The Agile Advantage

This post is part of a series related to using Learning Sprints as described by Agile Schools and Dr. Simon Breakspear. The purpose of sharing these experiences is to help other school leaders in putting in place Learning Sprints by sharing triumphs and lessons learned throughout our experiment. Our learning was facilitated by the Alberta Teachers’ Association Agile Network.

I used to be extremely inefficient with how I implemented change in my classroom. Let me tell you about what change usually looked like for me. I would go to a conference or speak with someone and get an idea for a change that I thought would be valuable. It would usually be a ridiculously big idea or project that I would put in place for a specific period of time. It would almost alway be planned for March (the month of new learning in my old brain). I would get this idea in October and spend the next 4 months planning what I was going to do in March. I would come up with what the students were going to do differently, I would imagine the responses I would get, I created exemplars and envisioned what the student work would look like at the end. I would base all my energy on this one project, while the rest of my teaching stayed the same.

March would arrive and I would be so excited. I would launch into this project that I had been planning and be expecting great results. Every time I would be disappointed. Usually in the first few days students would respond to my teaching in wildly different ways than I imagined. I would have to redesign the whole project based on what they were showing me, my months of hard work was out the window. I would press on, with a few more redesigns but usually by the end I was left feeling exhausted and the students would say that it was a nice assignment, but they would prefer to go back to how things used to be. They were exhausted too.

This story highlights one of the main reasons that I decided to adopt the Agile method in my classroom and to advocate for it in schools. I realized that I needed to put away the one month project and focus on getting better everyday. My reality was that my day to day instruction was not getting much better, as I was focused on the big project (that only lasted one month!). A focus on smaller objectives that I could put in place rapidly and evaluate whether they had impact would have served my students better. I did not realize that I could change incrementally over time, but in a more conscious way so that I made big gains over the year. My project was also usually based on a teacher who had a novel idea, as opposed to using research to show me how I might improve student performance. I think in a way my students knew that the projects I was designing were not usually helping them. They usually told me that they just regurgitated what they already knew or copied from somewhere. There was not authentic learning going on as I was usually so focussed on them producing an end result that I forgot about introducing new information.

I see these qualities all the time with teachers. The focus of their professional learning is a project, to be completed later in the year. They are usually so exhausted when they complete it that they question why they did it, but don’t know how else they might get better. This is the Agile Advantage. Small focussed improvements that are put in place over a period of time and evaluated for impact.

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