Agile In Education Meet-up Group

Agile in Education: M003 Review, Part 1

The 3rd Agile in Education Community online meet-up took place on Monday 21st September. We were treated to a set of personal reflections from 3 teachers, all from Leysin American School in Switzerland, who have been using agile and progressive thinking to enhance the learning experience in their classrooms.

I will summarise the event in several short posts – in this, the first, I present the highlights from Nicola Cosgrove’s story.

Leysin American School in Switzerland

Nicola began by introducing the school where she and all of the evening’s speakers are based. The family run school is located partially in the Swiss mountains and caters for up to 300 students on a boarding basis. Outdoor activities play a central part in the life of the school – especially during the ski season.

There is also a strong focus on Professional Development among the teaching staff. To support this, the school have established an Educational Research Centre which acts as a hub connecting the school to other organisations.

As a result, there is a conscious effort to move away from traditional methods of teaching, where learning is teacher focused and teacher led, to one with a more agile mind-set, where students have greater choice and the emphasis on grades and deadlines is removed. The teacher supports the students by working alongside them rather than in front of them – this approach results in students possessing greater independence.

Nicola’s Background

Nicola has been teaching Physical Education for 10 years. She was introduced to an agile way of thinking as part of her professional development at the school, around 4 years ago. She currently teaches years 7 to 10. Nicola has also contributed to a chapter of the book “Agile and Lean Concepts for Teaching and Learning”, concerning Teacher-less Observations.

3-Stage Approach to Agile

Nicola’s journey towards agility is on-going and has at times been challenging. She is consequently developing a toolkit to help others make the journey more easily. She has distilled the implementation into 3 stages:

Stage 1 – Visual

A visual device such as a Kanban board allows information to be shared easily with and between students. It enables the teacher to reduce or even remove the dependence that the students have on them. Nicola finds that students are able to begin lessons without her intervention because the plan for each lesson is clearly visible and available to everyone.

Another successful technique is one that she describes as “changing the face at the front”. She provides a safe environment where every student has the opportunity to plan and lead a session or part of one. This has been successful even for students who are ordinarily quiet or lacking in confidence.

Stage 2 – Collaboration

As students become more comfortable with leading small sections of lessons, Nicola encourages them to take a greater part in shaping their learning. At this stage, she works with them to create units together, with everyone collaborating on setting goals, for example to learn Badminton, and deciding what learning steps are required to achieve those goals.

Stage 3 – Reflection

The third stage – perhaps the most challenging of all – is concerned with reflection. Nicola encourages students to consider the learning process and reflect on areas that could be improved as well as on their successes. This stage is not easy – time needs to be specifically set aside to allow reflection to take place. Nurturing an open, growth mind-set and building a safe environment where students feel able to discuss things openly is key to making these initiatives successful.

Take a Leap

Nicola acknowledged that adopting this approach is probably easier within the flexible environment of LAS than it may be in other schools, however, she has some great advice for anyone contemplating a move to a more agile way of teaching:

“What we’re doing is not something new – we’re not taking something new and saying ‘we’re doing agile now’. We’re doing things that we’ve already done before but we’re putting an agile skin or a lens onto it. I would encourage anyone who is listening and hasn’t really tried it before to take a leap. Be agile – implementing it in small iterations and seeing where it goes.”

Nicola Cosgrove, 21st September 2020

A report on the remainder of the meeting, including the extensive Q&A session, will appear here shortly. Until then, the full recording of the session can be found on the Agile In Education Community YouTube Channel.


Agile in Education Community Meet-up M003 – Summary: Nicola Cosgrove

Word Search

Word Searching – How (Not) to Describe Your Passion

I need a new word.

You may have noticed that I’ve changed the url of my website recently. The switch was driven by a need to change hosting arrangements as much as anything else but it’s caused me to think deeply about how best to describe my ‘project’.

The problem is one of baggage.

I’m from the world of ‘agile’. I’m interested in how the power of ‘the agile mindset’ might help improve the effectiveness of education in preparing young people to succeed in the modern world. But the word ‘agile’ carries with it several problems – as hinted by my exuberant use of apostrophes.

Firstly, it’s a word that conceals a mine-field of jargon – much of which is likely to be alien to the audience we’re trying to reach. There’s a danger of triggering a ‘them and us’ divide between business-based agile practitioners and education professionals.

Secondly, it’s rather vague. The term became popular after ‘The Manifesto for Agile Software Development’ was published in 2001 (the authors toyed with the word ‘light’ as an alternative) but it has transformed from something describing a very simple principle into an umbrella covering a fog of wide ranging concepts (see the infamous Deloitte Agile Landscape Map).

There is even far too much debate about how the word should be used – is it a verb, an adjective, a noun or simply a profane expletive?

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if you type ‘agile doesn’t work’ into a search engine you’re likely to need an extremely long screen for the results.

‘Agile’ has a reputation problem.

The cause is complicated – but in a nutshell, agile transformations are extremely challenging to achieve successfully, resulting in many cases where ‘agile’ can be considered to have failed.

This doesn’t mean we should give up and go back to the old world (instead, we should try harder or perhaps smarter) but this fact does taint the reputation of ‘agile’ and all of the frameworks, tools and ideas that are associated with ‘it’. This reputational damage is so severe that some people get quite angry at the merest mention of the word!

Since the term and concept of ‘agile’ lacks clarity and is rather emotive, I feel there has to be a better term.

Perhaps the obvious choice, which I’ve been using recently, is ‘progressive’. It is at least more meaningful on its own in that it suggests by definition that we are concerned with change, improvement, or reform rather than simply to move quickly or easily. But the word ‘progressive’ is also problematic.

It too is vague and it too has a reputation problem… especially when applied to education. This is perhaps a bigger problem than the reputation issue that exists with the word ‘agile’.

Since ‘the age of enlightenment’ in the 17th and 18th centuries there have been attempts around the world to construct forms of education that are progressive in nature – to move from teacher-led to child-centred learning and away from traditional one-dimensional, academic, exam driven schools to something that embraces the variety of human nature.

However, there are many who believe, quite categorically, that the ideas behind progressive education are fundamentally wrong. A simple search will reveal case studies that claim progressive education has failed generations of young people who, as a result of progressive ‘experiments’, find themselves unable to read, write or carry out simple mathematical calculations.

Despite this, there are still many who believe a progressive approach is the right one. Personally, I think there is a middle (dare I say ‘agile’) way that combines the best of traditional and progressive approaches, but whatever you believe, the term is damaged.

So what next?

I’ve toyed with other ideas, but they all hit problems:

  • Hybrid Education – already used in the EdTech world to refer to a combination of online and in-person learning
  • Integrated Education – used in Northern Ireland in particular, to refer to schools where children from both protestant and catholic family backgrounds are educated together.
  • New Education – too vague and too hippy.
  • Education Reform – political connotations

…I could go on. The truth is, there’s no easy way to clearly encapsulate what I have in my mind without hitting a wall of packing cases.

So, I’ve finally decided. I’m off to my local domain name store to buy myself:
exploring-and-promoting-some-ideas-from-the-world-of-business-that-I-and-others-think-might have-a-positive-impact-on-the-way-young-people-are-educated-to-prepare-them-for-life-in-the-modern-world.com

…but then I really don’t like domains with hyphens!