First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Joel Rose: We’re doing just fine back in NYC — it’s great to be here as the city comes back to life.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Teach to One.
Joel Rose: I’m a former teacher. I taught 5th grade for 3 years in Houston, TX. I remember my first week on the job, the school principal gave me information about my students. Some came in at a 2nd-grade math level, some at an 8th-grade level, and everything in between. The principal gave me a set of 5th-grade math textbooks and said, “good luck.” This is not only my story, but the story of almost every teacher in the country. I became interested in exploring if there was a better way of learning. Ultimately this is what made me found New Classrooms as a nonprofit to create unique learning models so that teachers can meet each student’s needs each day.
How does Teach to One innovate?
Joel Rose: We reimagine the entire teaching and learning process for teachers and students and support them in new ways. Let me explain–imagine you’re a seventh-grader. You have social studies first period in room 204, PE second period in the gym, and the 3rd period you have math. And instead of walking into room 105, you walk into a large, open space called the Math Center. In that space, there are several different learning stations. In one station, kids work with the teachers. In the second one, kids work with one another on different projects. While in some stations, kids work independently, either with software or with paper/pencil. When you walk in for math, you look up and see these big TV monitors that look like what you see at the airport that tell you where to go and how you’ll be learning today.
You might spend the first 35 minutes working on factoring trinomials with Mr. Smith along with 12 other students who are ready to learn that skill. Then you’ll spend the next 35 minutes working on factoring trinomials in a peer to peer activity. Then you’ll spend the last 10 minutes taking an online exit slip. And then you are off to social studies.
That’s the entire student experience. We then take that data and create a new schedule for the next day, based on how they did the previous day and how they learn best. We’re currently working on delivering this model in a virtual setting.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Joel Rose: Like many organizations, we went fully remote in March and haven’t opened the office since then. The team has been terrific in making the transition, and we’ve learned a lot about how to work effectively remotely. In terms of business, soon after schools closed, we asked ourselves whether there were new solutions we could build quickly in response to COVID to allow schools and families to understand the depth of learning loss and give the opportunity for students to catch up. We’ve created three new offerings: Teach to One Roadmaps Free, Teach to One Roadmaps Home, and Teach to One Roadmaps Plus, which were released earlier this fall.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Joel Rose: We have been an organization playing the long game in trying to develop an approach to catch any student up to three-year proficiency or less in math. We asked ourselves if the long game was still relevant, given the short game challenges caused by COVID. What we decided was not to abandon the work we’ve been doing in pursuit of that vision, but instead, take the lessons we’ve learned and made them more applicable in the short term. I believe this was a wise decision because we can serve as an onramp for the robust solutions we’ve been focused on since our inception.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Joel Rose: What we are managing cannot be measured against the stress and anxiety felt by families today, given the uncertainties around COVID and our economy. We’re fortunate to be in the position we’re in. That said, I try to spend as much time as I can with my family and get outside for walks with them.
How do you project yourself and Teach to One in the future?
Joel Rose: I think this moment really has the potential to accelerate a long-overdue transition in how we approach learning. It’s time to “turn the page” from a textbook-centered model of instruction to models that can better support teachers and students. We hope to be well-positioned to help facilitate that transition and play an active role as it happens.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Joel Rose: The vast majority of classrooms use textbooks as the primary “technology” that drives students’ learning experiences. Textbooks can be uninspiring and assume that the same lesson is what’s best for each student. We plan to continue to innovate so that each student can get the most impactful lesson given where they’re starting from and where they’re trying to go.
Your final thoughts?
Joel Rose: History is watching all of us leaders navigate through these challenging times. As difficult as these challenges may be, they also present an opportunity to build something more impactful than before, and we are excited to be part of that change.
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