About the Author
Nora Smith is a second-year student in the School Leadership Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Originally from Chicago, IL, she has spent the past 13 years living and working in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. When not fixated on school culture and how to create a system that puts student agency, nonviolent communication, and growth mindset at the center of teaching and learning, you can find her spending time with her partner and their dogs or enjoying a good meal and a nice chat.
Decoding the DNA of The School of the Future
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher. The notion that I would be responsible for capturing and engaging the attention of a classroom of teenagers seemed both daunting and exhilarating and I could think of no better way to spend my working hours. Never would I have imagined however that my choice of profession would imply the ability to affect change not only on a personal level, but also on a systemic level. While my first inkling that the traditional scholastic structure was flawed occurred when I was in high school, surely imbued with a healthy dose of adolescent angst, it would take 10 years of professional experience and the privilege of a few quality experiences in higher education to validate my conviction that the system as we know it is broken. I am not unique when I share a portrait of my scholastic experience as being marked by relentless pressure to engage with an archaic system of success that understands consumption and posturing as vital components of achievement. More damaging perhaps was the notion that there was little concrete value in what I was learning, a sentiment echoed by my own students decades later. Thus began my journey to learn about ways to change scholastic structure in order to ensure a vibrant and applicable experience for all students that would motivate them to harness authentic, current experiences to inform their learning and excite them to become agents of change.
At the beginning I was hyper vigilant regarding the wellness of my students; an almost visceral reaction that projected my subconscious fears about causing unintentional harm through the perpetuation of a broken system. I crafted committees and held office hours to listen to students and their needs. I wanted them to cultivate a psychologically safe space in which students trusted their teachers, in the hopes that by creating an environment in which students recognized the vital role they played as protagonists in our community they would come to recognize the importance of their participation in their learning and in doing so value their education. As I reflect now, while a noble intention, in many ways my efforts missed the mark. I was so intentional about students´ needs that I neglected to engage teacher wellbeing. Indeed, very little authentic change can be created if those responsible for leading the change on the microlevel aren’t included in the elaboration of plans and preparation on the macrolevel.
To teach is to understand that education has the ability to liberate as well as to leverage powerful resources that when applied in equitable ways has the potential to change the world. Eventually my many years of traditional experience, as a student, teacher, and director would result in an awareness concerning just how unlikely it is to find a school that exemplifies the life changing power of excellent education and is truly engaged with the act of serving the needs of both students and teachers through the intent to implement and live the values of a democratic community. I found myself dizzy with the idea that the system needed to change and ill-equipped with the tools and community to be able to do so. That was until I had the fortune of meeting Martin Mathus, whose work with Paul Moch, CEO and founder of the educational consultancy group Camino 21, would lead to the creation of a bold, disruptive curriculum whose thoughtful implementation was intended to rewrite the paradigm of education through the use of technology and project-based learning in Mexico and Latin America. Hybridge Education (HE) was born out of a desire to close the gap between contemporary high school curricula and the needs of the digital natives who deserve democratic experiences that inspire them to participate in the construction of the knowledge needed to succeed in their professional endeavors. The mission involves an eventual revolution of the current scholastic landscape by providing ample access to a quality education that centers the talents of compassionate, intrepid teachers and harnesses the tools of the 21st century to offer students of all identities a safe space to explore learning. Hybridge is a community that truly understands the labor of love that is teaching. The individuals who serve on the teaching team play a fundamental role in all aspects of curricular implementation. Together, we discuss student well-being, learning outcomes and disruptive teaching practices to ensure that students view an authentic modeling of democratic processes that set the tone for the academic experience. I am both privileged and proud when I say that I have the honor of leading the devoted group of teachers determined to make the world a more equitable place.
At the heart of HE´s curriculum is a commitment to facilitate learning through the capitalization of digital resources that form part of the organic experience of young adulthood in the 21st century. By recognizing the importance of technology in the lives of students and leveraging their natural curiosity to explore the world around them through apps and digital experiences enhanced by technology, We honor the digital proficiency of today’s teenagers and invite them to be active participants in their learning experience. In this and other ways, we set the tone for a bold and radically different scholastic experience that employs the intrinsic talents of its students while encouraging them to think boldly and creatively to develop the necessary tools to aid them in their preparation as the next generation of entrepreneurs and visionary leaders of their fields.
This ambitious scholastic mission would not be possible without some specific distinguishing features that are intended to provoke new imaginings of education. The learning journey of the student is referred to as the DNA of HE and is distinguished by the notions of mindset, skillset and toolset, which are fundamental objectives of the learning process. Much of the pedagogy behind the idea of mindset is derived from the framework of universal design for learning which emphasizes empathy and wonder as fundamental characteristics of active learning. Students are then accompanied by their teachers to develop the skills that will aid them in the construction of new knowledge. When students employ the mindset and skillset of their lessons in order to apply them to the projects that anchor their academic experience in HE, they are equipped with a toolset that will provide them with the ability to confront eventual professional challenges in a critical and thoughtful manner. HE recognizes the desire of some students to study high school in a more expedited manner and therefore offers the ability to finish high school in two years and as such is on the quarterly system. Each quarter has a guiding question that provokes initial inspiration about a theme related to a B-STEM (Business, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) area of knowledge. Students will respond to the initial inquiry by engaging with diverse content to shape a response that encourages connection between personal identity, experience and the community with which the student interacts. Every student will present the results of their project during a two-day symposium at the end of each quarter in which family members, community partners and industry experts will be invited to continue the dialogue about the students´ findings.
In order to equip students with the tools necessary for their success, we have developed a hybrid learning environment with the majority of instructional content existing on a dynamic and interactive learning platform. Whereas schools around the world had no choice but to pivot to online teaching and learning in reaction to the health risks posed by the COVID 19 pandemic, and have now returned to in-person classes, we have made an intentional decision to cultivate a hybrid environment of learning –a modality that provides students with the flexibility necessary to exercise their agency. Indeed, we are an institution that honors its origins in the cloud as a way to reflect its hybrid identity. Through inviting students to reconsider learning as an organic and daily occurrence inspired by routine interactions and moments of wonder, students begin to understand education as a lifelong occurrence that is shaped by personal inquiry and observation. This philosophy of learning is then made manifest through students´ interactions with their communities. By encouraging students to delight in the knowledge gained through everyday experience, they subsequently understand that learning should not be confined to the four walls of a physical building. Rather, it should be exploited in conversations with distinguished individuals and acquaintances as well as in visits to museums, parks and libraries that provide them the opportunity to engage with the raw material that will become the cornerstone of the knowledge that guides them in decision making and critical thinking. Furthermore, by shifting the mindset around learning, students begin to have more agency around their schooling experience. At Hybridge, students don’t sit passively in classrooms, receiving knowledge shared by their teachers. Rather, they are actively engaged in constructing knowledge alongside their teachers and classmates. Guest speakers and visits with industry celebrities inspire students to dream big and work hard to achieve their goals.
When I think back on my own scholastic experience and reflect on the magnitude of my privilege today, I feel honored to be involved in the creation of a new school system that prioritizes democratic community and the leveraging of digital resources to inspire students to view themselves as the protagonists of their learning. Indeed, we have created a space in which access to a quality education is a possibility for students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Through a reimagined concept of education that employs the resources of digital communication and technological prowess, graduates of Hybridge Education will be equipped with the tools necessary to serve them in whatever professional challenge they encounter.
More Student Views
English + Español
As the daughter of Colombian immigrants who left their country amid economic and civil unrest, I am very connected to my Colombian roots. Although I grew up in a small Connecticut town, my…
English + Español
For most Black people, February 27th is a fairly insignificant date, simply marking the second-to-last day of Black History Month here in the United States. For me, however, it wholly defines…
Three weeks into filming a documentary in Guatemala about migration, and I am tired. But I wanted—if it were clear enough—to film the sunrise so I stayed overnight at the headquarters of…