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12 Agile Principles in Education

Bringing Agile to education means developing and driving your course with intention. Lessons are not copied from internet sources or thought up the morning of. A level of flow must be achieved within the learning objectives that build knowledge and skill acquisition throughout a unit and the year. Being intentional and mindful of the skills you are trying to develop becomes a daily task. You must be able to zoom in and out over the course of the year to ensure that learning is meaningful and deep. Those lessons build on each other, and students understand the importance of what they are doing.

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

In education, the highest priority is the student. The student must be learning and acquiring skills on a continuous level. That means building new skills through scaffolding, expanding content beyond words in a textbook and applying it to the current world, and constantly assessing and reflecting. Through reflective practices, students recognize that their skill and knowledge base is constantly improving and building upon themselves. No matter their age, students know that their teacher is genuine and working hard to deliver the kind of education they deserve.

This also builds a high level of trust between the students and the teacher. Students know the priority is to deliver useful knowledge and skills continuously. They can expect their teacher to never come to class without a plan or have them do busy work to fill time. Their assignments are genuine learning experiences built on previous content or skill base.

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

Students have to work through content, developing skills along the way and creating authentic assessments. Students and teachers must be flexible throughout this journey regarding their final product. The “competitive advantage” is a personalized approach to education. When we value learning instead of products, students can build on their own personal schema, making unique connections, and building deeper understanding. The product can change as long as students are learning, creating connections, and building skills.

In an agile classroom, the changing of requirements comes in our learning. Students have to work through content, developing skills along the way and creating authentic assessments. Students and teachers need to be flexible throughout this journey in terms of their final product. The “competitive advantage” is a personalized approach to education. When we value learning instead of products students can build on their own personal schema, making unique connections, and building deeper understanding. As long as students are learning, creating connections, and building skills the product can change

3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Students should constantly be moving forward in their education, and there should be real artifacts of learning as they gain knowledge. This is seen in learning, where students work through a large project but complete pieces along the way. This process of completing work help students develop the skill of breaking large projects into smaller tasks, organizing their time, and learning about the issues of procrastination. Teachers can constantly assess learning by small check-ins with students to reteach, refocus, or stretch the students learning in the process instead of grading and offering advice at the end. What students are working on and the time frame for handing in work depends on the teacher, unit, and students, but it is a must for successful agile learning units.

4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Throughout my career, I have worked with teachers that assume I hand out a poster board project, sit back, and nap. They assume that because I am not lecturing daily or grading handouts, I am not working as hard as a traditional teacher. Of course, this could not be further from the truth. After implementing Agile in my classroom, I meet with each team and do more small-group instruction than I have in my entire career. I work daily with all students, both in person and virtually, to help guide, explain difficult concepts, brainstorm, and coach. I have been able to build stronger relationships with all of my students and ensure that every single student gets my undivided attention every day. That quality education cannot be replicated any other way.

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

This agile principle is about building strong relationships and creating a learning space that is highly communicative and trusting. Whenever a teacher builds a unit, they base it on the needs of their students and help motivate them to reach their learning goals. The place that needs more attention is trusting students to get the job done. This principle pairs well with delivering artifacts of learning frequently. Twenty students cannot be launched into a project ignored, and the learning outcomes will magically appear. However, if projects are built that pull in student interest and create checkpoints to monitor and reflect on progress, we should trust the work will get done. This is part of building student agency and time management skills. Students will never build these fundamental skills if we hand them every piece of learning or guide them by the hand through every learning event. We must trust them and give them the space to figure it out.

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face–to–face conversation.

In 2020, educators went virtual over the course of a weekend. There were bumps and bruises. Everyone jumped into another level of teaching and learning that no one was prepared for. We all had to learn and adapt through our failures and mistakes.

The biggest takeaway from the test flight into virtual learning was that students MUST feel connected and be able to communicate and collaborate. They need time outside of lectures. They need time to be kids by themselves. When faced with a year (or more) of hybrid learning, the number one priority should be keeping kids connecting and collaborating. This was my primary draw to Agile. Kids would work in teams to be connected as much as possible. Now, we have opened the field to different types of schools and pedagogies that do not require all students in a classroom. Not all of my students are face-to-face. Some move back and forth, and others stay home all year. They are connected, though; through the power of zoom, they get to look each other in the face when brainstorming, learning, and executing their plan. They are connected on a human level and get to communicate openly with kids their own age in a meaningful way.

7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Learning is messy when done right. It’s always nice when we can tie up a lesson in a beautiful bow and hang it on the classroom walls. Often that kind of learning shows superficial knowledge and no deep understanding. The goal is real learning, not beautiful decorations. Like in Agile, when software is successful, if it is working, the same is true for learning. Learning is successful when it drives further learning. Learning can be seen when students can build connections and apply their knowledge. Building schema and connections are the primary measures of progress.

Agile processes promote sustainable development.

8. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

The days are long, but the years are short. That’s how most teachers and students will describe a regular school year. At some points, we cannot believe it’s only Tuesday, and then suddenly it’s May. Content and skills need to be taught and evaluated at a consistent pace, not breakneck racing through content. Although projects are broken into increments, we do not want our students to race through and burn out. It is the teacher’s responsibility to teach time management to students so they can break content and skill development into a consistent pace. This can be done by modeling, asking probing questions, or simply by working on the Kanban board. A Kanban board is a visual way to track the movement of tasks. It allows clear transparency and communication between student teams and teachers. The movement of cards, checklists, and deadlines moves the students forward. They can visually see what each group member is doing, who is moving quickly, and who may need a nudge.

Again, this is consistent with delivering at checkpoints throughout a unit, ensuring work is being accomplished consistently. Students also need the time between focused and diffused thinking. There is value in letting minds wander and big ideas sink in.

9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.