TAF Lens: How my experiences influenced my passion in education

We are the sum of our experiences.

As I consider my perspective on education as the new leader of TAF’s education programs, I find myself returning to this idea that we as a people are in many ways defined by the sum of our experiences. History shows that those with access to knowledge, experiences, and networks are able to create new points of access and opportunity.

Never has this truth been more pertinent. As we navigate an increasingly global community and consider how to incorporate and foster 21st Century skills, schools are charged with cultivating environments that prepare students to navigate this new landscape. And yet, many schools do not have the resources, or disposition, to be generative in a system that has not evolved with the changing times. The mission of TAF stands solidly in opposition to this static system. It prioritizes creating access to experiences that will inform a child’s life.

“Growing up as a child of a single parent, I attended 14 schools before the 5th grade. I was one who many would have considered marginalized or lost.”

My own life has certainly been informed by access. Growing up the child of a single parent, I attended 14 schools before the 5th grade. I was one who many would have considered marginalized or lost. Yet, due to a fierce commitment from my mother and a few fearless educators; access to alternate learning opportunities and international experiences transformed my world. These experiences translated into access to some of the best schools, closed communities and resources once coveted. As a young educator I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Loraine Monroe, the former principal of Fredrick Douglas Academy in Harlem, NY who later became an educational consultant.

Besides her fire and passion for the work I was struck by her unapologetic focus on students, specifically students of color in her community. In service of them she spoke about her belief that “You have to be creatively crazy, you have to love what you do. But you also have to be smart. You have to look at the rules and figure out why they’re there. You have to understand that if those rules don’t make any sense, then you need to drop them. You have to be fearless enough to take calculated risks, to take a leap into the void ¹.” This stayed with me as I moved into school and, later, district leadership.

I find myself consumed by Dr. Monroe’s philosophy and I channel it in all that do. Whether in the boardroom or a neighborhood convening, I envision how can I be creatively crazy, so that each moment can serve as a lever for change, opportunity, and connection in service of students. The work cannot and should not be done in isolation. Schools must partner with students, staff, community members, families, business and corporations to redefine the learning landscape.

“When given access, our students can and will accomplish anything they can begin to imagine.”

This too is true as I work in collaboration with the dynamic education team of TAF.  I seek to ensure that we, as a team, are driven by the truth that: when given access, our students can and will accomplish anything they can begin to imagine. It is my hope that I foster an environment that is creatively crazy; I aim to cultivate spaces where transformative work can happen. As educators, we are charged with igniting or fostering the spark within students. Then, we either create the connections students need to actualize their spark or get out of the way so that they can manifest their dreams. It is my charge to continue to forge a path towards this North Star.

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Steven Kwan leads a breakout session at a TAF UnTapped event.