Dreaming of a World Where Youth of Color Can Be Fully Free, with Paula Mitchell

Learning in the Making is a video series where we invite guest hosts of color on as equal and valued partners and collaborators, so that they can tell their stories and showcase the amazing things they are making and doing! In addition to learning with our guests through video project guides, we also interview our hosts to learn a little bit more about them.

In this post, Maker Ed chats with Paula Mitchell: a teacher, advocate for agency, and coach. See her in Learning in the Making: Revolutionary Screenprinting! 

Paula works with a first grader on her self-designed project in Grass Valley Elementary’s Wonder Workshop.
Paula working with a first grader on her self-designed project in Grass Valley Elementary’s Wonder Workshop.

Tell us a bit more about yourself…

I love to make things with my hands and body and have been this way since I was a little kid. My mom would always tell this story of how she left me alone in front of the tv when I was about 7 and when she came back I had made a paper chain of people just by watching the show—she was astonished, but to me it felt so natural. I brought that love of creating with me as I entered the educational profession. In my 20 years as an elementary classroom teacher in Oakland Public Schools, I always incorporated hands on projects and, later on, movement into my classes to make them more fun and interesting for my students and myself. Five years ago, I came out of the classroom to create a Maker Education program at my school, Grass Valley Elementary. While designing that program, I was introduced to the Agency by Design research project and realized that their maker-centered learning framework was the teaching and learning stance that I was looking for to use at my school. After participating in the Agency by Design fellowship, I continued to work with the project as it transitioned into Agency by Design Oakland, and am now the co-director. I get the pleasure of being able to help other teachers learn how to shift the way they teach to incorporate more hands on and student-centered learning. 

What’s one thing about yourself that you think is important for others to know? 

I didn’t know what “Maker” was or what “Maker Education” was prior to about 6 years ago. I took a crash course in all things making to start the program at my school and then I realized that this thing called “making” is what humans have been doing forever. Ultimately I believe we are all makers because to be human is to create and make. So everyone and no one owns this thing called “making.”

What excites you most about your work? 

I have the opportunity to positively impact educators to shift the way they teach to be more student centered and inclusive. The promise of maker-centered learning when done well as a liberatory and equitable practice for Black and brown children is thrilling! Making to me is all about bringing people in and meeting them where they are and helping them see all the wonderful things they are capable of creating and doing. Helping teachers shift their mindsets and knowing that has a ripple effect across many classrooms every year where students get to experience more creativity and self-direction, gives me tingles. I’m helping influence the next generation of folks who will change the world for the better.

Paula helping a teaching fellow during a design challenge at the Agency by Design Oakland 2019 fellowship kick-off.
Paula helps a teaching fellow during a design challenge at the Agency by Design Oakland 2019 fellowship kick-off.

Why do you make? 

Because I must. I’m happiest when I’m creating and feel like something crucial and vital is missing if I don’t create. I get so much pleasure from creating something useful, interesting, or beautiful from a bunch of separate parts, whether that be in my jewelry making, baking, or dance making practices.

A photograph of Paula playing with circuits during a workshop.
Playing with circuits during a workshop.

What dreams do you have for young people? 

I want our youth, especially youth of color to be fully free to be themselves and pursue the things that make them truly happy. I dream of an educational system that supports children to pursue their interests, curiosity, and passions and that honors and respects who they are as individuals.

If you could share one word of advice to give to other educators, what would it be? 


Trust your students. Truly believe in them, listen to them, incorporate what they are interested in into your learning space and let them show you what they are capable of.

Are there other makers and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to promote?

There are so many phenomenal maker educators out there. Here are a few Bay Area local educators of color I’d like to shout out:

  • Cicely Day (on Twitter @cutenose76): She’s my go to for all the tech-y, robot, coding, physical computing stuff, plus she’s got a strong equity focus. 
  • Mariah Landers: co-founder & co-director of Studio Pathways, who is an artist and educator centering art and liberatory practices. Find her on Twitter @studiopathways @mariahlanders
  • Eesuu Orundide: A fantastic graphic artist, screenprinter and sculptor with his own clothing line who teaches design and art at Lighthouse Community Charter. On Instagram @orundide




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *