After two and a half years apart, our colleagues had the opportunity to finally meet again in-person at MINDShare 2022! MINDShare is MIND Research Institute’s annual gathering for all full-time MIND colleagues. We spend a week sharing, learning, growing and problem solving together. After this year’s event, I sat down with brand new MIND colleague Chelsea Staton to ask about her first days at MIND and experience at MINDShare.
Chelsea is an Education Partnerships Associate at MIND Research Institute. Previously, she taught third, fourth, and fifth-grade students to love math and become problem solvers. When Chelsea’s not telling our education partners about how much she loves ST Math, she’s busy being a mom to her three sweet kids. You can visit Chelsea’s teaching blog “Will Teach for Tacos” here!
Chelsea, tell us about your background. How did you get into teaching and education?
I've always been pretty good at school and enjoyed it. When I was in high school, I took a bunch of college classes. By the time I actually started college, I needed to decide on my career path right away. I was already a sophomore, so I didn't have time to try out different majors like a lot of other students did. I had worked with kids before, and I enjoyed being with kids, so I thought that would be a good route to take. I didn't grow up in a family of educators like a lot of teachers do.
I started student teaching second grade, and then was originally hired to teach second grade in place of my mentor teacher. I was going to step into her classroom once she retired. Then, when I went to her retirement party at the end of the school year, someone asked me if I was excited to teach fourth grade. I found out at a retirement party that I was not going to be teaching second grade; I was actually going to be teaching fourth grade. I was going to be teaching fourth grade math!
Fourth graders are quite different from second graders. In my experience, second graders still love school. They love their teacher. Fourth graders, often, still like their teacher, but by fourth grade, they've also decided if school is ‘their thing’ or not. They’ve also definitely decided if math is their thing. I was really nervous.
Once I started teaching fourth grade though, I fell in love with it—teaching math, in particular. I fell in love with convincing my students they could love math. Over time, it became my mission to change students’ minds on how they felt about math and convince them that they could, in fact, be math people. And that seems to have tied in beautifully with MIND’s mission to mathematically equip all students to solve the world’s most challenging problems.
Did you use ST Math as a teacher? What was that experience like?
Yes! My district started using ST Math when it was offered to schools for free at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. They introduced the program to our school, but then we were told that our existing math program would be going away.
At that moment in time, I was upset because change is hard in the classroom—especially when you’re about to start using a very unfamiliar program. But once I started using ST Math, and I saw the impact it had on my students, I was sold on it. No other program presents concepts the same way as ST Math. No other program shows students why they have the right or wrong answer. No other program removes the language barrier the way ST Math does.
Once I saw the program in action, and my students using it and being successful with it, that was it for me. I didn’t need any other math program.
What are your thoughts on the current state of math education, and how do you feel it can be improved?
State testing, and the pressure of that, is so heavy. As a result, math can often be presented through memorization or some kind of ‘trick’ that's going to help a student quickly answer an assessment question. But that doesn’t help teach math conceptually. That’s something I feel very passionately about and against.
I feel that—a lot of the time—teaching math as memorization or tricks stems from adults and teachers not necessarily having a deep conceptual understanding of math themselves. Hopefully, as more and more educators see the way math can be presented conceptually, like in ST Math, they can teach math in the same kind of way.
Math shouldn’t feel like a mystery that requires some trick or rhyme to solve the problem. Students need to understand the reasons we do certain things in certain math procedures.
How did you hear about MIND, and what made you want to work here?
I heard about MIND through ST Math, and started looking into the organization overall from there. When I came across the Life at MIND section of the organization’s website, it was really intriguing to me because it detailed a lot of the things I was looking for in a future career: trust, autonomy, and flexibility in my workday.
I also felt that MIND really values people. During my initial interviews, I asked everyone what their favorite thing about working for MIND was. Over and over, they said how compassionate everybody is and how they feel so cared for. If something in life is going on, MIND colleagues are so understanding and helpful. That just really drew me towards the organization. That's a lot of what I was looking for.
Tell us about your new role and what you are most excited about!
I am working with our Partnerships team in Texas, and I'm so excited! The team's very tight knit—I can already tell. That's really exciting, in itself, to work with a group that is tight knit like that and takes care of each other. The most exciting thing happening in Texas right now is that our ST Math program is free. There are a lot of schools taking advantage of that and seeing the benefit of ST Math. But there are so many schools that have no idea what ST Math is yet.
A big part of what I get to do is help expand our reach, make sure that schools know about MIND and ST Math, and know that the program is currently free to them. They can try out ST Math and see how amazing it is and what it does for their students. In a way, I’m investing in the future of education because I get to put ST Math into the hands of more educators, more classrooms, and more students. And the program really speaks for itself. Once teachers see it in action, they're going to fall in love with it—just like I did.
During your very first week working at MIND, you traveled to Irvine, California, for MINDShare. What was that like?
It's been a long time since I've traveled on a plane, so that was new! In my career, I've always had people tell me what to do. And now, I have to figure a lot more out all by myself. So that’s been new too. But everything has gone way more smoothly than I could have imagined!
As far as my first day taking place at our organization-wide in-person MINDShare event, I felt like the new kid. You walk into the cafeteria and you don't know anybody. You don't know where to sit. I knew a few people on the Texas team, but I didn't want to follow them around the whole time or feel like they had to keep up with me. But each day, as I got to know more people and connect with more people, it just became easier. I felt more like a part of the MIND family.
Each morning, we started by breaking out into randomized groupings of colleagues across the organization, and that was really helpful. I was able to build closer connections with people. Then, when it came time for lunch, I had lots of people to sit with from lots of different states and departments within the organization.
Starting out, it was really great to actually meet people face to face. I know that a lot of newer MIND colleagues didn't start their careers here that way. It’s all been virtual for so long, and I felt really lucky to start by meeting so many colleagues in person.
Did you find it helpful to jump right in?
It was good because a lot of MIND’s history and the neuroscience we base everything in are topics that we cover in our onboarding, but it's different when you hear it from someone who's right in front of you. Listening to a live speaker instead of reading about it or watching a pre-recorded video was just easier to take in. I thought that was really helpful.
It was also kind of scary, because I couldn’t hide behind my computer. You know that saying, “If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room?” I mean, overall, that's a good thing! But it was definitely a little bit scary and kind of uncomfortable.
At this point in my teaching career, I felt like an expert in the things I was doing. Now, I'm no longer the expert. I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing some days! But that's not true. I was hired for a reason.
I'm not an expert in this new role by any means. I'm surrounded by all these brilliant people, and that part has been kind of scary—a good scary. It’s an exciting, new adventure!
Did any of the sessions or conversations from MINDShare stand out to you?
My school had just started using ST Math, so I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the other programming MIND does. I really enjoyed the sessions that were about MathMINDs and Math Week, because my school hadn’t explored those programs yet. I'm excited because I know there are a lot of other schools that started using ST Math around the same time as mine. They probably also never got to the point of holding a Math Week or exploring some of the other opportunities MIND has for our education partners.
I'm excited to spread the word about that because these programs combine math, school, and families. A lot of how we feel about math comes from our home lives and from how our own families speak about math. I'm excited for families to start making mathematical connections because of the amazing programming and community that we have here at MIND.
What was your biggest takeaway from MINDShare?
It really reinforced that I’m in the right place. I’ve found an organization whose mission and goals align with my own. This is a place where I can learn new things and grow in my career. I said earlier that it was kind of scary and uncomfortable. I know that I have a lot to learn, but I'm in a place where it feels safe to do that. It feels safe to make mistakes, learn, and grow.
Transitioning from teaching to edtech and a nonprofit career can be a big adjustment. How have you found it so far?
There are just so many new things to learn, which is probably how everyone feels moving into a new industry. That's been the biggest adjustment. It feels like, compared to the people around me, I know nothing. I just have a lot to learn about how this world operates.
Another thing that's been really different is being trusted to do what I'm supposed to be doing! No one's constantly checking in on me to make sure I'm here at certain hours or that my lunch was thirty minutes and not thirty-five minutes. That's been a big adjustment too!
What advice would you give to any transitioning teachers looking for a new adventure? What jobs would you say are available to them that capitalize on their skills?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. My advice would be to really explore what a new position is—what all it entails—and then figure out how what you do in the classroom translates. In my initial phone screening, I was told that this is a Partnerships role and was that something I felt comfortable doing? Going out into the world and creating new partnerships through ST Math. I knew I couldn't go out and speak to the impact of any program. It would definitely have to be a program I believed in. Already loving ST Math made this an easier transition.
Then, the more I thought about it, I realized what I was being asked to do was something I’d already had success in! I mean, I convinced ten-year-olds who act like they don't care about anything to really care about math. There are a lot of things we do as teachers to convince, engage, and make things relevant to our students. Those are things that I’m expected to do in this role.
There are also opportunities for teachers who want to transition into more of a customer success role. A role where they’ll be able to support other educators in professional development, coaching, and mentoring. Teachers have so many skills that can translate really well into positions outside of education.
MIND is full of passionate people committed to changing math education. What is your why MIND?
By the time many of my students got to me, they either had positive thoughts about math or had already decided that math wasn't for them. The students with negative thoughts about math either hadn't been successful with it in the past or didn't understand it. I feel like my mission is to make all students feel that they can be successful in math. They can solve challenging math problems.
That became my mission in the classroom. I had lots of kids who came to me with math not being a favorite subject. Then, by the end of the year, they would wholeheartedly say that math was their absolute favorite! I just think that aligns perfectly with what I’m doing now. I wanted to convince my students that they could be successful in math and love it as much as I did, and that's exactly what MIND aims to do.
I am ending this week so thankful for a few things: 1) the joy of doing this work #STMathMA 2) this team + our grant partners who support us and 3) that I get to work for a company whose mission remains at the core of what they do 🧡