Not everyone is aware that our company name, Torsh, is an acronym for Today’s One Room School House. This week, I took a family trip to Lancaster County, also known as “Amish Country,” where I had the opportunity to visit a true one room school house.
It made me curious as to the origination of our company name. Why did our founder and CEO, Courtney Williams, name a company devoted to improving teacher professional development, after a one room school house?
We are a technology company. Yet the whole “one room school house” concept harkens back to the days before modern technology. In the case of the Amish, it springs from a culture that eschews technology in general. It’s hard to imagine what our company and a symbol of the past could possibly have in common.
I scheduled time with our CEO to learn more. He has plenty of free time on his hands (not really), so he was more than happy to take my call. What started out as an informal chat quickly became an interview. Roll the tape. Here’s what I learned:
LB: So, give me a little overview of why you ran with the “Today’s One Room School House” name.
CW: In a one room school house, you have a bunch of students of varying ages and abilities. In a scenario like that, the teacher absolutely MUST customize instruction for the individual learner. There’s no other way. When I started Torsh, my idea was to try and replicate that type of teaching. I believe that great teaching really means the ability to deliver a differentiated learning experience for each student. Our video-observation platform, Torsh TALENT, is a tool to get teachers heading in that direction.
LB: Ok. But in today’s classrooms, all of the students are at (or around) the same age. So, how does the idea of customization apply?
CW: In a modern day classroom, there may not be a lot of diversity of age. But, there is certainly a great deal of diversity in terms of the level of competence of each student. Some kids struggle with one subject but excel in another. Some struggle in general. Some who have mastered the material in their grade level require more challenging material. For most teachers, the best they can hope for is to teach to the middle and hope that not too many kids get left behind. For those kids that are advanced, they’re just sleepwalking through class and hoping for more fun and challenging work in the next grade.
LB: Shifting gears for a second. How do you define a “great” teacher?
CW: As I mentioned earlier, the hallmark of a great teacher is the ability to teach to the individual. A person might be great at teaching student A, but not so great at teaching student B. A truly great teacher has the ability to differentiate instruction, and customize a plan for each student.
LB: Just like a teacher does in a one room school house?
LB: How can we expect teachers to do that, with class sizes being what they are in many schools across the country?
CW: That’s one of the things that our teacher professional development platform, Torsh TALENT, can help with. It’s impossible for a teacher to see, absorb and process everything going on in their classroom. But if they record their lessons and review them later, they can gain a better sense of who is keeping up, who is struggling, and perhaps who isn’t engaging at all. TALENT is “game tape” for teachers. It gives them the ability to really reflect on their practice, and even share their videos and gain insight from other people. They can then make the necessary adjustments, and return to the classroom with a better idea of how to reach each student.
LB: What’s down the road for Torsh?
CW: With TALENT, we provide teachers with an incredibly powerful tool for reviewing their classroom performance, sharing it with others for feedback, and collaborating with peers, mentors and coaches. What’s in development are analytics that can, using technology, paint a clear picture of what is going on with each student in the room. We are hard at work on this piece. This will help get us even closer to the original aim of the company, which is to turn every classroom into a One Room School House.
LB: Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to walk me through this.
CW: You are very welcome. I’m always happy to hear from the people on my team.