Paula Mitchell

IMG_6542Grass Valley Elementary School teacher Paula Mitchell had a vision for school creativity that was 5 years in the making, and backed with 23 years of teaching experience. Two years ago, she left the classroom as a general education teacher to be a teacher on special assignment. Now she is responsible for building out project-based learning, maker education and blended-learning technology for the whole school. When asked what motivated her to do this she shared, “I am really interested in figuring out how to thoughtfully move away from scripted learning to more child-centered learning that brings out all the aspects of the child.” Paula remembers being a teacher in California during the No Child Left Behind legislation and statewide adopted scripted learning programs. “Scripted learning programs were killing the creativity.” Paula explains how makerspaces allow students to creatively show their strengths, while getting teachers invested and providing them support to infuse this learning approach into their classrooms.

Last year Grass Valley Elementary School started with four classrooms (general and special education) in the program, completing 3 projects, one each trimester. This year four new teachers joined the cohort and one teacher from last year’s cohort changed her role to Resource teacher. She is now using creative makerspaces to change student perspectives about how the Resource room is as a learning environment, shifting negative assumptions in both general and special education. Maker groups/teachers meet every Friday. “They come up with something so amazing. It’s so fun to get those ideas out.”

Paula wasn’t always able to teach in such a creative environment, but she was always curious to find ways to bring creativity into her classroom. Upon reflection, Paula states, Paula with students“The MakerSpace is a journey that started with being more confident in my creative abilities, from participating in Luna Dance’s Summer Institute and the Integrated Learning Specialist Program (ILSP) with Alameda County.” Paula joined the Summer Institute in 2012 with a desire to bring creative movement expression into her classes. During her year as a Summer Institute participant she actively incorporated movement into her classrooms. She realized it was not realistic to expect kids to pay attention without movement. So she began using movement during transitions, to break up routine, and to provide what she calls “brain breaks.” During transitions she would invite students to choose a pathway and a motion, i.e. galloping on a curvy pathway. “They loved it.” To Paula, brain breaks were 10 minutes of time away from rigorous academics. She used movement for these breaks because she loved moving and dancing. Now, most of Grass Valley K-2nd grade teachers do them with their students, as a result of her sharing resources with them. Paula reiterated the importance of “honoring kids being kids. Not making them into something we want them to be, but letting them be who they are. We lose sight of it with all of the standards. However, there are lots of ways to achieve these goals and standards and still honor who they are.”

Luna Dance Institute has been a collaborative partner with Grass Valley Elementary school since 2012, bringing creative dance classes to children in grades K-5. Paula shares, “With Luna they learn vocabulary, movement, and it expands their creativity while they get a better sense of their body. Over the years that I have participated in Luna Dance, the toughest kids in class really shine in dance. They often times tend to be the most creative dancers.” Paula is most proud of being able to hold her vision for creative and inclusive spaces, believing it was possible, and now seeing it blossom at Grass Valley. She shared that she is creating her teaching position and still learning while doing it. Her next goal is to figure out a way to bridge art, music, dance and maker spaces together. She envisions students at the end of a maker unit doing their projects and presenting them in various ways using dance, art, music, and more. “I hope that the culture [of creativity] will be sustaining here and continue on. I am hoping that doing hands-on learning and creative expression becomes the Grass Valley way.”

In our 25 years, Luna has worked with hundreds of teachers who we’re now proud to say are teaching all around the globe. From Emily Blossom to Jakey Toor, our past Professional Learning colleagues are collectively and cumulatively teaching tens of thousands of children. Starting in 2017 we will share their stories, one each week, about how they continue to positively impact the dance education field, the future, the world. To read the growing anthology, please click here.