Committee for Children Blog

Empowering Education with Technology

This March, Committee for Children is celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day with a series of reflections from our Executive Leadership Team on their career journeys, the women who’ve shaped them along the way, and how they’re working to break biases. This post is from VP of Product Polly Stansell.

My career journey has been unusual. Much of that is due to the fact that, while I have always had a passion for education, I’ve spent the majority of my adult career in educational technology. Education is predominantly led by women, but educational technology is a male-dominated field, which meant I had very few women mentors to lead by example. I’ve always possessed a stick-to-it mindset, and part of what I attribute to my own success is an ability to remain innovative and to know when to pivot—all traits that are important in educational technology.

If there’s one thing I want to share with the next generation of women leaders, it’s to trust your instincts, and if you hit a wall, find an opening. If you have an idea that will improve the lives of those around you, push forward to make it possible. Not everyone needs to be a leader, but anyone can lead by example.

I started my career seeing first-hand the obstacles and barriers that can prevent children from learning and thriving in the classroom and the heroic measures educators took to support all children. As a result, I’ve spent my entire adult life developing digital products that amplify the reach of educators and engage and motivate reluctant learners by providing them a safe space to learn through their mistakes.

I first became aware of the potential of educational technology during my first year of teaching. My principal asked if I would be interested in having a computer in my classroom and I immediately said, “yes!” While researching programs I thought could be useful, I came across one designed to teach kids how to code. Seeing the students willingly struggle with a problem in order to make the triangle move around the screen based on the code they wrote made me realize that by integrating technology and education, we could teach children critical thinking skills that would help them be successful later in life. That experience planted the seed that grew into a passion for me: developing products that reimagined education and reshaped the classroom. As a teacher, I could reach 30 children per year, but through educational technology, I could reach tens of thousands of students per year.

After earning a master’s degree in educational technology from San Diego State University, I worked for both McGraw Hill and Voyager Sopris Learning. My teams were responsible for all facets of product development, including strategy and instructional design. More importantly, we were building groundbreaking products that had a positive effect on the way children learned and the way educators taught. In my role at Committee for Children, I have the opportunity to expand on that vision through social-emotional learning programs that help educators create equitable learning environments so all children can thrive in and out of the classroom. I am so proud of our award-winning products that reach millions of children, educators, and families each year. That’s the kind of impact I dared to dream about more than 30 years ago.

I’ve been fortunate to achieve many things I’ve set out to do, but I know that’s far from true for most people. I realize that biases I have encountered—both personally and professionally—were the result of people not using key social-emotional skills such as perspective-taking, relationship building, and critical thinking, which led to incorrect assumptions.

When asked what I miss most about teaching, I recall that shining “Aha!” moment, the one where you see the life-changing impact you’ve made on a student. Teachers often have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They’re leaders that have the power to make profound, lasting change and help their students become better people. Creating effective tools that help more teachers achieve those “Aha!” moments is how I lead by example, and I look forward to seeing women push forward and become true leaders in educational technology.