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Agile Education

Updated: May 18, 2022

Over the years the Agile way of operating has found its way out of the Tech sector into the waters of Human Resources and now the Education system. The human race has always held the simple idea of learning in the highest regard, granted the idea of learning looks different from society to society but the goal remains the same to educate. Hence children attending school was made a legal requirement in most parts. We have seen the education system change in light of things like technology’s influence and research showing methods that make the process better for students.

All in a bid to provide the best and most effective learning experience possible. According to an article by Mary K Pratt when the Agile philosophy was conceived, tech developers were looking to move away from a system that, was "…complicated, unresponsive and too focused on documentation requirements.” The areas looking to be made better are things the education system can resonate with; making a process easier and more responsive.

What is Agile Education?

Agile Education is the infusing of Agile principles with school management, it is a method of education that is more people-centric. To gain a better understanding think of a school as a business, and now think of what that organization’s structure looks like. Most schools have a Principal or Headmaster who is in charge of the school as a whole and leads the teaching staff. These principals/headmasters have to contend with higher-ups like the ministry of education; school district offices, and if the school is religious an archdiocese/church board.

Figure 1: Illustration of a generic school structure

I think we can agree this organizational structure is very top-heavy. It is these higher-ups along with the headmaster/principal that make decisions that directly affect the lower part of the structure made up of the teachers and scholars who don’t have much of a voice. This poses problems as the people making changes usually don’t understand the plight of the human capital that is the teachers and students. The higher-ups end up being obstacles that induce disharmony into the equation.

Traditional school systems are fixated on curriculum materials, and tests, being a part of so-called new education programs, and often building a school reputation that translates to the agendas of the higher-ups. There is a concentration on the bureaucracy rather than the practical. Many times teachers and students are presented with mandatory changes or developments that are good in theory. But in reality, these changes are either impossible to implement, too complicated, or create unnecessary excess work for teachers and scholars. It’s not to say change and innovation are bad within the education system but are they effective?

Steve Peha’s Agile Schools Manifesto

According to Steve Peha, founder and president of Teaching That Makes Sense, his Agile Education, “…is a paradigm shift for school and academic leaders.” Peha is also responsible for crafting the Agile Schools Manifesto which uses the Agile Software manifesto as a blueprint. “Clearly, it’s about software development and not about schools. But it has a universality to it that I find compelling,” states Peha.

Peha’s Agile Schools Manifesto goes as

“We are uncovering better ways of educating children by doing it

and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Meaningful learning over the measurement of learning.

Stakeholder collaboration over constant negotiation.

Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, where there is value in the items on the right,

we value the items on the left more.”

Students and Teachers’ Opinions Matter

Agile Education is looking to make the education system an enduring collaborative process that involves everyone including the teachers and more importantly the students. “With Agile mindset, principals and school leaders collaborate more with teachers, parents, and students, and craft an education system that answers their priorities and needs." states an article titled, ‘The 4 Pillars of Agile Education.

Traditional schooling systems are slaves to curriculums and standards dictated by higher-ups like education ministries that rarely have practical knowledge of things on the ground. By including everyone involved in the education system the Agile way restructures and brings harmony to the situation. It also ensures that the important people, teachers, and students' actual needs and problems are dealt with; making for a more effective and informed learning experience.

In situations where students and teachers are ignored, you are sure to find overworked teachers who don't have time to nurture or make sure all scholars are on the same page. It is how we find students who are not up to speed being moved on to the next grade, only to uncover these grave mistakes when scholars sit for important exams like O Levels or SATs and it’s too late.

12 Principles of Agile schools

Much like the Agile School Manifesto, Peha has modified the 12 principles of Agile to become the 12 Principles of Agile schools and they are as follows

§ “Our highest priority is to satisfy the needs of children and their families through early and continuous delivery of meaningful learning.

§ Welcome changing requirements, even late in a learning cycle. Harness changes for the benefit of children and their families.

§ Deliver meaningful learning frequently, from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, with a preference for the shorter timescale.

§ School and family team members work together daily to create learning opportunities for all participants.

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

§ The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is face-to-face conversation.

§ Meaningful learning is the primary measure of progress.

§ Our processes promote sustainability. Educators, students, and families should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

§ Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances adaptability.

§ Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done is essential.

§ The best ideas and initiatives emerge from self-organizing teams.

§ At regular intervals, teams reflect on how to become more effective, then tune and adjust their behavior accordingly.”

Implementing Agile in Schools

When it comes to the physical implementation of Agile education, there are various aspects to consider. One of the most important aspects is the time we give to the school year. It differs from country to country but most education systems operate on a semester/term schedule, within those periods there are goals to be met by teachers and learners. Traditional schools long semesters/terms have been discovered to be ineffective. The long curriculums create situations where students easily fall behind and feedback is only taken at the end of these periods with test scores measuring students' understanding.

This method bombards students with information for a couple of months and feedback on progress is given upon completing an exam. This generates an environment where most aren't learning to gain knowledge or master concepts, but rather are just memorizing, writing exams, and forgetting afterward. Adhering to the 12 principles of Agile schools we would see school semesters/terms divided into shorter portions that are referred to as sprints in Scrum. Shorter periods allow students to master concepts step by step and gain feedback fast.

The 12 principles also focus on teamwork and interaction, in reality, most of us have to collaborate to get work done. It is this very idea that encourages the spirit of partnership in Agile education as it prepares scholars for the real world. It also ensures students learn together and no one is left behind as opposed to the individualistic theme of traditional education.

Another large aspect of Agile education is technology. The tech industry has revolutionized many fields, the education sector included. Developers are making efforts to create tech and apps geared at making education more accessible, enjoyable, and an ongoing process. Through apps or gadgets like tablets, teachers are receiving that crucial feedback from all their students in real-time.

Learning is also made fun through games and parents can help too using this technology. For successful implementation of Agile education, education leaders need to be flexible and make bettering the learning experience a priority. Figures of authority need to lead by example and emulate the values of Agile Education to spread the culture to subordinates.

As Agile education grows in popularity, more education professionals are seeing its benefits. It is up to stakeholders of schools to work together and figure out what works for them. It is important to remember that Agile structures aren’t one-size-fits-all, they are tailor-made for each school in line with their needs and desires. The Agile way of things in education also opens the door for tech to elevate the learning experience in general.

Author: Hazel Lifa. Writer, Journalist, and Content Creator

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