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New Documentary Serves as Powerful Tool for Changing Practice

Join XQ’s Featured Session, Disrupting Conventional Assumptions About High School Learning, on Saturday, February 17, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. This panel discussion is about “The First Class”—a powerful new documentary about a Memphis high school that highlights the role of educators in transforming teaching and learning. 

We at XQ are honored to participate in AACTE’s 2024 Annual Meeting, “Ascending New Heights: Propelling the Profession into the Future.” This year’s theme perfectly captures our mission to rethink the high school experience to fully prepare all students for whatever the future holds with more engaging, authentic teaching. 

Our conversations with AACTE and its members reveal a deep, shared vision for high school teaching and learning where adolescents are engaged, motivated, and empowered to develop the knowledge, skills, and attributes they need to thrive in our complex and rapidly changing world. In this shared vision, learning connects academic content to the real world and fosters opportunities for students to become makers, creators, critical thinkers, and problem-solvers. Good high school teachers remain crucial to this vision — and we also need to rethink how we prepare our educators so they can provide these experiences to their students.

This is why we’re hosting a session called “Disrupting Conventional Assumptions about High School Learning.” In this session, we’ll spur the conversation with clips from our groundbreaking documentary, “The First Class.” It’s a film that celebrates the essential role of educators and catalyzes action through the compelling story of Crosstown High in Memphis.

In addition to the two of us from XQ Institute, this panel will feature Carole G. Basile, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University (ASU); Nikki Wallace, a Crosstown High science teacher who has written about her work and is featured prominently in the film; Ray Duch, a 2023 Crosstown High graduate; and Maria Hyler, director of EdPrepLab.

We created “The First Class” as a rallying cry for educators, families, community leaders, policymakers, and leaders of teacher preparation to come together to realize this vision for secondary education. 

We hope you will join our session at AACTE. Together, we will probe assumptions that may be holding us back from the changes we need to see in high school learning in a lively conversation about what it will take to prepare the next generation of high school teachers. 

While we’d love to see you at the annual meeting, there’s no need to wait to see the film. You can sign up now to watch “The First Class” and even host a screening at your institution. Visit TheFirstClass.org to learn more, access discussion guides and print materials, and download resources for current and aspiring educators. 

We invite you to join our community, follow along on social @XQAmerica, and sign up for the XQ Xtra, a twice-monthly newsletter with the latest educator insights and practices. Drawing from our extensive collaboration with over 70 schools and districts and the millions of viewers engaged in our national storytelling moments, we understand the power of “seeing is believing.” We hope you’ll agree after seeing this inspiring film.


Michele Cahill is a senior advisor at XQ, drawing upon decades of experience advancing educational equity, including as vice president (K-12 and Higher Education and Strengthening Democracy ) at Carnegie Corporation of New York, where she co-chaired the Carnegie Corporation-Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Transforming Mathematics and Science Education and as senior counselor for education policy in the NYC Department of Education, where she led groundbreaking work in high school reform. michele@xqinstitute.org



Jeanie Lee is XQ’s chief program officer, bringing experience from DC Public Education Fund, Scholastic, and District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to her role leading school, district, and organizational partnerships to advance high school transformation worldwide. jeanie@xqinstitute.org

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