Joel Rose is the co-founder and CEO of New Classrooms, a nonprofit organization that brings personalized learning to students nationwide, and helps schools redesign classrooms and curricula in order to customize teaching and learning. New Classrooms’ program, Teach to One, offers innovative solutions to personalize math learning for middle and high school students.
Could you tell us a bit about the founding of New Classrooms?
Early in my career when I was a teacher, I remember when my principal handed me a sheet of paper with the incoming grade levels of my students. I taught fifth grade, but some of my students were at a second-grade level, some at an eighth-grade level, and everything in between. And then he gave me a set of fifth-grade textbooks. I tried the best I could, but there was no possible way I could possibly meet the needs of every student, every day when I was a teacher. This experience is what led to the founding of New Classrooms and our mission to give teachers the tools they need to make math accessible to each and every student.
Was math your favorite subject growing up?
Math was in fact my favorite subject in school. I liked that answers were either right or wrong.
How has Teach to One changed over the years?
Teach to One has continued to transform to meet the changing needs of students and educators. Teach to One Roadmaps was created in response to Covid-19 and uses the fundamentals of our Teach to One 360 learning model to meet students where they are to get them where they need to be. Roadmaps Free gives educators access to a free diagnostic assessment to understand the math skills their students have learned and identify any knowledge gaps. Roadmaps Plus then provides lessons, practice materials, educator resources and more to help close any gaps and keep students on track, from school, home, and everywhere in between.
How have teachers responded to Teach to One?
Educators know how challenging and unsustainable it is to meet the unique needs of each student each day without the proper resources and support. Teach to One teachers have responded passionately now that they have the tools needed to create a far more collaborative and inclusive environment than the traditional classroom structure. Teachers feel empowered with an individualized math curriculum for each student.
What are some of the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all learning model?
Students have different starting points and they learn in different ways. The factory-model classroom assumes all kids need the same thing at the same time. Without an approach that meets each student where they are and connects them to where they need to be, the gaps in math education will continue to widen.
What is your leadership style at New Classrooms?
Our path is not always easy—no organization has really tried to accomplish what we’re aiming to achieve. And the K-12 sector isn’t necessarily known for embracing cutting-edge innovation. As a leader, I work to ensure each and every employee understands their critical role in helping our vision come to life. We’ve recruited an incredibly talented and dedicated team, and my goal is to put them in the best position to succeed each day.
What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned from your time working in education?
There’s a better way of doing school. As a country, we are stuck on assuming the classroom looks like one teacher and 30 or so students in an 800 square foot room with a set of textbooks. But that model doesn’t work for nearly enough kids and it dramatically limits what’s possible. There’s so much potential once we unhinge ourselves from the existing paradigm of school and focus instead on what school is trying to accomplish.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m not sure I’d listen to my older self一I was pretty hard-headed back then and really liked to learn things for myself. But if my younger self (in a moment of weakness) asked me for advice, I’d probably suggest spending time living abroad. I’m convinced those life experiences positively shape who we become in ways we don’t fully understand.
How does New Classrooms imagine the modern classroom?
The modern classroom incorporates personalized learning paths, multiple learning modalities, a focus on both academic and social-emotional development, engaging roles for educators, and lots of joy. When parents and families send their kids off for school each day, they know their child will get the education that’s right for them.
What advice would you give to teachers today?
Teachers have among the most challenging and important jobs in the country. They don’t need my advice. They need to be respected, supported, and valued for the work they do each day, especially because in many schools, the system is not setting them up for success.
Where do you see New Classrooms in 10 years?
Covid-19 has only exacerbated the issue of learning loss in math in the United States. My hope is that school districts will become more willing to try innovative, proven approaches, like Teach to One, to fill in these gaps. And that in ten years, we’ll have a more equitable education system that can truly provide each student with a viable path to lifelong success.
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