Learning from the School of One

The School of One is an experimental program in New York City, founded by Joel Rose. He has left the School of One and is getting ready to start a new organization dedicated to the same approach to learning. At the Washington Education Innovation Forum, Hosted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle, WA Joel spoke on redesigning the role of the teacher.

The School of One model changes the role of teachers in the following ways:

  • Maximizes teacher time by allowing students to use a variety of learning modes in one classroom, including computer-based instruction
  • Manages complex student data via technology so that teachers can better target student learning needs
  • Promotes teacher collaboration and accountability by asking four teachers to be mutually responsible for sixty students and to focus on those students’ skills rather than grades or subjects
  • Allows teachers to perfect lessons by teaching the same skill for multiple days to different students

While the School of One only focuses on one narrow problem—student achievement in middle school math, there are several ideas that have implications for schools considering a blended learning focus:

Raise our expectations for school innovation

School of One is an example of a fundamentally different way of running a school. The model is a radically different approach and expects radically different student results.

Focus on narrow educational problems

If innovators can go deeper into narrow problems, as opposed to trying to fix everything at once, there is a better shot at success. Decide on a specific set of skills you are trying to improve and focus on new ways to develop those skills.

Ensure teachers, administrators and policymakers see the innovation first-hand

Some teachers are likely to resist the type of teaching involved in School of One. Asking people to change without a clear definition of what they are changing to makes the process more difficult. Seeing the innovations first hand may be the only solution. Prioritize professional development resources so that teachers visit the best examples of innovative programs.

Identify social entrepreneurs within schools districts and give them the flexibility to try out ideas

The best way to learn is to do. Summer school and after-school programs are perfect opportunities for district officials, principals, and teachers to pilot programs. School districts must seek out entrepreneurs and give them the flexibility to try their ideas and take reasonable risks.

Prepare teachers to teach in new ways

At School of One, teachers need to be able to 1) interpret data, 2) teach small teams of students effectively, 3) work collaboratively, and 4) diagnose problems.

Leverage different modalities in the classroom

One teacher in front of 28 students all day is not necessarily the best way. With help from live online tutoring, peer learning, and educational computer games, teachers can contemporaneously teach multiple skills and personalize learning.

Rethink how school districts buy curriculum

With the iPod, consumers now buy songs rather than albums. Districts should negotiate purchasing contracts that allow them to buy the best chapters or lessons from textbooks. Provide teachers access to a “playlist” of lessons from different companies.

What are your thoughts?

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