Joel Rose

Teach to One Founder

When Joel Rose taught fifth-grade math in Houston, he witnessed the challenges in the traditional math education model. Because math is a cumulative subject, there is a lot of potential for missed gaps in understanding. Often, students enter new grades before they have fully mastered the curriculum from the previous year. Rose realized that the best way to prepare students for success was to completely revamp the way math was taught in schools. This realization is what eventually led him to start Teach to One.

Rose became the New York City Department of Education’s chief executive for human capital. In that role, he was responsible for recruiting, hiring, and championing the area’s leading teachers. His interactions with fellow teachers who shared his concerns about the traditional way to teach math inspired him to continue his plan to modernize math education. Rose partnered with Chris Rush, and they launched School of One. This innovative approach was used on a trial basis in the summer of 2009, and soon, New York City Chancellor of Schools Joel Klein was showing his support. That year, School of One was named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of the year.

To support the growth of School of One, Rose co-founded the non-profit organization New Classrooms with Chris Rush in an effort to bring his personalized learning solution to more students. The final version is called Teach to One, and it aims to modernize the traditional classroom experience. The goal is to maximize learning outcomes for all students, regardless of their grade level and learning styles. Teach to One champions each student individually, while providing plenty of traditional teacher-led instruction and social group learning opportunities.

Teach to One has partner schools in every U.S. time zone. These forward-thinking schools use the innovative approach to provide students with an opportunity to diminish learning gaps and flourish academically. The learning model helps educators provide targeted education for all students.

Where did the idea for Teach to One come from?

As a former math teacher, I quickly recognized the holes in the educational system. Armed with a state-guided fifth-grade textbook, I received a large group of students every year. These students each began the school year at wildly varying grade levels with a variety of learning styles. I realized that it was impossible to teach each student effectively while adhering to the traditional classroom model. With limited resources, large classroom sizes, and limited one-on-one time with each student, I felt the learning gaps grow throughout the year.

While I believed in the difference that committed educators could make in the lives of students, I knew that the status quo would have to be disrupted to maximize their ability to provide effective education. From there, the wheels began to turn. One day, while visiting a friend who ran an adult learning center, I found myself in South Florida staring at a sign that read, “Choose Your Modality. Learn live, online, or a blend.”

At the time, the concept of differentiated learning was creating waves in education, and this sign reignited my belief in the potential to maximize educational success by providing educators with the opportunity to utilize various instructional modalities simultaneously. By operating several modalities at once, educators would be able to increase efficiency and provide personalized lesson plans based on the unique needs of each student. That was the basis for the first version of Teach to One.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Because Teach to One is so dynamic, it is important to drive the learning modality’s success with continued communication, the evolution of services, and feedback from partnering schools. For this reason, I spend a lot of time each day listening to feedback, reviewing analytics, and working with our operations team to determine the best ways to move forward. Teach to One is an innovative learning model that takes students from where they are to where they need to be.

Teach to One is highly collaborative with the educators who work at our partner schools. We work with them to determine best practices to improve the results for their particular schools and the unique needs of their students. For example, in some schools, there are higher numbers of students from military families. These students often require different educational tools because of how often they relocate. Teach to One staffers regularly work with educators to ensure that they feel supported and confident.

We have spent much of the previous five years trying to figure out how to bring Teach to One to as many partner schools as possible and provide learning opportunities for as many students as possible. Now, we can pivot my focus to improving and streamlining the approach itself.

For me, maintaining productivity is relatively simple, as I am truly motivated by the mission statement of Teach to One and New Classrooms. I have a firsthand understanding of the various issues with the status quo classroom model, so I find myself motivated by the possibility of evolving the classroom experience. I truly believe that when someone is personally fulfilled by their job, it’s easy to stay productive. However, being organized also helps.

How do you bring ideas to life?

In terms of professional ideas, I usually adopt a collaborative approach to turn them into tangible outcomes. With Teach to One, my ideas can be as simple as constructing new lesson modalities or as complicated as reworking the overall algorithm. No matter the scope of the idea, I always “talk out” prospective ideas with trusted peers and try to give life to those ideas early on.

What’s one trend that excites you?

While the concept of individualized learning has been growing in scope in previous years, more widespread acceptance and excitement about customized learning has created an evolving conversation about modernizing the educational system. For me, this growing openness to embrace alternative, forward-thinking, and innovative learning approaches is very exciting.

As Teach to One’s success continues to grow and students see increased growth results, our belief in Teach to One and personalized education, in general, continues to push our mission forward.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My professional and personal fulfillment is tied directly to Teach to One, so it’s easy for me to stay productive, motivated, and committed to our mission. However, as an entrepreneur and CEO of Teach to One, I find that staying committed to perfection is the most effective productivity-building habit. I find it crucial to continue to ask questions, seek advancement, and try to perfect whatever project we’re working on. With constant goals, efforts, and adjustments being made, productivity naturally stays at an efficient level. Productivity is the byproduct of inspiration, motivation, commitment, and dedication to seeing an idea through to the end.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’m a firm believer in learning from all mistakes and utilizing those “mistakes” for the purpose of increasing growth, self-betterment, and self-awareness. Some of the best solutions emerge from mistakes, so it helps to view them as necessary steps in the process. Because of that, I wouldn’t give myself any advice that could potentially change how my major life experiences have played out. However, I would tell my younger self to trust my gut more. As young people, many problems can feel impossible to tackle, so we accept the status quo as something that will never change. However, positive change, even of established institutions like education, is completely feasible and can be sparked by even simple actions.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Well, I wouldn’t say that nobody agrees with me, but many people believe that standardization is important for education. In fact, that’s what drives the traditional learning approach. This standardization has shaped how education has moved forward in the U.S. for decades, with grade-level textbooks provided to classrooms and standardized testing used to determine comprehension.

Because of this approach, many students who could not keep up with cumulative skills have been left behind, which has led to more learning gaps each year. Thinking outside of the box and acknowledging the many benefits of personalized (rather than standardized) education requires an open mind, innovative thinking, and a willingness to try new methods.

Good educators teach students that they are all unique and that they should celebrate their individuality. However, standardization goes against the notion that we should champion individuality and makes it difficult to accommodate individual learning needs. I believe that meeting students where they are and approaching education with their unique needs in mind is the best way to maximize the learning potential of every student.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Since the beginning, I have been very open to feedback from other educators. I believe that this feedback is essential to building an effective learning solution that truly benefits both teachers and students. Throughout the years, we have made many changes to Teach to One, from streamlining processes to developing new ways to measure individual progress. None of that would have been possible if we hadn’t listened to feedback along the way.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

What some people call “failures” I try to view as learning experiences. Since the beginning, my motivation has been to improve education as a whole. Although at times, I had to adjust my approach, work to get the necessary funding, or respond to people who didn’t believe in my vision, I simply considered these all parts of the journey that were necessary to get Teach to One up and running.

At times, it has been frustrating to see all methods of non-traditional instruction lumped together in a broad category of “personalized education.” The lack of nuance has made it difficult to make significant strides toward modernizing the classroom experience. In an effort to overcome these limitations and misunderstandings, I have worked to increase awareness of the benefits of personalized education and the promise it holds for all students.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In the traditional U.S. education system, student assessments focus on measuring progress against grade-level standards. Students’ scores on these assessments are intended to indicate their abilities. I believe that a comprehensive assessment tool to measure each student’s individual growth rate and progress from the start to the end of the school year would be more indicative of their true abilities. I believe that such an approach would create a profound difference in the education system and in students’ lives.

How do you think Teach to One affects how students view learning?

In my experience, students love owning their own learning. They feel pride when they master a skill that they had previously struggled with. I see this in the schools that we work with, and I see this with my own kids. I’ve not met one student who said, “I really learned a lot from the standardized test that I took the end of the year to see how I did relative to grade-level standards.” Those can be extremely important for schools and policymakers in terms of understanding what action should be taken, but for individual students to benefit, it is much more important to give them ownership of their learning.

How did your experience as a teacher shape Teach to One?

I taught fifth grade. And I taught some kids in my class on a second-grade level and others on an eighth-grade level and everything in between. During my very first week on the job, I received a set of fifth-grade math textbooks and was told “good luck.” And that is the story of many fifth grade teachers. There’s this constant challenge between trying to meet each student’s unique needs and trying to make sure that you cover the assigned grade-level curriculum.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

For anyone interested in the evolution of the educational system and the meaningful nature of education, I would recommend “The Human Side of Changing Education” by Julie M. Wilson. In the book, Wilson discusses the inherent need for change in education and how to navigate change through human connection.

What is your favorite quote?

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” –Albert Einstein. To create change and champion innovation, we must become open to that change and allow the prospect of change to be exciting rather than scary. This quote sums up that notion brilliantly.

Key Learnings:

  •  Creating systemic change in any industry requires not only evidence of efficacy but also the ability to open people’s minds to the promise of positive outcomes as a result of change.
  • Teach to One aims to provide an innovative learning solution that allows educators to maximize their ability to teach effectively and provides each student with a personalized learning plan to maximize comprehension.
  • Teach to One is committed to working alongside educators to ensure their comfort, success, and proficiency with the customized learning approach.