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Agile Principles for Teachers

Agile is a set of principles and values that was created to transform the software development industry. Its core ideas are based on simplicity, transparency, and efficiency, which not only are successful in technology industries but have been expanding into a variety of other industries with the same success.

The education system is rooted in traditions and practices that are no longer aligned with the way work is done in our current constantly evolving world. We are watching as old systems of education crumble with teachers leaving, student disengagement, and dropping national scores as members of this community we need to explore the options that have helped other industries expand and adapt instead of maintaining our status quo.

Below are three agile principles that teachers can employ immediately in their classrooms. These principles can be implemented quickly and easily through small steps that will maximize change.

Agile Principle #4: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

As an agile educator, I do not lecture daily or grade handouts. I facilitate learning by creating wide-open questions that student teams are able to explore. Students work in teams, are taught how to break a large project into small increments, and pull their work together developing “soft” skills as they navigate their work. After implementing Agile in my classroom, I meet with each student team and do more small-group instruction than I have in my entire career. I work daily with all students, 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 would be difficult to replicate in any other way.

This is dramatically different from a traditional classroom where a teacher may have to employ a variety of classroom management tools while desperately trying to maintain the interest of 30 students at one time. In an agile classroom, student teams solve problems, own their learning, and are assisted by the teacher. Classrooms become collaborative spaces where everyone participates and works together.

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

Building strong relationships and creating a learning space that is highly communicative and trusting is an essential part of learning. When 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. Through the development of wide-open questions, the use of team kanban boards, and rubrics that assess process over a product a learning environment of agency and creativity is created. Units are built that pull in student interest and create checkpoints to monitor and reflect on progress. 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 hold their hands through every learning event. We must trust them and give them the space to figure it out.

Agile Principle #9: Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Good design is essential to building intrinsic learning environments and scaffolding future-ready skills. Agile unit design is different from traditional design because it begins with a Wide-Open Question that the students are driven to answer. These are different from traditional questions because they do not have to be based on the content. These questions are open-ended enough that students can find multiple ways to solve the problem even when applying the same content. This allows personalization of learning because students are invited to bring their interests and schema to the problem-solving effort.

Another important part of Agile design is real-world application. This helps empower and motivate students because their learning is directly applied to the world around them. They know the WHY of each piece of knowledge and know their learning has a purpose. Instead of learning for a test, they can see how acquiring new knowledge and working through the unit will affect their lives immediately.

These two pieces of Agile unit design engage students, build independence, and let them know that the teacher trusts them to find their own solutions. These changes from traditional unit planning help the attention to excellence because the students are intrinsically motivated to learn and problem-solve.

Agile principles 4, 5, and 9 can effectively be adopted by teachers at any level of the classroom to create an immediate change in engagement and learning outcomes. The content, standards, or time frames do not need to change only the framing and mindset of how learning gets done. These small changes will have immediate results and help update education in the classrooms.


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