NORWALK, Conn. — One of the key challenges of being a teacher is, “how do you meet children where they are and still deliver grade-level instruction,” Joel Rose said Friday.
Rose, the keynote speaker at the annual Norwalk Public Schools kickoff for the school year, offered inspirational words from within as the co-founder of a personalized learning program piloted here at Nathan Hale Middle School.
“There are some great examples, including right here in Norwalk, where districts are making a difference in changing outcomes for kids. But unfortunately, those districts are the exception,” Rose said to a full auditorium at Brien McMahon High School, going on to tout the success of the Teach to One math program.
His speech at the NPS “convocation” was preceded by brief remarks from Norwalk’s first Teacher of the Year, Roton Middle School Special Education Teacher Robert Seferian.
“As a special educator, it has been part of my job to collaborate,”Seferian said. “I want you to think about that well-known Nigerian proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. I want to borrow from that and I want to say that, ‘It takes an entire school community to educate a child.’”
It’s the first time Norwalk has had a Teacher of the Year, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said, explaining that there was some sensitivity around naming someone as the “best,” but that Seferian represents “the best of all of us” in the 2018 statewide Teacher of the Year program.
Rose began by outlining the history of public schools, from their invention by Horace Mann in 1843 to the 1983 report of President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, “A Nation at Risk.”
The thrust was challenging the idea of one teacher in a classroom with 30 kids, a model formed by Mann and not revised since then, Rose said.
Since 1843, society has moved from the stagecoach to the jet airplane, from the telegraph to the smartphone, but the education model has not changed, he said.
“Other sectors have R&D…. We don’t have a lot of that in K-12,” Rose said, offering snippets of his life story on the way to co-founding New Classroom Innovations Partners.
Teach to One stems from School of One, a New York City personalized educational program that was named one of the Top 50 Inventions of 2009 by TIME magazine, the first education invention so honored, he said.
Founders seeking to develop a new classroom model chose to focus on middle grade math, “in part because some of the learning gaps from earlier grades really have an impact,” he said.
Rose went on to show a video shot at Nathan Hale and highlighting Nathan Hale teachers Kathy Healy, Heather Macura, Don Mundt and Chris McGee, and NHMS Principal Albert Sackey.
“It’s been an incredible partnership,” Sackey said in the video.
“There is a genius inside of every student and we have to figure out how to find it and get it out there. The traditional model while it reaches plenty of students, it doesn’t reach everyone so we owe it to them to go on this journey, to find a way to reach them,” New Classroom Innovations Partners co-founder Chris Rush said in the video.
The film was made halfway through the school year, Rose said when it ended.
“Actually, Nathan Hale ended the year 130 percent, I think it was, above the national average,” he said, but adding, “We have not figured this out by a long shot,” and explaining that Nathan Hale is helping leaders to understand what works.
“I think more has really happened in the last 10 years than in the 100 years before that, but also we are truly all just getting started. We are very much in the early innings of what is possible when you think about personalization,” Rose said.
It’s “critical … to have a shared vision for instruction at the district level and at the school level” Rose said. “…The leadership at the district level needs to cascade through to building, to school leaders and teachers to develop this shared vision of what instruction needs to look like.”
The schools that implement personalized learning are the ones where people collaborate, with teachers going from being neighbors to roommates, he said.
“They find the job to be far less isolating, far more rewarding and more fulfilling,” Rose said.
While personalized learning is thought of as a tool for remediation, it can be much more, he said, explaining that when teachers were told to treat the grade-level children as if they were in one grade higher, “the results skyrocketed.”
“We all have a lot to be excited about when it comes to learning new learning models that enable personalization,” Rose said. “There are some districts that are thinking along these lines but there aren’t many. You are lucky to be in one of them. Your Board, your superintendent, leaders across the system, are saying this is what we need to do, not just across the near term but also over the long term, that our students deserve this, our teachers deserve this, and our community deserves this.”
“We know that we are getting ready for more than just the first day of school,” Rose said. “We are not just setting up our rooms and lesson plan… this is a moment where we all have the power to harness our collective creative energies, to combine with tools and resources that Horace Mann could never imagine. … Please continue to be fearless in your pursuit of ensuring that all students are met where they are, and they are on the path to lifelong learning and success.”