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!

Agile In Education Meet-up Group

Agile in Education: M002 Review

We held our second Agile in Education Community meet-up session on Monday 17th August. The meeting gave everyone an opportunity to discuss potential activities of the group in more detail.

After a brief recap of the first meeting we divided into breakout rooms to discuss a choice of topics as follows:

Room 1:

“We’d love to see more teachers join us. How do we reach out to them while being sensitive to the pressure many are under and while respecting their expertise?”

  • consider a ‘personality’ or figurehead to front a campaign (Willy Wijnands, for example)
  • assemble a collection of resources
  • include the full range of agile, progressive thinking rather than focusing on a single approach
  • approach schools and head teachers (as well as individual teachers)
  • consider connecting with existing elements such as careers & skills based learning
  • what are teachers already doing that is agile?

Room 2:

“Let’s organise a festival to celebrate agile and progressive thinking in education around the world!”

  • aim to increase awareness of possibilities
  • collaborate with other institutions e.g. partner with universities to host events
  • global focus
  • involve children/students
  • interactive; workshops
  • a festival/celebration ‘vibe’ is preferable to a conference
  • involve businesses – combine with careers (for older students)
  • consider appropriate language – familiar/meaningful terms rather than those from business
  • e.g. critical thinking and problem solving are already concepts that exist in curriculum
  • there is a set of soft skills and a set of values – a mindset – that underpin agile; this is tricky to sell compared with a tick-box approach
  • involve governors and parents
  • consider an ‘un-conference’ or ‘party’ approach
  • look at other festivals and how they have been arranged
  • link with other events such as Brett
  • how to market?
  • the term ‘agile’ may put people off

Room 3:

“I am new to Agile – I’m here to explore the basics.”

A huge thanks to David Michel for assisting with the logistics of the evening and for volunteering to lead the discussion in room 3.

A recording of the session can be found on the Agile in Education YouTube Channel:

https://tinyurl.com/agileined-videos

Thank you to everyone who attended – it’s great to have such a wide variety of backgrounds represented.

At time of writing, it is intended that the September meeting will offer an opportunity to hear from teachers who have been using progressive approaches in their classrooms. If you are interested in speaking at the event, please get in touch.

Who the Hell Does This Guy Think He Is?

Who the Hell Does This Guy Think He Is?

I wanted to tackle this matter early in my ‘Agile in Education’ journey.

I’ve been a trainer earlier in my career, both in the business world and in adult education and many members of my immediate and extended family are or were teachers. However, I am not and have never been a school teacher.

So what gives me the right to waltz into schools, colleges and the world of education demanding that everyone change the way things are done?

Nothing gives me that right. But either way, it isn’t what I’m trying to do – in any sense.

I have genuine respect for teachers and those working to help educate our young people. It’s a vitally important, immensely challenging and often exhausting, thankless role to play. I would never wish to tell anyone in education how they should do their job. There are many people far wiser and with far better credentials for orchestrating reform than I.

However, I do believe that the system does not properly prepare young people for a rapidly changing world which bears no resemblance to the one that existed when the system was first established. This belief is based on my experience as a parent, on discussions with people who are involved in education and on observing articles, reports and debate in media around the world.

Even if you don’t agree with this point of view, it would be hard to convince me that we should not look for ways to improve the system whenever we can – however effective we think it is.

So what am I trying to achieve by creating the Agile in Education community and this blog?

During the last couple of decades there has been a revolution in the way that many businesses operate – set to the backdrop of a planet that is changing at an ever-increasing rate. That on its own should demand a fresh look at the way we prepare young people to contribute to this exciting, challenging world as adults.

While there are many examples of businesses struggling to implement agile thinking (it is not an easy, quick fix and it requires a fundamental shift in mind-set that if absent, will invariably result in failure) there is at the very least, the potential that some of the concepts could have significant benefits in the classroom as well as in the office. In support of this theory, there is a growing collection of cases where scrum based frameworks and other progressive ideas are being adopted in schools around the world.

My personal aim is to explore this potential; to help others become aware that there are important, exciting things happening (within businesses but increasingly within education) and to encourage debate. I believe the time is right to give these new ideas serious consideration – especially on the back of CV19 and the experiences of global lockdown.

During my personal Agile in Education journey, I hope to learn a great many things and expect to have my views challenged – but if I can help open others eyes to new possibilities along the way then I will consider my mission a success.

Whether you are curious, excited, sceptical or horrified about the idea of agile thinking in education please get in touch. I’d love to hear your story.

Agile In Education Meet-up Group

Agile Education: Extraordinary Video Footage Uncovered!

Publication: The Daily Scrum
Date: 13th July 2035

15 years ago this week, at 19:00 on the evening of Monday 13th July 2020, a group of 16 progressive thinkers and educators met in cyberspace. Their mission was to consider how they could revolutionise the education systems of the UK and the world from the ground up, by exploring and promoting the adoption of agile thinking and practices within schools and colleges.

This is a well known tale, but what really happened on that famous night, when the community that was to become so influential was born?

Legend has it that self-confessed geek and agile fanatic, Andy Bleach, hogged the microphone, refusing to allow anyone else to talk – but was that true?

What was the real story behind the creation of the now famous Pressure Parsnip Theory of Education that some claim was first revealed at this meeting?

What was said that was so profound it spurred the creation of a community and a movement that slowly but steadily spread the progressive mind-set into the educational establishments of the UK and the world?

Well we here at The Daily Scrum are now able to reveal, exclusively, exactly what took place. After many months of dedicated investigation, we have uncovered the long-lost video recording of the entire event.

The session began with a short introduction from Andy about why he decided to start the community, followed by an exercise that allowed the members of the group to get to know one another a little.

Then, it is clear that Andy did indeed hog the microphone for half an hour, in which he revealed, in detail, his view of education and how he believed agile thinking could make a big difference to the education of young people.

Here are the key points from his talk:

Education

Observations on the current education system
  • the roots of the education system lie in the time of the industrial revolution
  • the world is a radically different place now and yet education remains unchanged
  • are the current methods the most effective ways of preparing our young people for the modern world? For example:
    • formal classroom layout supporting teacher led learning
    • knowledge transfer from expert to pupil
    • subject based; segregated subjects
    • school years organised by ‘Manufactured Date’ (ref: Sir Ken Robinson)
    • intelligence measured solely by academic success
    • remedial action to ‘repair’ children who are ‘broken academically’
    • focus on exams – major source of stress
    • when was the last time you used something you learned to pass an exam?
    • when did you last have to take an exam?
  • the UK, and other countries have a fear of failure
  • but failure is good – it is how we learn and become better people; modern, successful, agile businesses recognise this
  • the current system generates pressure on young people, sometimes with fatal consequences
  • the system creates two types of person – academically competent and ‘the rest’
  • are either group prepared effectively for functioning in the modern world?
  • the problem is with the system rather than the teachers
  • but that should not stop us all from questioning every aspect of education to see if there is a better way

Agile

The origins of the Agile 'movement'
  • in the 1970s and beyond, most software products were built using the waterfall method – this has many inherent weaknesses including:
    • identification of bugs and design issues are primarily identified during the test phase requiring rewind of the process
    • value is only delivered at the end of the project – often months or years after the start
    • there are many unknowns that make planning inherently inaccurate and unreliable
    • the approach generates numerous pressure points, great stress and often results in overrun, overspend or even cancellation
  • something had to be done – in 2001, 17 IT professionals gathered to create an agile manifesto
  • from many inputs and ideas, Scrum has emerged as the dominant framework
  • much of agile thinking is based on empiricism – the theory that knowledge comes only from sensory experience
  • frameworks such as Scrum replace the waterfall approach with a combination of evolutionary delivery and continuous improvement using small, self-organising, multi-disciplined teams to deliver increments of useable product in short 1-4 week ‘Sprint’ cycles

Progressive Mind-set

A selection of progressive thinking frameworks, techniques and concepts
  • there are many ‘progressive’ techniques and approaches that could have far reaching benefits in education, including:
    • Scrum/eduScrum
    • Kanban
    • Lean
    • Visual Thinking
    • Design Thinking
    • Liberating Structures
  • we also need to consider nurturing of the appropriate mind-set and values to ensure success
  • these are not easy, tick-box solutions – progress will be challenging

Opportunities

A vision of what we might achieve through agile, progressive thinking in education
  • if introduction of agile, progressive thinking is successful, the benefits are far reaching – young people will potentially become:
    • engaged and motivated to learn
    • natural collaborators
    • less stressed
    • able to reach their full potential
    • courageous enough to give and receive feedback
    • in possession of a healthy attitude to failure
    • comfortable with change
    • creative thinkers
    • happy
  • teachers will be able to focus on supporting their pupils to unlock their full potential, through mentoring, coaching, facilitating
  • families will be less stressed and happier
  • schools will have the flexibility and mind-set to fail fast – becoming better equipped to serve their students, businesses and their local communities in a rapidly changing world
  • businesses will be served by a pool of young people who have the skills and confidence to contribute effectively from the start, already comfortable with agile approaches

An International Challenge – Already Underway

A sample of the spread of agile thinking in education around the world
  • Scrum is a generic framework which has been applied in many situations other than software development
  • eduScrum is an education friendly version of Scrum developed in the Netherlands by Science Teacher, Willy Wijnands
  • interest in eduScrum is exploding, having reached 30 countries to date, including China, India and the USA
  • almost 1000 teachers have been trained to use eduScrum in Russia
  • another Agile approach has been introduced into 200 schools in Australia
  • there are one or two agile based initiatives in the UK

Then Andy finished with the now famous statement that summarises the ethos of the community so well:

I believe:
  • we need to update our education system to make it suitable for the modern world
  • we should explore the potential of embracing an agile or progressive mind-set within education
  • we don’t need to wait for a directive from above
  • we can take small steps ourselves… and see what happens…

The final part if the session gave attendees a brief chance to discuss what they thought the community could achieve over the coming months. The discussions were promising and it was agreed that the debate would continue in subsequent meetings, the first of which was held on Monday 17th August 2020 (reference: https://www.meetup.com/agile-in-education-uk/events/271923929)

If you wish to re-live the experience in its entirety – and discover the origins of the Pressure Parsnip Theory of Education – the video recording of the entire event can be viewed here:
https://tinyurl.com/agileined001-recording

The start of the journey

The start of the journey

In my first post I tell the story of why I have created the Progressive Education web site and the Agile In Education community group. What do I hope to achieve with the project?

Young boy with rucksackWhy am I so convinced that a progressive, agile way of thinking could have a profound impact on the education of todays young people? Why do I think it’s important?

I’m an IT geek. I’ve worked in computing for all of my adult life but for much of that time, training, coaching and helping others to understand and make the most of technology has been central. With a family full of teachers and educators I guess it’s seeped into my soul.

I was introduced to agile thinking in the form of Scrum just short of 10 years ago, although I’d been aware of various elements such as evolutionary delivery previously. It had probably occurred to me at some point that this would be a brilliant framework to introduce into education but it wasn’t until I read Jeff Sutherland’s excellent bible “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” that I learned of Willy Wijnands.

Willy is a science teacher (or was – he retired from teaching last week) at Ashram College in the Netherlands. In 2011 he began experimenting with using Scrum in his classes and eventually formalised an education friendly version of the framework called eduScrum. Not only is this now well established in schools in the Netherlands but it has spread to 30 other countries including Russia, China, India and the USA. Another agile based approach to education is taking off in Australia with wide participation.

So back to the questions. Why does anything need to be done?

The simple answer is that education of our young people is no longer fit for purpose – not a situation that is the fault of teachers, may I add. The current system, at least in the UK, has its roots back in the 19th century and particularly in recent decades, has effectively become a funnel leading to a narrow-minded focus on examination results.

Try a simple experiment. Ask the next 10 people you meet whether, since leaving school, they’ve used anything that they learned in order to pass their school exams. The school system trains people to pass exams. A skill that in the majority of cases is of little or no direct benefit to them when they get out into the real world. Teachers need to be better empowered to support and facilitate genuine learning in their classrooms. Children need to be more engaged in their learning and better prepared for their future. Businesses need young people better equipped to help them survive in a rapidly, perpetually evolving landscape.

We need to replace the existing system with something more flexible – something that equips young people with the skills that they need to survive in a world that is radically different from the world of 100 years ago. A world that requires flexibility, initiative, creativity, trust, openness, respect, courage, teamwork, collaboration… and failure.

Failure is good. Failure is how we become better people. We (and our children) need to learn how to embrace failure and use it to our advantage. This is what businesses expect (because of agile thinking). Is it fair on our children to raise them without giving them the skills that they will need in the real world? Education should be about more than accumulation of subject knowledge – it should be about making us more effective (and happier) individuals.

I believe that learning to adopt an agile mind-set, through Scrum or a similar framework can provide the answer for our education systems – and there is a growing movement around the world that believes the same thing. The journey getting there is not going to be easy – there are enough ‘agile’ failures in the business world to tell us that – which leads me to one final point in my tirade.

‘Agile’ is not a magic bullet – a one-size-fits-all tick list of actions that if you follow will immediately solve all of your problems. Agile, or perhaps ‘agility’ is a mind-set; a way of thinking. The businesses that fail in their transformation journey typically ‘do agile’. The ones that are successful become agile. They take small steps. Sometimes they fail but always they reflect, learn and improve. Continuously. That is being agile.

So what do I hope to achieve?

Of course, it would be fantastic if after reading this, some high powered influencer gave Boris a call and triggered a revolution resulting in the immediate redefining of the entire structure, operation and meaning of education in the UK to the ultimate satisfaction and happiness of every man, woman and child in the country. I’d accept that, of course, but more likely…

If I want agile to succeed, perhaps I should treat the challenge with an agile mind-set. That begins with a small step. Any step. We’ll see what happens, learn from it and take another step that will hopefully get us closer to our destination.

That first step is the creation of an online community at https://www.meetup.com/agile-in-education-uk to explore the whole arena of agile thinking in education. Through the community I hope to build awareness and an appetite to take other first steps on new agile journeys.

If I can influence one teacher who in turn improves the chances of one pupil to be happy and successful in their life, then every moment I spend on this mission of mine will be worth it.

I hope you will join me on my journey.

Andy Bleach