Faculty Focus: Dr. Derrick Tennial
Title: Doctoral faculty, residency faculty, dissertation chair
College: Doctoral Studies
Years at GCU: 5+
- Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Ga.
- Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and Administration and Supervision, Freed-Hardeman University, Henderson, Tenn,
- Certificate of Secondary Education, Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn.
- Bachelor of Arts in English – Language and Linguistics, University of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.
What is your most notable accomplishment in your field, and why was it important? What are you most passionate about in your field and why?
I am a narrative researcher. My dissertation was a narrative study titled, “Unto the Third and Fourth Generation: Kaleb Norris’ Stories of Generational Poverty and Inequality in the South.” The study explored how educational, political and public policies affected six generations of my family. I told these composite stories through my great-grandfather, who passed away when I was 3.
This work helped me see the importance of giving voice to the voiceless – the marginalized and disenfranchised – and the need for counter stories that add to or counteract existing narratives. It empowers the researcher and the participants to take control of their story – the narrative! This initial work led to other publications about my family and the founding of my media company, Let’s REThink That Narrative.
Narrative research is intense. It stirs the soul, allowing you to unleash your creativity and weaving together multiple stories to tell them through one voice. It challenges you to think and rethink what you perceive and believe, hence the name of my company. I relish the opportunity to help students with narrative research and have done so at GCU and other colleges and universities. I challenge anyone who is up to the task to walk into the light – the beautiful narrative light.
What is a memorable moment you had in class, and what does that reveal about your teaching style?
One of my most memorable moments occurred outside the classroom but was the result of a lesson I taught in the classroom. Several years ago, my best friend and I went to Miami for the weekend. We were at a social event, and one of the workers came up to me and asked if I taught high school in Atlanta. I said yes. When I took a closer look, I recognized him. He was a former ninth grade English student of mine who was attending college in the area.
We chatted for a moment, and then he continued working. Later in the evening, he came back to me and recounted how I taught literary elements using hip-hop music popular with the students. He even remembered the songs I used. I was shocked and amazed. Not only that, I was reminded of the importance of meeting students where they are and connecting concepts to something with which they can identify. From students in elementary school to the College of Doctoral Studies, that is what I strive to do; it’s about making connections.
What motivations guide what you do?
I am purpose driven! I have frequently said I will not go to the next dimension until I have done everything that has been assigned to my hands. With everything I have accomplished with the help of my parents, family, friends and others along this journey called life, I still feel as if I haven’t done anything.
My goal is to die empty – having fulfilled my purpose, been a motivating voice as the first in my family to obtain a doctorate, established an educational and financial legacy for the next generation, and made proud my parents and the ancestors on whose shoulders I stand. In the words of my favorite poet, Robert Frost, “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep … and miles to go before I sleep.”
What other endeavors support what you do?
I serve as a senior adjunct faculty chair and doctoral residency professor. I absolutely love it! I see the pre-dissertation doctoral learners like my ninth grade students who were scared and intimidated when they first came in the classroom but grow, blossom and are ready to take on the world by the end of the week.
As mentioned, I own my own literary services company, Let’s REThink That Narrative, which in part provides publishing services for independent, self-publishing authors. The mission of LRTN is to use media to tell stories that add to, challenge and counteract existing societal narratives.
LRTN is an extension of my work as a qualitative narrative researcher. It’s all about the stories. I use stories as the basis of my presentations as a workshop clinician. I have presented throughout the country on such issues as identity, spirituality and sexuality, HIV/AIDS, compassion fatigue and diversity in education.
My research interests include culturally responsive teacher education, transformative teacher and adult education, education for social justice and equity, oral history, black orality, cross-generational/cultural theory, segregation, integration, resegregation and the curriculums of the North and South, theories of resistance and survival among minority communities, HIV/AIDS and issues of equality and equity in the LGBTQIA+ community.
I am also in business with my younger brother, Darnell. A couple of years ago, we started Tennial Brothers Investment. The mission of TBI is to provide quality, affordable housing for middle- to low-income individuals and families.
I have authored several books and produced a critically acclaimed play. In 2021, through my company, I am looking forward to using my creative energy more in the arts.
What are your plans to advance or grow the College of Doctoral Studies?
It’s all about relationships and voice. I love the camaraderie and professionalism among my colleagues. I have learned so much from regular conversation. They readily offer their assistance with whatever is needed. Several have become like family with whom I chat with often. I am grateful to have such strong relationships with colleagues. Strong professional and interpersonal relationships strengthen the college as a whole.
Giving voice to students and creating a place and space for them is very important. We need platforms for student voice, particularly the voices of students of color. We also need to encourage more research that addresses the experiences of women and minorities and centers around social justice. I would love to be a part of such initiatives and use my voice as a workshop clinician to foster conversation on a variety of issues, including diversity, compassion fatigue and social justice.
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?
For some reason, this comes a surprise to many even though I think nothing of it: I have watched daytime soap operas, particularly “The Young and the Restless,” since I was 8 and “The Bold and the Beautiful” since it premiered in 1987. Hey, what can I say? I like stories. After all, I am a narrative researcher … lol.