying socioeconomic groups.

Nick's picture
Professor of teacher education

"Differentiated instruction is the way in which a teacher anticipates and responds to a variety of student needs in the classroom. To meet student needs, teachers differentiate by modifying the content (what is being taught), the process (how it is taught) and the product (how students demonstrate their learning)." (from

While this video is called differentiated instruction, in watching this and the companion video on enrich-reteach, it did not appear to fit the definitions of Differentiated Instruction. The content was in no way altered, nor were the products. It seems the process of teaching may have been altered to some degree, but for the most the strategy seemed to be more time for those who did not get it the first time.

From what I could see of this video and the companion on the enrich-reteach method, what they do does not fit the definition of Differentiated Instruction

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