If you are familiar with XQ’s work, you’re probably familiar with issues facing high schools today. You probably know that with school closures comes a renewed interest in evolving what high school means in America. You’ve already scoured the internet for resources to help make remote learning easier and are constantly looking for examples of schools thriving in this new learning environment. You are motivated by helping students get the skills they need to succeed and are committed to getting them there.
Central to our work at XQ, are people like you—teachers, students, and community members— people determined to build a better educational system for everyone. And so much of that work happens every day, regardless of circumstance, coverage, or recognition. Come what may, these everyday heroes show up without fail to support their students and make education more inclusive.
In honor of teacher appreciation day, we’re sharing one of their stories. Her name is Christina Desnoyers, and she is a speech and communications teacher at LEAD Public Schools in Nashville, Tennessee. Read highlights from our interview below:
HOW TO BUILD AN INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM
“Building relationships is my teaching superpower. I strive to make my students feel like individuals—not this generalized, blanket class. I really want to see them for who they are. I love a challenge, and I’ve found that sometimes the toughest students are the students with the highest of walls. It’s my mission as a teacher to break down those walls and engage with a student.
“To do that, I approach disciplining and rules differently. The culture of my classroom is different than other classrooms: it’s more relaxed when it comes to holding high expectations. I work to maintain an environment in the classroom where students can be comfortable being themselves. Additionally, I like to create a culture of feedback too—where students are engaged with their own learning and the learning of their peers. I make sure that all of my students give feedback on each person’s speech, a compliment and a criticism—a glow and grow, we say. It helps to make sure that all students remain engaged, no matter what their grade is. I make it clear, there is always space to get better.
“Building relationships extends beyond my relationships with students and their relationships with each other. For instance, I try to engage community members in the education of my students. I do this by inviting a lot of people from the community into my class. I started a series called Noteworthy Conversations, where professionals in our communities come and talk about their jobs and career paths. For example, when we were writing those informative speeches around hip-hop, I had three different hip-hop artists come in so students could incorporate their interviews with those artists into their speeches. By using this approach, my students have the opportunity to see people in their community who are actually performing and being hip-hop artists. It’s really important to build those relationships to show how learning can be put into practice.”
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ENGAGE YOUR STUDENTS AND UNLEASH THEIR CREATIVITY
“I have found that the best student engagement comes when students can connect with what we are studying. I teach a speech and communications class, where I use music and hip-hop as foundational content for a lot of areas. For instance, for students writing their first informative speeches, we focus on the history of hip-hop. I think it’s so important to include a diverse and relevant curriculum. Hip-hop is a huge part of black culture; my students relate to it because it’s in their lives every day. At the same time, they’re not aware of that history of or the lineage of hip-hop. The great thing about hip-hop is that it comes from teenagers who look just like them—from Hispanic, black kids in the Bronx. Whenever I share this history there is an instant investment from my students. It’s just so rich. Hip-hop is a language shared in these communities that were deprived of so much and my students relate to aspects of that.
“This year, even though we’ve moved to a remote setting, I am still focusing on speech writing and delivery. My goal is to help students communicate their ideas appropriately and effectively—which is incredibly important right now. I really want my ninth-graders to feel more confident getting up in front of the room. I want to make sure they are able to get their ideas across in a way that matters, no matter who the audience is.
“Engaging with students has always been the guiding principle of my approach to education. Now, it’s more important than ever. Because of everything that has happened with school closures, we’ve decided it would be best to not give students grades this semester. So, a lot of what we’re banking on is just their engagement and that’s a huge thing. It’s really interesting. When I talk to my seniors about whether they are going to classes, the response has been interesting because a lot of them are like, ‘Oh, I’m going to the ones I really like.’
“Now that students don’t have the regimented parameters of school, they are taking ownership of their own learning. We’ve seen students actively investing in their education. That’s really interesting—and something that is really hard to teach. We’ve always preached that, but it’s happening now. More than just that, I think this moment has forced a lot of teachers to think creatively. That really opens the opportunity for change. It’s made me wonder if educators and leaders are going to adopt new techniques in school.”
STAY MOTIVATED EVEN WHEN IT FEELS IMPOSSIBLE
“I tell my students that hope can get us through this storm. I try to remind them that even this pandemic shall pass. I can’t guarantee that the world will look the same once it’s over, but one day it will end. I’ve found that there is a lesson in everything—an experience to be had if you let it. When we finally get to the other side of this, I hope to ask my students ‘what did you learn?’
“As a teacher, I want to prepare my students not only for college but for life as well. I want to make sure that they can make it through difficult moments. I want to make sure that if they have something to say, they can say it. I want them to be good communicators.
“This desire to prepare my students for life can sometimes send me on a spiral. I have very high expectations for myself. The vision that I have in my mind for myself and how I can help my students can sometimes be unrealistic. Given everything that has happened with school closures, I’m learning to come down a little bit and have more grace for myself.
“There are moments in class when I am reminded about how amazing teaching can be. These tend to come when I see my vision actualize in my students who enjoy coming to school and learning. For instance, I’m trying to build this blissful class, in the brief moments when it feels truly blissful, I remember those. I love working with kids. I love helping kids become part of the world. For me, that’s what keeps me motivated, holding onto those blissful moments.”
CELEBRATE TEACHERS TODAY AND EVERYDAY
Educators are our everyday heroes. They work tirelessly to make learning engaging, exciting, and relevant. At the core of their work is a desire to help each student and to start them on an educational journey. So be sure to say thanks to your educators today and every day!
Thank you, Christina, for all of your work.
Do you know an Everyday Hero that deserves recognition? Or do you know an educator going above and beyond during school closures? Pitch them at Blog@XQinstitute.org.
VOICES FROM SCHOOL CLOSURES:
- Hope Thrives from this High School’s Community Garden
- How One High School Teacher is Staying Connected with Students
- Student Shares All: How to Support Students with Disabilities