As the co-founder and CEO of Teach to One, an innovative learning solution that provides personalized instruction to maximize comprehension for every student, Joel Rose is leading the call for modernization of the traditional classroom model. Since inception, Rose’s Teach to One has worked with a growing number of schools in all U.S. time zones to integrate the forward-thinking approach, championing the initial successes of partnering schools. Teach to One uses an innovative, intuitive, and dynamic educational platform to offer every student the opportunity to improve comprehension with a personalized approach. This approach is centered around small groups of students mastering the same tasks and instructor-led learning in designated groups.
Rose has long fought for the need to meet students at their current comprehension levels and work with each student to maximize their learning through personalized instruction. The former Houston-based fifth-grade math teacher got firsthand experience in how the gaps in comprehension made it difficult for students to learn and grow effectively. He found that the traditional educational approach, with large class sizes and limited resources, made it difficult to interact with each student and formulate plans to meet their individual needs.
During his time as the New York City Department of Education’s chief executive for human capital, Rose further recognized the scale of this problem and sought to create an innovative learning solution, which he initially called School of One.
Working with co-founder Chris Rush, Rose launched School of One as a summer pilot program in New York City schools in 2009. After impressive initial results and increasing support from politicians, like New York City Chancellor Of Schools Joel Klein, School of One received several accolades. School of One was even named one of Time magazine’s “Best Inventions of the Year” in its first year. Recognizing the potential to scale the platform nationally and bring his innovative educational modalities to more and more students, Rose founded New Classrooms, the non-profit organization that would help propel School of One’s newest version, Teach to One. Rose and Teach to One continue to partner with increasing numbers of participating schools to evolve the traditional classroom experience.
How did you get started in this business?
As a former fifth-grade math teacher, I entered the classroom each fall to find a room full of students with math comprehension levels that varied widely. While some students were at a second-grade level, others were at a seventh-grade level. Armed with only a standardized fifth-grade-level textbook, I experienced the disappointment of not being able to instruct each student effectively. I understood that with every passing year, the gaps in math comprehension would only grow for the students who couldn’t catch up to the grade-level standard.
I began to consider ways for educators to be more effective and realized that providing educators with multiple modalities that could be completed simultaneously would allow them to maximize their teaching skills. Allowing each student to work on personalized assignments that aligned with their individual skills would help them make greater comprehension gains and avoid a disruption in learning. From there, Teach to One was born.
How do you make money?
New Classrooms, Teach to One’s parent organization, is a non-profit organization that aims to modernize the classroom experience. It generates money for operation through donor programs, development, implementation of the Teach to One into classrooms, and other means of capital funding. In 2016, we completed a capital raise to raise the funds to continue streamlining operations and building the infrastructure needed to support continued growth.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
We were fortunate to receive positive support from various sources during the initial phases of rolling out Teach to One. This support helped us continue to harvest the funds needed to maintain operations.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I’ve tried to remain fluid and open to adjusting the product based on feedback from educators, school officials, and students. With this openness in mind, I avoided thoughts of potential failure because I was always willing to pivot my approach.
How did you get your first customer?
Teach to One’s initial iteration, School of One, started off as a pilot program in NYC schools in the summer of 2009, so that school district became our official first partner.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I believe that transparency is key to building long-term trust, and I aim to ensure that Teach to One provides a transparent business model that includes research into successful practices and partnership outcomes. We frequently explore Teach to One’s efficacy from the perspective of various independent third-party sources and always look into areas of improvement. As this is an innovative and forward-thinking solution that is transforming the traditional classroom experience, we have to be open to working directly and openly with the community that we aim to impact. I think that people respond positively to this level of transparency.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
As proponents for the continuation of grade-level assessments continue to place great value on the traditional way of doing things, we have decided to focus efforts on not only perfecting Teach to One but also speaking out for proposed changes to how we assess students’ abilities. Utilizing alternative methods that measure each student’s individual progress throughout the school year helps us gain more accurate and useful insight into a student’s comprehension and learning style.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
In every professional capacity, I have always put a tremendous amount of heart, motivation, commitment, and dedication behind the role I was in. I believe that I have found success as a result of this passion, drive, and genuine interest in my professional pursuits.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Educators at our partnering schools have access to communication methods with our Teach to One teams. This allows them to provide various forms of feedback regarding their operational needs, student success, and overall satisfaction with Teach to One. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing about the positive interactions that educators are having with students because of our approach. This dynamic solution is truly making a positive impact on the community, and there is nothing more satisfying than that.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
As Teach to One moves forward, we will be focusing on increasing our national school partnerships and continuing to build our infrastructure to handle growth, streamline operations, and maximize success.
What business books have inspired you?
Though it wouldn’t be considered a traditional “business book,” I found great inspiration in Adam Braun’s “The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change.” Braun built over 250 schools in the most impoverished places in the world because he believed in the life-changing power of education.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I believe that all experiences manifest great lessons, so while I wouldn’t necessarily change anything about my prior life experiences, I would remind myself to take a moment every once in a while to appreciate the steps I have taken forward. In the quest for greatness, it is easy to lose sight of the small accomplishments that are just as meaningful.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Of course! I would tell anyone who is interested in propelling a certain industry or sector forward not to be afraid to challenge the status quo. True change only occurs as the result of forward thinking, so I encourage all innovators to continue to forge ahead in their passionate attempts to evolve industries, modernize trades, and move humanity forward.