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English Language Development Teacher Lilia Tsui Honored by DUSD as Teacher of the Year

June 9, 2021

Pedagogy – noun: The study of teaching methods, including the aims of education and the ways in which such goals may be achieved. Source –

A decade ago, we had the pleasure to sit down with a DUSD English Language Development teacher after her recognition from the Alameda County Board of Education. She shared an anecdote that I found fascinating. The tale begins with a 3rd grader arriving in October from Vietnam. She did not speak a word of English. However, utilizing the proper techniques and tools, the young student had literally caught up to her peers in terms of English fluency by the end of the school year. It was then that I was introduced to pedagogy.

Ms. Lilia Tsui, DUSD Teacher of the Year. Photo by: Michael Utsumi

During the May 25, 2021 Board meeting, the district announced multiple staff recognitions. The 2020-21 Teacher of the Year is Lilia Tsui. After working for the Newark Unified School District for 10 years, she joined DUSD in 2012. Starting as a classroom teacher, she then transitioned as an English Language Development Specialist in 2015. She has supported students at both Dublin and Frederiksen Elementary Schools. In addition to her work with students, she has also trained her colleagues in Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) strategies. We met recently so that she could share her journey and to provide Lilia a platform to speak to her colleagues after such a challenging year. Your academic pathway took you from a Psychology, Biology undergrad at UCLA to a Masters in Education at UC Berkeley. While on this journey explain your thought process and the direction that you were following as you transitioned into professional life. 

Lilia Tsui: “When I first entered UCLA as an undergrad, I had thought I wanted to become a pediatrician, so I volunteered at the hospitals and did research with professors in the medical field. At the same time, I needed to work several part-time jobs to put myself through school, two of which were at the university preschool and at a special needs learning research program. Unexpectedly, that relationship-building and watching the students grow each day was where I found my calling to teach. I was also fascinated by what I learned in my child development and cognitive psychology courses in my Education minor, so I decided to pursue a teaching credential and Masters in Education at UC Berkeley. The program was the best foundation and preparation for teachers not only for instruction and pedagogy but also in our development as agents of change in creating more equitable education opportunities for historically underserved students.” Earlier in your career, you taught in the Newark Unified School District for a decade. This district has a very high concentration of English Language Learners. What lessons and/or best practices did you import as you began employment in DUSD?

Tsui: “Working with English Learners is such a privilege because our multilingual students and families bring with them a wealth of knowledge and abilities! It was an incredible opportunity that accelerated my growth as a teacher!  Some core principles that guide my work include:

– how to be intentional and targeted in my lesson planning and delivery; 

– the importance of creating a culturally and linguistically responsive classroom that is caring, inclusive, and supportive; 

– many different strategies on how to differentiate and scaffold for learners–just enough and not too much–so that they have access and support yet ownership and confidence to reach the high expectations;

– how to recognize and remove systemic education barriers;  – and how to collaborate with parents while empowering them to actively engage as partners in their children’s education. Your current priorities at Frederiksen and Dublin Elementary schools are focused on ELD. After functioning in the past year in almost a purely distance environment, did you adopt any new/exotic best practices the help the students succeed?

Tsui: “Whether in person or distance learning, I feel that those core principles do not change. We certainly had to get very creative and had to do a tremendous amount of adapting the paper and pencil strategies to digital versions. But having those core beliefs and guiding principles strongly in place was critical in helping us identify each hurdle that came up and problem-solve together throughout this new learning landscape. I can’t tell you how amazing our students, parents and staff have been in finding ways to make it all work!” We can recognize that COVID-19 and distance learning did not treat each child or family equally. There simply are inequities in society. You had mentioned teaching to the “whole child.” Please delve a bit deeper into what this health crisis has amplified.

Tsui: “When the shelter-in-place began, the changes to “school” had to happen over just a few days. That swiftness very quickly revealed and amplified the inequitable playing field. Almost immediately, you were able to see who did and didn’t have access to high-speed internet, technology support at home, a safe and quiet space to learn, parental support, food security, access to information, just to name a few of the most glaring differences. Some students didn’t miss a beat and were able to continue classes with their teachers when distance learning began but our ELD Specialist team and site COST teams made countless calls, texts, emails, and home visits to try to connect with those who were literally left behind because they did not have the privileges others had.  The health crisis really amplifies the important role schools and teachers play to support the whole child’s growth. School is not just about academics. We need to understand where a child comes from–what they are facing as a whole child–and work together to remove those inequitable barriers to allow each to fully grow and develop in the ways they are capable of.” We realize that these types of recognitions are both appreciated and are not pursued. Here is an opportunity to speak to your colleagues and fellow educators. What would you like to say to them?

Tsui: “You nailed it! We do this work because we feel passionate about serving our school community, families, and students. While I feel honored to be recognized, I also feel the need to acknowledge the fact that the recognition should be shared by all classified and certificated staff who, day in day out, give it their 200%. Our schools are amazing only because each one of us plays an important role on the team and do our best to support one another every day.”

The Specialist that we referred to at the top of this story is Shobha Tejwani. She continues to work for DUSD and today and she is the Coordinator of English Language Development/Intervention. We reached out for her thoughts as she knows Lilia very well and sat on an interview panel that ultimately resulted in Ms. Tsui joining DUSD. As an ELD specialist, one goal is to transform a non-English speaker into fluency. For the benefit of those that do not work in the education industry, please “nutshell” how pedagogy is the primary platform to institute this transition.

Shobha Tejwani: “An ELD specialist needs to know how to work with students from many different backgrounds and languages. It is important to use many different instructional strategies that will support our multilingual learners. Lilia is extremely knowledgeable in these strategies. She uses the students’ background and prior knowledge, lots of visuals, interactive technology, explicitly teaches academic vocabulary, uses cooperative learning, chants, etc. She has the patience and the skills needed to reach all learners and provide comprehensible input to students at all levels of English proficiency.”  From your professional interactions at DUSD, please share the innovations/efforts that you witnessed from Ms. Tsui with her students.

Tejwani: “Ms. Tsui is a trainer of GLAD strategies (Guided Language Acquisition Design) and has been instrumental in teaching teachers across the district these strategies to support multilingual learners. Using these strategies makes content comprehensible for our students and is good for all learners. She led a cohort of teachers at Frederiksen through an instructional learning cycle where teachers were released throughout the year to observe each other in using GLAD strategies and then had time to debrief and improve their teaching skills. This model of professional development was very beneficial for the teachers because they were able to spend the whole year working toward improving their skills by learning and practicing under her guidance.

Ms. Tsui also started a Spanish parent advocacy group called Poder Con Voces at Dublin Elementary with a group of Spanish-speaking parents and met with them several times throughout the year to give them a forum to voice their concerns and advocate for their needs.” As the 2011 recipient of the Alameda County Educator of the Year yourself, what would you like to express to Lilia as she continues her professional journey? 

Tsui: “Lilia is such a talented and amazing person. I know that she will be doing great things in any role that she works in. Her students and the teachers that she works with are truly lucky to have her as their teacher and colleague. I just want to congratulate her and wish her the best in her role as Teacher of the Year!”

We would like to thank Lilia Tsui for her willingness to share her professional and personal thoughts. All school districts have faced a spectrum of adversity over the past 15 months. However, it is inspiring to be exposed to the creativity and tenacity demonstrated in order to accomplish the primary goal of educating all of our students.


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