Employing the agile framework in the classroom is highly beneficial for students and for teachers, but the benefits extend beyond the classroom walls.
Agile brings incredible changes to the culture of a classroom. Shifting the teacher’s focus from leader to facilitator empowers students to pull their learning (rather than teachers pushing it), creating more efficient systems. That efficiency gives time back to teachers and students to do a deeper dive into learning and explore ideas outside of the mandated content. That time is also used to build relationships, offer space for genuine conversations, and lift the mood and energy of the classroom. The time to actually work is the greatest gift for both the students and the teachers. Time is a precious resource that everyone needs more of, especially in education.
Agile is not a template for lesson plans. It is not a classroom management system. Agile was created to open lines of communication, ease collaboration, test and deliver frequently, and reflect often. With this in mind, agility, when introduced to administrative teams, eases the burden of work for everyone.
Administrative teams have different job functions than teachers. They must run entire schools, develop curricula, manage people, and problem-solve in real-time. The tasks on the average To-Do list often grow without much being checked off, and work can easily multiply. That is why agile on an administrative level is an absolute must.
Only Meet When It Is Essential
Most administrative teams find themselves in daily meetings. Certain messages must be easily communicated with other levels of administration, teachers, parents, and students. This is where the Kanban board is essential. Just like teachers are able to prioritize work, and use the Kanban board to visually track work, the administrative teams can do the same.
When first introducing agile to administrators they are asked to break up their tasks into cards. All work gets color-coded and placed onto the Kanban board. The board is not the magic, the discussion, transparency, and reflection that happens afterward are what unlocks hours of time. The administrative team is asked about the purpose of the tasks, the intent of why work needs to be done, and how it will affect the overall school. Work is discussed in a transparent manner, sharing ideas, and prioritizing work. The “busy” tasks fall to the bottom of the list and the important work gains clarity among the team working on it.
This works wonders for busy schools, especially those working on strategic plans. The real priorities rise to the top of the board. People within the team can be assigned specific tasks and once work begins the board is used to monitor flow. When used properly by the team, members can check in and visually see what is being done and by whom. As cards move from “To Do” to “Doing”, “Refine” and “Done” the entire team can see what work is being done. This effectively stops the messiness of office politics, the need for constant meetings to check in on the status of work, and keeps motivation high.
In this setting, agile is creating more efficient use of time by prioritizing and keeping track of work.
A great benefit of agility schools is also the balance of work between departments. Often when teams become busy, work falls to other departments to pick up. When teams are busy and unorganized work gets shuffled, it finally settles on the shoulders of the group with the least amount of power. We see this with teachers’ caseloads expanding as work overwhelms the departments above them. With nowhere else for work to flow the teachers are tasked with shouldering the burden of taking on more administrative and counseling tasks at the expense of time with students, lesson planning, and building relationships.
In agile systems, this uneven distribution of work can be seen visually. It no longer is a feeling or a sense of more work. When tasks are created on the Kanban board they can be seen and tracked visually. Work on each level of a school is refined and prioritized. It is easy to see in fractions of a second what work is being done and who is doing it. Again, the openness of communication and collaboration adds to the transparency of the work. As schools adopt agile, efficient systems replace the outdated ways of working and for most schools, this means less busy work and more purposeful work. When work cannot be completed by a department a conversation needs to occur about the importance of that work, what purpose it serves, and when it needs to be completed. Work is not easily shuffled between levels because there must be communication and reflection about the work before it moves. This saves “extra” work from landing on others’ plates while ensuring that all work is purposeful.
When work is done in an agile way it is easy to see how much work is completed at each level of the organization. Again, the transparency of communication stops the wondering about what each level is doing and gives an accurate measure of when work is unbalanced. When tasks build up on a level, it sparks an honest conversation about workload, the impediments people are facing, and how to improve the system so work is able to flow.
Lack of workflow is a pain point for teachers. It is why many teachers are leaving the field. We are hearing from passionate educators that they no longer have the time to teach, and work often overflows to after-school hours. When agility is adopted into schools this conversation is made visual. All levels participate in the discussion. Transparency and communication help alleviate “us vs. them” mentalities and other negative feelings.
In agile schools, work does not accumulate unnoticed on one level, and through the use of Kanban boards, it is clear where tasks are building up. Agile has the ability to stop the process of teacher burnout as work is visually observed and flow can be measured.
Concentrate on What Is Important: The Learning
It is easy to get lost in doing work for work’s sake. All professions must wrangle with what is deemed acceptable. Is it more important to have time in seats or meaningful work completed? Through new ways of working brought on by the pandemic, we have seen several different industries rethinking the way work is done. The education system should be no different. As an industry, we are the slowest to adapt to change. Often, we fall back on the argument that “It’s always been done this way”.
In Agile schools this idea shifts. If students are able to pull work to be done at their own pace, does it need to be measured by time in the seat? If work is getting done in an office, does it need to be during normal work hours?
More importantly, does the work being done serve the central purpose of the school? Are all of the tasks for the benefit of delivering the best, highest quality education to the students? These questions should be the first asked anytime work is added to the Kanban board. All teachers should ask this as they write lesson plans, and all administrators should ask this before new tasks are placed on the board. This focus on delivering the best product to the client is held in high regard in industries focused on product creation, but these questions deserve a front-and-center place in education as well. Agile schools are focused on continuously delivering the best educational experience for each student every day. When impediments arise, open minds need to question how to solve the problem. In the classroom, it means teachers need flexible cognitive models to help facilitate problem-solving techniques for students. In administrative teams, it means focusing on work to best serve the students. This helps focus work, reduce bloat, and concentrate on the learning being done.
The values and principles of agile in school systems solve several of the most pressing issues facing members of the education community. Students learn independence, their self-esteem grows, and their learning becomes meaningful. Teachers become facilitators of learning, regaining time to work with individual students and develop relationships. Administrators prioritize tasks and can visually manage the flow of work throughout the school without hours of meetings. Now is the time to make the simple changes that will have a lasting impact on the people who are essential to building great schools.