Gentz: Agility in Education will spur agility in the workplace

Susan Gentz

A few weeks ago I was able to head east to Cedar Rapids for a full day of learning about “Agile-Scrum.” Essentially this process model, which has typically been used in software development, is crossing sectors and making it’s way to education. The term refers to methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

I was privileged to be involved in discussions with key stakeholders and Hill staffers to offer input and shape the current policy landscape. It is beyond encouraging to see districts like Iowa BIG taking advantage of allowances in the law and implementing models like agile-scrum.

It’s pushing the field further forward on what success means for students today and I jumped at the opportunity to attend this workshop.

The day was full of learning what this learning model means for education and also gave educators in the room a chance to put the framework in action. The day started with an overview, and creating a contract of expectations for the day together. Then we were able to go learn what agile-scrum is, and skype with a classroom has implemented this learning model in Hope, AZ.

After that we were given a task to create a cover of a magazine. We broke down the tasks that needed to be done, evaluated on what we feasibly could get done in the time allotted, and had to really collaborate to come to an agreement. These theoretical learning models always make more sense when you actually get to see them in action.

So What does it Mean?

Agile is pretty straight forward, relating to or denoting a method of project management. It’s used for software development that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

But scrum was new to me- perhaps you already know more than I did. Would you believe if I told you that Scrum is actually not an acronym for something? (In education, always assume words you don’t know are acronyms…or maybe don’t.) Turns out it’s a sports term borrowed from the game of Rugby.

Scrum: A scrum (short for scrummage) is a mthod of restarting play in rugby that involves players packing closely together with their heads down and attempting to gain possession of the ball.

Once I understood these definitions –  Agile-Scrum – started to make more sense.

In the education space it specifically means- no man left behind. The entire team is needed for success and the goal must be the same, even if players have different roles. One way to complete a project well is to use a method of continuous feedback and adaptation.

Agile-Scrum in Education

The five key pieces to an agile classroom framework are: The journey/multiple pathways, empowerment, cadence/rhythm, transparency, and collaboration.

The operationalization of this framework provides educators and students the “how” for getting to what all the books say to do. The name of the game is flexibility. In order to create student agency (meaning students can direct their learning and have some aspect of control over it as well) over learning and truly personalized learning environments all of these must be in place.

Flexibility means that while there is a deadline and end goal, the parts within the problem can be moved around- and nimble or agile. The idea is to split a large task into many smaller tasks, and tackle issues in smaller chunks. During our group work, we were required to use sticky notes and move them along as tasks were completed. We even had a box to put for questions, but students are only allowed to move a task to the question box if every person in the group agrees the problem cannot be solved amongst themselves.

What’s really exciting about this framework, is that under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law that rewrites No Child Left Behind, states can use new measures of accountability. States have been struggling with what indicators to use and many have resorted back to the indicators they used under the old law (a mentality of compliance, rather than continuous improvement.)

If states and districts were to consider the agile learning framework as a new learning model- the innovative components of the framework could help states establish a clear vision for which new accountability indicators to use as measures for success.

So that’s “agile-scrum” in context of education- but it has huge implications for the next generation workforce. If this is how students are learning now- it’s how they are going to problem-solve when they obtain a job, and our companies need to know how to operate in this context.

Agile-Scrum in the Workplace

In the famous “I Love Lucy” scene, Lucy and Ethel are told to make sure that no chocolates got through the line without being wrapped.

Lucy and Ethel were successful, but not really. Not one chocolate gets past them, but the end goal of having them all wrapped and ready to go doesn’t exactly happen either. This is a perfect example of how things often happen in the workplace. Leaders fear being called “micromanagers” so they give a task with very little guidance. While it is true some thrive in this environment – it can be frustrating for others.

In this video, there is very little communication, collaboration, empowerment or transparency. Too often these issues are still prevalent in work environments. As the technology community constantly raises up new businesses that create disruptive market models- the aim should also be to disrupt the work environment that leaves much to be desired for employees.

From Compliance to Continuous Improvement

The “I Love Lucy” model is a great example of what not to do. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine what these working environments look like, but there is one super encouraging video that John Miller showed at the seminar.

The Nordstrom Innovation Lab:

This model goes from the “I Love Lucy” compliance (make sure no chocolate gets past you) to continuous improvement (constant feedback from customers). It’s also important to note the board the team uses- full of sticky notes. Filled with flexibility to check things off when done, or add more if the task needs to be broken down further. This environment promotes all the key pieces of the agile classrooms framework. It’s also hard to pick out who the “boss” is. See if you can pick out the pieces in the video- it’s truly inspiring to see a framework in education being used to solve real-world problems.

We will do better in business if how we teach the students translates well into the work environments they will be entering.