Cartoon of children working in a class with a Scrum board

As well as great technical ability, the modern day knowledge worker is expected to have initiative, creativity, motivation, good interpersonal skills and numerous other “soft skills”. Yet employers complain that there is a lack of these so called soft skills. Many point to our schools failing to prepare young people for the world of work. A few can survive the system and go on to flourish. Survival is a long way from preparation though.

After discovering Scrum and learning about its benefits for teamwork and results, Jan van Rossum, an ex-teacher, and Ellen Reehorst, an educational designer, started running pilots with Scrum in schools in the Netherlands. They saw amazing benefits; students demonstrated better teamwork, self-organisation, personal development and higher marks. Thus began the journey that led them to founding ScrumatSchool.

They realised though that Scrum and other frameworks have been created for the business world, and so ScrumatSchool was created to be used in schools with children in mind. And now, with an expanding team, ScrumatSchool is being introduced to schools in the UK.

It could be a timely intervention. Problems in the UK education system are well documented. Funding cuts, a shortage of teachers, and endless testing, assessments and league tables have heaped pressure on teachers and students alike. Teachers are demotivated and leaving the profession while homeschooling has increased dramatically as a result of parents’ loss of trust in the education system.

Teachers don’t have space to try things. They are trained to be organised, not to be creative. Everyone is concerned with behaving the right way, to conform. Fears are driving behaviours. Teachers are supposed to please everyone; children, parents, their bosses and school governors. Children are fearful of not fitting in, mindful of being socially accepted and not rejected by their peers. Creativity, experimentation and fun are repressed. All the learning goes through the teacher; children are not taught to develop skills in communication and teamwork. ScrumatSchool could be an antidote.

Sometimes, it is adults that place their impositions onto children, wanting them to be the best; to be the fastest runner and be top of the class for example. This is causing anxiety in children and a fear of being constantly compared to others. Agile teaches people to learn to have the courage and openness for feedback while finding their own talents. Identifying and valuing strengths in one’s self and others, to forge powerful coalitions greater than the sum of its parts is a 21st century skill.

With this in mind, the Scrum@School Manifesto for Agile Education was created;

Responsibility for students above control by teachers
Kaizen mindset above meeting standards
Teamwork above individual excellence
Feedback above grades
Respond to change above following a plan

ScrumatSchool publicise that students and teachers can get going with Scrum after 2-3 lessons from a coach, but they are very open about the fact that it can take half a year to get used to Scrum, and 2-3 years for teachers to reach the level of “Agile Practitioner in Education”. They recognise that each school’s context is going to be different and each adoption needs to be crafted. Teachers need training, and lots and lots of coaching. ScrumatSchool’s aim is to create pockets of adoption and for it to grow organically.

With ScrumatSchool, children take responsibility for their own learning. They work together and define their team’s “Definition of Fun”. Children are more engaged, they enjoy subjects a lot more, they meet deadlines, understand material better and they get better grades. Teachers act as masters of knowledge, but in partnership with the students. Their role includes facilitating, setting assignments and giving regular feedback. But perhaps the biggest lesson is how children learn to work together in teams. They learn patience, empathy, how to communicate effectively, and they develop creative ways to coach and teach each other.

With their open minds, Agile methods may actually come more naturally to children. For example, visualisation with boards, WIP limited pull systems and explicit policies that come with Kanban works well with younger minds, and is especially effective with autistic children. Children like being able to clearly see and know what is expected of them.

ScrumatSchool has taken hold in the Netherlands. Schools and teachers are driving the adoption. In the UK, the adoption is behind that of the Dutch with work to be done to raise awareness and interest. However, the seeds are being sown. Time will tell if Scrum is going to revolutionise the education sector as it has the Software Development industry.

Many thanks to Fabiana Cardezo, UK Executive Partner at ScrumatSchool, for discussing ScrumatSchool with us.

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