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.

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 3 – Mind-set and Values

So what is ‘Scrum’? Part 3 – Mind-set and Values

In the final part of my introduction to Scrum, I look at the mind-set and values that are central to making Scrum work.

‘What?’ not ‘How?’

The Scrum Guide specifies the necessary elements of the framework but does not dictate how they should be implemented.  This is left up to the Scrum Team to decide for themselves and the implementation often emerges and evolves through the cycles of continuous improvement.

For example, the Scrum Guide talks about the PO role and his or her responsibility for maintaining the Product Backlog. The guide does not, however, stipulate what method or criteria the PO should use to generate and order the backlog or how and where the list should be represented and stored. (Should you use an online system or paper? It doesn’t matter.) This allows for flexibility so that local and organisational context can be taken into account in the implementation.

Mind-set

This flexibility is one of the reasons that makes Scrum so powerful but the simplicity and lack of specific implementation directives makes it challenging to master and is perhaps one reason why there are many examples of Scrum implementations failing.

The ingredient that is so often missed is one of mind-set. It is not sufficient to implement Scrum as a series of tick-box exercises. It takes time and perseverance for a team and an organisation to discover how best to implement Scrum in their specific circumstances.

Values

The Guide addresses this mind-set through 5 values that it identifies as critical to its success. Promoting, encouraging and embeding these within a team can help to ensure the appropriate mind-set is adopted.

Commitment – each team member personally commits to achieving the goals of each sprint

Courage – each team member has the courage to do what is needed and to tackle tough problems

Focus – everyone in the team focuses on the work and goals of the sprint

Openness – everyone agrees to by open about their work and any challenges that they face

Respect – the team members respect one another as “capable, independent people”

To underline their significance, it is worth quoting directly from the guide:

“When the values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are embodied and lived by the Scrum Team, the Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life and build trust for everyone. The Scrum Team members learn and explore those values as they work with the Scrum events, roles and artifacts.”
https://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#values

In many ways, the 5 values are the most important elements of Scrum. Without them, the framework is unlikely to succeed. With them, it can become a powerful force that has the potential to revolutionise the way goals and desired outcomes are achieved.

References:

A look at agile values: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/values-agiles-toughest-challenge-andy-bleach/
scrum.org: https://www.scrum.org/
Scrum Guide: https://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html

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