Norman Atkins

Ashoka Fellow
United States,
Fellow Since 2012
Relay Graduate School of Education


This profile was prepared when Norman Atkins was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Norman founded the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) to revolutionize teacher training, delivered by professors who themselves are champion teachers with proven track records in their own classrooms. RGSE utilizes a path-breaking curriculum with concrete instructional practices that teachers can employ the next morning, treating education as a discipline that is parallel to medicine, with a definable set of skills, strategies, and methods that take time and support to master. The idea is not that there will ever be one model of effective teaching, but rather that the language of effective teaching will gather around common themes and concepts.

Unlike other graduate schools and certification programs, students at Relay take most of their courses while teaching so that what they learn is instantly applicable, and their own classroom experiences help shape their learning environment. Video lessons, a rich variety of online content, and peer critique of student teachers in the classroom are among the components that make Relay unique. The entire curriculum is designed around a central question: What do new teachers need in the classroom to be immediately effective, to guarantee their students are engaged and learning, and ultimately, to be happy in their profession? And importantly, Relay builds in accountability for results: In order to earn a degree, RGSE students must demonstrate that their students have made a minimum of a year’s worth of academic growth in a year’s time. This is a radical departure from the status quo.

Founded in 2008, and chartered by the New York State Board of Regents in February 2011, RGSE is the first independent graduate school of education to open in New York in over eighty years. In the short-term, Norman will build a set of Relay campuses in strategic cities around the country. But he sees this network as a mechanism for driving more systemic-level change. Ultimately, by designing a “better mousetrap”, Norman will generate demand for a new kind of trained teacher, with demonstrably better results in the classroom, in a way that changes the approach to teacher preparation within higher education across the United States.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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