Re-evaluating what it means to be aware of your surroundings

Joe Black

Engagement Manager

Years ago, I was asked by a mentor of mine to describe what I didn’t know. Before I could answer, I found myself attempting to balance feelings of confusion and liberation. I remember uttering rhetorically, “I don’t know” in which my mentor responded by saying “exactly”.

That brief conversation has led me to a different way of thinking about learning. Learning doesn’t have to be a future event that will take place in a classroom. I now try to take present events happening in my daily life and use them as learning opportunities.

Joe Black, Promise Engagement Manager, in New York City
Joe Black, Promise Engagement Manager, in New York City

Over the past couple of weeks I have been able to merge academic life as a National Urban Fellow with my day-to-day work at Promise. The result is a deeper connection to my work which will translate into action.

Recently, one of my assignments focused on the work of Michelle Rhee. As the Chancellor of the District of Columbia’s School District, Rhee took an aggressive approach to reforming a large urban school district. She inherited a broken system that historically failed to meet the needs of the students. Rhee responded to the achievement gap by developing accountability measures that promoted effective teachers.

Shortly after this school assignment, news broke that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District teachers had petitioned to strike. I felt even more connected to the problem and potential solutions because of my newfound knowledge about Michelle Rhee. Taking what I learned from her approach with the Washington D.C. school district, I was able to have thoughtful discussions with principal and school supports about the possible strike and how Promise could support the schools.

Instead of thinking about what was happening with CMSD and my school assignments as separate parts of my life, I realized that by blending them together I would have much more impact in my work and was learning more as well.

By keeping an open mind and being fully present, and aware, in each moment, I find that the process of gaining new knowledge continues to present itself.