The Teaching Bites Show with Fred & Sharon Jaravata

Because teachers need to prep for their future too. A show about surviving and thriving in our extremely busy and challenging teaching profession. She teaches 4th grade, He teaches K-12 Innovation. And yes, we're married to each other! Reach out to us at and Music by Music & by The Passion HiFi
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Now displaying: February, 2016
Feb 5, 2016

[UPDATE: Kellie Mullin is now a Head of School in the Bay Area]

Kellie Mullin is our guest today and she teaches 7th and 8th grade science.  She does an amazing class project called the 20% Project.  The students find a real-world problem and develop possible solutions using the Design Thinking process.

We talk about the challenge of teaching Empathy as part of Design Thinking process with middle school students–in particular the 7th and 8th grade girls.

Kellie shares her best tech tips and advice that helps develop the creative confidence and growth mindset of teachers.

Share and like this episode and let us know what you think!


[Welcome to the Teaching Bites Podcast. Here are your hosts, Fred and Sharon Jaravata.]

Fred Jaravata: This is the Teaching Bites Show where we connect you with people and ideas to take your teaching to the next level. I’m your host Fred Jaravata and today, we are featuring a special guest here on the show and her name is Kellie Mullin. She is a seventh and eighth grade science teacher and I worked with her for the past few years. I think – how many years is this?

Kellie Mullin: This is my sixth year.

Fred Jaravata: This is her sixth year, right, and we are glad to have you here to share your story so that we can inspire other teachers as well. OK. So real quick, I’ve been working with – I’ve known Kelly for the past six years and I’ve also worked closely with her with something called the 20 Percent Project and actually we’re going to be starting that real soon. I think this week and that’s going to be exciting and she’s going to share her story about that.

Also I know she’s getting – going back to school at the University of San Francisco and she will be sharing a little bit of that also and Kellie, welcome to the show.

Kellie Mullin: Thank you for having me.

Fred Jaravata: Great to have you. OK, Kellie. So I gave you a little quick intro and that was a really quick intro. We want to hear you fill in all the gaps that I skipped and tell us your origin story.

Kellie Mullin: So my father was a teacher, but he didn’t teach for most of my life. He actually had a landscaping business and when I was 16, he went back to school, got his specialist credential to teach special education and it was really inspired by the type of lifelong learner that he was. So I think that although I had watched my dad always read and see those things, I had a perfect model of what it meant to be a learner.

So I always loved school. I loved reading and helping people. So when I went to Berkeley, I was able to do some tutoring. I worked with a disabled students program and I was able to take notes. So I just had a love of education. So when it came to what do you do after college, I found that passion and I went back to Berkeleyand I got my master’s and my credential there in developmental teacher education. So my passion for education really started at home.

Fred Jaravata: Nice. OK, yeah, it’s very – like you, I come from a family of teachers and definitely it’s an inspiration. All right, Kellie. So what was the “aha” moment that you had, that you realized that teaching was for you?

Kellie Mullin: I think that it took me a while to get into the rhythm of teaching. But when I did, I realized that I loved teaching because it’s so relational. For me, one moment, my first year at teaching in public school, I taught sixth grade math and science. I had a student come in to me before school started and the students were not supposed to come in. But she was really concerned that she was unsafe on the schoolyard.

So that moment of realizing that although I taught her math and science, she felt comfortable enough to come in to me and to use that space just to feel safe. It was this moment of recognition that I was making a connection with her. So that was this moment.

Fred Jaravata: Right. So what was the unsafe part? What was happening?

Kellie Mullin: So I began my public teaching career in San Francisco. I only taught for two years in public school as a full-time teacher. But there’s just a lot of opportunity for unsafe things to happen. So she was a little concerned for her safety, some issues with some other students.

Fred Jaravata: Wow. What grade is this?

Kellie Mullin: It was sixth grade.

Fred Jaravata: Sixth grade. Oh, wow, that’s unfortunate. OK. So you mentioned that you worked in the public school system for a couple of years, right? What helped you decide to get – go jump to the private school?

Kellie Mullin: When I went to grad school, my intention was to stay in public school forever. I really wanted to dedicate my time to working with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and would have probably stayed in public school for much longer if it hadn’t been for budgetary differences between the city and the school district.

Fred Jaravata: Yes.

Kellie Mullin: It’s really hard to work and give your all to students every single day and not know whether or not you would have a job at the end of the school year. So every year I taught in public school, by the end of the year, we were given a warning we might not be rehired and it wasn’t because of our performance. It was just for budget reasons.

Fred Jaravata: Right, right. So did you ever get the pink slips or just the warning?

Kellie Mullin: I did. They were all rescinded but by the time I got this job here at this school, I had already made the site [0:05:11] [Phonetic].

Fred Jaravata: So how did that make you feel getting all that – like the pink slips?

Kellie Mullin: It was really hard because I knew as a beginning teacher that I was giving my 100 percent and I was not the only one. The last year I taught at public school, I remember one moment. I was with several other teachers who were also getting their pink slip warnings and it had then turned into a pink slip at that point. We were sitting with our vice-principal in that room and he was just sharing how much love he had for us and how hard it was for him as an administrator to not be able to better support us and I remember he was this really tough man and I just remember him starting to cry in that room and realizing – you know, we had – even though we worked with really challenging students with lots of needs, we loved the kids, we loved each other and so that was what was really hard about leaving public school.

Fred Jaravata: Right. What was the timeline? When would you get a pink slip? When would they decide to – hey, we will get you back?

Kellie Mullin: You know, it really varies. I think – I remember it being in early spring when you would find out that you may potentially get this warning and then …

Fred Jaravata: Like around February, March?

Kellie Mullin: I think a little – March or April.

Fred Jaravata: How can you teach when you have that hanging over your head?

Kellie Mullin: That was really difficult and then by the end of the school year, you knew whether or not you would receive the full pink slip. But most of the time, it would – the intention was that it would be rescinded. Potentially though, they were discussing consolidating positions so that you might have a job. It just might not be at this school.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: So that was the moment when I really started thinking about let’s see what other opportunities are out there. I’m so thankful that I did because I found a new kind of home here in the Catholic school world.

Fred Jaravata: OK. And we’re glad to have you. OK, Kellie. Favorite quote or mantra, something to get you through your teaching school year, your teaching day. What’s something that you say to yourself?

Kellie Mullin: So one thing that really – one quote that really stands out to me and has since graduate school is Plato and he said, “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness. Direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the particular bent of the genius of each.”

It really is something that I’ve had on my wall since I taught in public school. Just reminding myself that as easy as it is to create a lesson plan and decide this is what we’re learning today, this is what I want to teach, to really give opportunities to our students to find what they are passionate about so that they’re really learning.

Fred Jaravata: Right. Can you share a moment in time in the past that – a challenging situation that you experienced in your professional career?

Kellie Mullin: I think in terms of the project that I’m doing with my students now, which is design-thinking-based, one of the hardest parts of this project has been the transmission of what it means to be empathetic to my students.

Fred Jaravata: Yeah. Your seventh and eighth grade students, right?

Kellie Mullin: Sevenths and eighth grade students. So for me, a challenging situation has been what are different meaningful ways that I can help them to understand what empathy is. I don’t think I’ve necessarily overcome that yet.

Fred Jaravata: Yeah.

Kellie Mullin: I think it’s something that I’m challenged with every day.

Fred Jaravata: Why is it happening you think?

Kellie Mullin: I think that especially in middle school, it’s really hard to think beyond yourself and they’re very concerned with their own identity formation, comparing themselves to the people around them but not necessarily always able to see outside of themselves.

Fred Jaravata: OK.

Kellie Mullin: So I think part of it is developmental. But I think there might be more.

Fred Jaravata: OK. Do you have any plans? I know you’re saying – you haven’t overcome that yet. Any plans or any things that you plan to do, hope to do, to figure that out?

Kellie Mullin: So I think part of it is that I’ve used several different examples of how empathy has been used in the design process with my students all the way from looking at how MRIs can be redesigned to better suit the needs of children, so that they’re not as frightening.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: To a host of other ideas. But I think showing them ideas, but then really giving them the opportunity to reflect upon situations where they’ve experienced empathy, where they have been empathetic to others in sharing that, but creating those opportunities really for them.

Fred Jaravata: Right. OK. And I will be working with you in the 20 Percent Project and that’s going to be something we will be working on hopefully with these girls.

Kellie Mullin: Yes, hopefully.

Fred Jaravata: Hopefully it’s going to be a success and I think it will be. OK. So favorite books, movies or songs that you like that helps you again with your teaching career.

Kellie Mullin: There are two books that really stand out to me. The first was a book that we as a faculty all ready which is Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom and David Kelleyand that book really stood out to me because I knew I was interested in creativity and innovation. But this term of “creative confidence” was something that was really new to me.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: That this idea of believing in your ability to change the world and that it was something that can be fostered in people, I think that was – this book was the first opportunity that I had had to really hear – well, what are some ideas to actually do this?

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: So that’s one and I think – and it fits really seamlessly with the other book which is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, how can we fulfill our potential by Carol Dweck. So looking at those two ideas together, the idea of growth mindset and creative confidence, just really fit in together.

Fred Jaravata: Right. They go hand in hand and they’re – David Kelley, one of the authors and I think both of the Kelley brothers and Carol Dweck, they all are professors down at that school down South.

Kellie Mullin: The other school that’s not Berkeley.

Fred Jaravata: Yeah, they wear that reddish thing. OK. You follow Cal Sports [0:12:29] [Phonetic] right?

Kellie Mullin: I do.

Fred Jaravata: Yeah, you do.

Kellie Mullin: Hopefully our football team will get better.

Fred Jaravata: Will get better, yes. OK. So tech tools, I like to ask teachers about favorite tech tools or web resources, so that other teachers can check those out.

Kellie Mullin: Yeah.

Fred Jaravata: What are you liking and what’s helping you?

Kellie Mullin: Well, I love all of the Google Education apps. I love the world of Google for education specifically because of the collaboration that you’re able to do. So when students are working on a presentation, they can all work on the same presentation on different devices at the same time.

Fred Jaravata: Right, different devices. That’s the key thing.

Kellie Mullin: Exactly. You no longer have to have students all around one or one computer.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: And you don’t have four students who are doing nothing, while one student is doing all the work. You can even have students in different places. So I’ve been able to have groups of students working together that aren’t even in the same class. But because of the collaboration and the sharing aspect of Google, we’re actually able to make new groupings possible.

Fred Jaravata: Right. I love Google’s stuff too. But now let me ask you this question about the whole Google Apps for Education, the GAFE stuff. In the groups especially, how do you make sure – when you have a group of kids working together, how do you make sure the other kids are doing equal work?

Kellie Mullin: I think that’s always – that’s the age-old question of group work. Part of it is only allowing group work to occur when group work needs to occur. I think sometimes as teachers, we put kids into groups and we assume they will distribute the work. But really it was not an assignment that ever needed a group.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: So of course you get students who aren’t doing what they need to be doing because they didn’t really need to have that role.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: So I think part of it is really making sure that each person has an individual task but also giving students the opportunity to give feedback at the end. I think when students know that they have the opportunity to reflect upon how they behaved in their group but also how – you know, allowed their teammates to evaluate in a non-grade-related way. It does kind of inspire them to get the work done, but making it more meaningful. I mean I think that’s really the most important piece.

Fred Jaravata: Now we had been using Google apps for the past three, four years now. How are the girls liking it right now?

Kellie Mullin: I think that they really like it because they are able to – instead of one person holding the document for a group, if someone is absent, if they’ve all shared it, then they’re able to access it. Things like that are wonderful and as they’ve added new templates for the Google presentations, the Google slides, it has become more and more interesting to them.

Fred Jaravata: Nice. Yes, another plus one for Google Apps for Education.

Kellie Mullin: Yeah.

Fred Jaravata: OK. So how do you get through the teaching day? How do you avoid burnout?

Kellie Mullin: I think another quote that stands out to me is from Mother Janet Erskine Stuart.

Fred Jaravata: Yes.

Kellie Mullin: And it’s about that it’s better to begin a great work than to finish a small one. I think I remember that quote a lot because we expect finished products at the end of the day sometimes or even literally at the end of a class period. But realizing that the work that we’re doing with students, sometimes we’re just planting seeds and realizing that I don’t need to get it all accomplished in one school year or in one day or in one hour with students.

Fred Jaravata: You don’t have to do that?

Kellie Mullin: I know.

Fred Jaravata: Really?

Kellie Mullin: It’s a relief to know that the work that we’re doing and that we’re investing in students is – it’s a beginning. It’s not an end.

Fred Jaravata: Right, it is the beginning. Yes. I love that quote too. I love Janet Erskine Stuart. I love her philosophy with that of schools and that’s definitely a quote I really take heart to as well. OK. So Kellie, so tell me – tell the listeners what do you want to learn more about and why.

Kellie Mullin: So I am fascinated with this idea of creative confidence and the idea of innovation. So I’ve gone back to school. I’m working on my doctorate in Catholic education leadership and the reason why I’m interested – I began in the master’s program and I decided to shift into the doctoral program because I – I really believe that when we talk about the needs of society today, creativity is one of those most important skills that we’re hearing company after company mention that we need. But why are we not creating those opportunities for our students to really become creative thinkers and innovative thinkers?

So I’m really interested in learning how and – you know, considering writing my dissertation on something along the lines of how can we set up a culture of innovation amongst our faculty that inspires that creative confidence and – in faculty members but also in the students who they’re teaching.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: So I think I’m just fascinated in learning – continuing to learn more about how can you foster a growth mindset in students and in people that are coming with a fixed mindset about themselves and their abilities.

Fred Jaravata: Now, that’s a really good point. I think that goes hand in hand with not just in the school setting but also outside, right? Now I know – I peeked into your LinkedIn profile just before you came in.

Kellie Mullin: Excellent.

Fred Jaravata: I knew this a couple of years ago that you are also a curriculum consultant. Is that true?

Kellie Mullin: It is, yeah.

Fred Jaravata: Can you speak about that a little bit, please?

Kellie Mullin: So I’ve done some work with different organizations and also with individual teachers.

Fred Jaravata: Right. You founded this, right?

Kellie Mullin: Yes.

Fred Jaravata: Yes, OK.

Kellie Mullin: To help them not only look at just lesson plan formatting but also to do some of that integration of innovation and creativity into their lesson planning, so that you’re not just lecturing but finding opportunity – I really try and focus on finding opportunities to integrate design thinking, hands-on, student-centered experiential opportunities into lesson plans and ideas that are kind of very old school.

Fred Jaravata: OK. So Kellie …

Kellie Mullin: Yes.

Fred Jaravata: … what are you most proud of?

Kellie Mullin: I think that I’m most proud of the relationships that I form with my students and with the people with whom I work. I think Maya Angelou’s quote of, “People will remember how you make them feel,” is something that has stuck with me for most of my life because in the classroom, every lesson feels so important. But really what matters the most aside from the – you know, the lifelong love of learning I hope I’m instilling in my students is that they come into my room and they know that they are known and cared for and that they feel safe and that they’re able to be open to learning.

The same with the people who I’m working with. I hope that they know that I’m supportive and that I’m available to be there and help them continue to grow just like I know that they’re here to help me grow.

Fred Jaravata: Right. Yes, I agree with you there. We appreciate that. I know we talked about the 20 Percent Project earlier. We just glossed over that a little bit. But before we get to that, my next question is, “How do you inspire your students? Would that include the 20 Percent Project?”

Kellie Mullin: I think – I hope so. I mean that’s …

Fred Jaravata: Can you speak about that a little bit? Yeah, of how you inspire students.

Kellie Mullin: I think that the process of coming to bring a project like this into my classroom has …

Fred Jaravata: Can you explain real quick – sorry to interrupt. Can you explain the 20 Percent Project for those who do not …

Kellie Mullin: Yes, I will. I think it began with this desire to really give my students an opportunity to learn what they’re passionate about, but also to learn how to find a passion. If you ask anyone to think about, “Well, what are you passionate about?”

Fred Jaravata: That’s hard.

Kellie Mullin: It’s really hard and to ask a seventh or an eighth grader what you’re passionate about.

Fred Jaravata: Even for some adults, it’s hard too.

Kellie Mullin: Right? That’s not in the mainstream media. It’s difficult and so the 20 Percent Project is an opportunity that I give my students based on the ideas of certain companies like Google that gave their engineers 20 percent of their work week to work on a project of their choice. It was related to what their job was.

So this is my third year doing this project and what we do is I give them one day a week and there are parameters around this. But what I’m asking them to do is I’m asking them to find something that they are passionate about, some problem that they want to be involved in solving. Then we work through the design thinking process. We begin looking at the different states of design thinking with empathy, going to the process of ideation, creating ideas and it’s a little more than just brainstorming. It’s creating ideas that are different than what we already have today.

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: And then continuing through this process of looking at these ideas, choosing one idea that they really want to develop and then moving forward to prototyping and testing and then going through that process again potentially.

Fred Jaravata: Yes. Can you name a project that you liked so far or a couple that you liked so far that the girls have made?

Kellie Mullin: You know, I’m really excited about all of the projects this year. It has taken a while to get to a place where I could inspire them to choose projects that were big enough, that they felt like moonshot ideas.

Fred Jaravata: Moonshot ideas.

Kellie Mullin: That I really focus on this idea of constructive failure that it’s – I want them to think big. But I’m allowing them to think big in a safe environment. So thinking of some topics of – there are a lot of students who are really interested in food in terms of the waste that goes into agricultural production, the amount of food waste that we have that potentially could be going to better uses, all the way to projects where students are worried about how can we better support body image in young women. How can we support students that are dealing with cancer and students with – children dealing with cancer and hair loss and things like that?

Fred Jaravata: Right.

Kellie Mullin: So there’s a wide gamut of ideas.

Fred Jaravata: Now, it’s a great thing you’re doing and you’re in your third year and it’s amazing. So I think one of the shining projects in our schools.

Kellie Mullin: Thank you.

Fred Jaravata: How do you find the time to do this besides your curriculum, your regular curriculum that you’re doing? How do you find time to do this project?

Kellie Mullin: So that’s a good question. Part of what I’ve been experimenting with –

Fred Jaravata: Experimenting, keyword, right?

Kellie Mullin: Exactly. I think of it as almost my own 20 Percent Project. How do I …

Fred Jaravata: Your own 20 Percent Project. OK.

Kellie Mullin: So it has taken a lot of time outside of what I would normally spend on grading papers and creating lesson plans.

Fred Jaravata: But you don’t have to do this, right?

Kellie Mullin: I don’t have to do this.

Fred Jaravata: But you want to do this.

Kellie Mullin: I’m just passionate about it. One of the things that I’ve tried doing with my science class is I’ve actually tried flipping the classroom. I read a lot of research about how it had worked really well and continues to work really well at the university and the high school level. But I really hadn’t found much about how it impact – you know, how does it work for middle school students?

So far, it has been pretty positive. I see a lot of the students there responding well to the flipped classroom model where I am recording videos that they listen to and take notes from and do some questions. Then that makes our in-class time and lab time much more active, so that we’re able to have that time to still do the 20 Percent Project.

Fred Jaravata: OK. That’s really cool. All right. So you found a time to do this. OK. Can you share with us, share with the listener, the teachers out there, a time-saving tip?

Kellie Mullin: Time-saving tip.

Fred Jaravata: Yeah.

Kellie Mullin: I really do think that Google – all of the education apps are time-saving because when you know where your documents are, they’re in the drive. I don’t have to have my laptop with me. I don’t have to have – I can have any device. That’s a time-saving tool for me. Keeping my drive organized which is really difficult. But making sure that I’m labeling all of my documents, those little things, taking notes. I save time by taking a little extra time when I’m creating documents and when I’m saving documents.

Fred Jaravata: Right now. You’re doing it right then in the moment.

Kellie Mullin: Right.

Fred Jaravata: So that you’re trying to save time for your future self.

Kellie Mullin: Uh-huh, versus recreating a worksheet that you know you have. You just can’t find. In the long run, it takes a lot longer than the two extra seconds it takes to name it appropriately.

Fred Jaravata: And saving them all in Google Drive, right? And not just on the computer where the computer can go missing or can crash and burn.

Kellie Mullin: Exactly.

Fred Jaravata: That’s a great tip. OK. So Kellie, these two next questions are the last couple of questions about advice. Can you share with us the best advice that you received and what is the advice – it may be the same – best advice you want to give teachers out there?

Kellie Mullin: I think some of the best advice that I’ve received from anyone is about always trying to grow. So I’ve gone to some professional developments and really been struck by the ideas of failure as a first attempt in learning and …

[Crosstalk] [0:27:52]

Kellie Mullin: Exactly, and constructive failure being – you know, not allowing ourselves to be paralyzed with fear by failure. But to see opportunities for growth and how to learn from things that don’t work exactly the way they are. So I guess the advice is just that the word “failure” and “fail” isn’t negative. It’s only negative if you live in the failure, if you live in the things that don’t work rather than to use them as inspiration to become better.

Fred Jaravata: To become better. All right. OK, Kellie. So, that is all I have for you. We like to give teachers a way to – our listeners a way to contact you. They can either contact me directly or they can contact you directly. Is there an email, a website that you would like listeners to get in contact with you?

Kellie Mullin: There is. There is an email. I’m happy to communicate with anyone who’s interested in bringing the 20 Percent Project into their own classroom or is interested also in creative confidence or the culture of innovation. I’m definitely looking for classrooms and schools that feel like they are successful at bringing the culture of innovation to fruition, as I’m embarking on my dissertation process. So I definitely encourage people to contact me.

Fred Jaravata: OK.

Kellie Mullin: Should I spell it right now?

Fred Jaravata: Yeah, you could do it right now. Go for it.

Kellie Mullin: All right. Great! So my email address

Fred Jaravata: All right. Miss Mullin, thank you so much for joining our show and keep up the good work that you’re doing.

Kellie Mullin: Thank you so much for having me. It had been a lot of fun.

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