Agile is a mindset that makes workplaces and systems more transparent, efficient, and collaborative. When there is widespread adoption of agile, teams work through iterations quickly completing small pieces of a larger project, identifying and removing impediments, and problem-solving on the spot to pivot and keep moving. At its core, agile is defined by its ability to treat all team members like human beings and keep the integrity of relationships.
The four agile values are:
individuals and interactions over processes and tools
working software over comprehensive documentation
customer collaboration over contract negotiation
responding to change over following a plan
In the current state of education, teachers are faced with more and more pressure to provide differentiated teaching, but with standards, curriculum, and EdTech tools that are mandated by those not in the classroom, it is a struggle to maintain all of the work, build strong relationships, maintain mental health advocacy, and get grading done. All teachers in the classroom feel this struggle, but integrating agile into the classroom clears this task list and brings us back to the human-based interactions that we most need in the classroom and society.
As independent school leaders, we are all working to build better educational models that will prepare our students for the future, and that is a heavy load considering how unknown the future might be. The four values of agile can help us develop the skills and content knowledge necessary for our students to be adaptable, innovative, and have the critical thinking skills they will need to navigate an unpredictable world.
Agile Value for Education #1: Individuals and interactions over process and tools.
This first value did not need to be changed to fit education. In our world, EdTech solutions have been growing over the past decade. There was an especially large boom during the pandemic of automated, AI-driven, EdTech tools that were promised to ease the burden of teaching while still maintaining a high level of engagement and learning. Many of these tools are useful, but the human to human interaction is what is necessary to build patterns of intrinsic learning. Students need to feel seen and heard. They want their voice to be respected and to build connections with others. When students only have screens, they may be interacting with content, but they are not developing the skills and social strategies that are necessary to navigate the world. Strict processes present the same issues. A process that cannot be personalized or adapted to individuals is limited for learning. Our students, just like our teachers, are human beings that need personalization and flexible ways of working. Strictly adhering to one style of learning or one tool leaves many underserved.
In an agile classroom, students will have access to the same EdTech opportunities and platforms, but because they are working in groups and exploring answers to an open-ended essential question the technology becomes a tool to master as a means of learning. Agility allows students to have a choice and the freedom to adapt the tools to their needs as they learn content. The end goal is for students to learn, not automate processes or simply interact with tools. In agile teams, students work collaboratively to sort and prioritize work. They must have daily conversations about what they are learning and how it will help them find an answer to their essential question. Students spend more face time asking genuine questions to their teachers because the teacher’s role evolves from leader to facilitator. That change in role allows them to spend more time working in small groups and less time in front of the classroom. In an agile classroom individuals and their needs get the attention they deserve. The interactions between those individuals teach social and “soft” skills that cannot be learned using a worksheet, by lecture, or PowerPoint. An agile classroom brings humanity back to education as all members’ time, personalities, and interests are respected while they use tools and processes to achieve their goals.
Agile Value for Education #2: Meaningful lessons over the measurement of learning.
To be clear, no one is advocating for a system that does not value applied knowledge, but what an agile classroom does prioritize is the purpose of the lessons in an effort to build intrinsic learning. The point of learning is not to pass a test. It is to acquire knowledge that can be applied to problem-solving in situations that we encounter in our lives. Therefore, if a lesson’s only purpose is to pass a test, can we really consider it a lesson? Or is it just a formative prep exercise?
Students are naturally intrinsic learners. As babies they explored the world, using all five senses and making sense of new experiences as fast as they could. This continued into the toddler phase when these babies now discovered new opportunities, hurling questions at adults at a rapid pace (why?). This intrinsic learning is organic to human development. Our students are interested in the world and want to know more about it. What is not a part of natural learning is constant assessments to identify data points.
In an agile classroom, students are able to discover that organic, intrinsic learning. For example, in Florida, 8th-grade history students always start the year with social contract theory. No 8th grader ever jumped for joy when hearing that they would spend 4 weeks reading about Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau. However, through a well-crafted essential question and Agile Principle #1, a priority of individuals over tools and processes, the students could explore ways that social contract theory applied to their everyday lives. They were free to build the connections between something they had to learn and something they had an interest in, becoming intrinsically motivated. Throughout the project, students still handed in work for grades, there were still checkpoints scheduled with the teacher, and after they presented their artifact of learning they wrote essays describing their process. Real learning took place. Real knowledge was acquired without the need for continual measurements of learning.
If we view these processes as simply being human beings, we can easily relate this to our own lives. Do you learn new content? Do you like to be interrupted and checked on constantly? How do you feel when someone says you can only show mastery in a way that they choose? As adults, we would not tolerate these conditions. We would find loopholes or ways around those expectations. Many may tough it out, but not be intrinsically motivated. The question then is why we would expect that smaller versions of ourselves would have different desires, needs, and motivations.
Agile Value for Education #3: Collaboration over fixed rules and curriculum.
The traditional education system began as a way to transmit knowledge to the masses. Instruction was teacher-led because they held the knowledge and decided the best strategies and techniques to share that knowledge with their pupils. Children were expected to memorize as much information as possible and carry it with them into their future. This worked in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the world has been rapidly evolving and our systems of education have not.
Now we have all of human history at our fingertips. We can look up random facts, historical dates, and scientific formulas. What our people now need are ways to access that information, build new connections with it, and refine the human skills that cannot be automated. This is the core of the third agile principle. Our kids need a safe environment to build their inquiry skills. They need to learn the art of collaboration, active listening, and problem-solving. They need to be challenged to think outside of the box, combine unlike content and fail, reflect, and repeat. The learning that will prepare our students for that future is social learning. That does not mean content and curriculum are no longer necessary or not valued. They are the vehicle that social learning is delivered. The point of the third agile value is that students need the space for collaboration, to learn how to work together, communicate and build empathy towards others. The human-based skills developed while learning content is often more important and applicable than the content itself. Our students will not solve major world issues by recalling the major battles of the War of 1812, but they might with the problem-solving techniques they developed in an agile classroom.
Agile Value for Education #4: Responding to Change over Following a Plan
The final agile value encapsulates the essence of learning. Intrinsic learning is not a linear path. There are often bumps in the road, unseen twists and turns, and sometimes dead ends. During the most important developmental ages, children need to learn how to be flexible in their thinking. When learning as babies and toddlers, children identify their own questions, test possible solutions, reflect on the outcome, and try new strategies. This way of learning begins immediately for human beings, and yet we change the formula when prescribed content is introduced. K-12 education is the perfect place to provide a safe social environment for intrinsic learning to happen. Provide the content that needs to be learned, and open the possibilities for exploration and personalization. Give students a time limit and let them develop their own plan. Have them document their successes and failures. Praise them for the work they are doing and help them reflect on the real learning that is happening. This flexibility in the classroom brings real genuine engagement, exciting conversation, and opportunities for metacognition. This also changes the role of a teacher. Instead of a strict plan for the day, the teacher’s role becomes that of a facilitator. Student interest helps drive the agenda and the teacher gets to guide that enthusiasm, prompting deeper levels of thinking and participating in authentic conversations. These are the moments that drive teachers into the classroom. The lightbulb moments we all wish for at the beginning of the year. Adopting the mindset of flexible pathways of learning brings joy back to the classroom for both teachers and students. It makes the education system human again.
These four shifts in mindset dramatically change the experience of K-12 education for not only the students but teachers as well. Agile values humanity and the organic learning process, and is driven by purpose. Agile classrooms are attentive to the whole child in a way that methodologies and frameworks of the past could never achieve. Teachers and students are given autonomy, space to experiment, opportunities for reflection, and constant refinement of skills and content knowledge.