Meet Our Teachers

UCBHSSP has convened a Teacher Research Group for nearly two decades. Fellows participate in monthly meetings throughout the school year where they explore new topics and prototype and pilot new instructional strategies with their students. Three times a year, fellows bring student work to review with colleagues. This process informs their next steps and future iterations of a learning strategy.

Lillie Wong (second from right) is a 8th grade teacher at Rancho Medanos Junior High School in Pittsburg. She just completed her first year in TRG.

When I started teaching, a veteran teacher gave me a bit of advice and told me that “the best teachers are the best learners.” This really stuck with me and has informed my teaching philosophy and practice. In an effort to apply that wisdom, I applied to UCBHSSP’s Teacher Research Group. I had been introduced to the Teacher Research Group by a teacher leader at my school site, Mary Robillard. Mary had been sharing information about historical thinking that she learned through her participation in TRG. Her influence inspired me to apply to the group.

Participating in TRG this year has been growing, thought-provoking, and, ultimately, a very rewarding experience. TRG has pushed me to question previously held norms such as the “winner take all” debate mentality. It has also given me tools to take risks in the classroom and hold controversial discussions about engaging historical topics. Additionally, the opportunity to bring in student work and receive feedback from fellow teachers has been collaborative and eye-opening. Overall, I’ve learned a lot from participating in TRG this year and I’m excited to continue next year.

This year, a central theme in TRG was the idea of hosting controversial conversations in the classroom. Throughout the year, I’ve practiced fostering controversial discussions in my classroom to varying degrees of success. As a part of my own inquiry, I wanted to become better and more comfortable at holding controversial conversations in my classroom. The initial discussions were a bit chaotic and disjointed, but ultimately it was clear that students desired to hash out their viewpoints with each other. One student even shared that “it is okay to have different opinions on things because you are not always going to agree with everything.”

As we continued the practice of controversial conversations in my classroom, I also developed a reflection tool to gauge what the students’ emotional and intellectual experience was like during the conversations. It was interesting to note that many students shared that revisiting a controversial conversation helped them deepen their thinking and learn other’s perspectives. Experimenting with controversial discussions has taught me that discursive strategies are highly impactful in the classroom. Another takeaway is that controversial topics should not be avoided in the classroom and, in fact, can help students deepen their learning and thinking.

My biggest takeaway from TRG is take instructional risks! Don’t be afraid to try new things in your classroom. Also, find a community of teachers who are willing to collaborate and share feedback with you.