Apr 28, 2012

Scrum Against Stupidity

The news today talked about teens drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk, with many of these kids getting seriously ill.  I believe many of these sanitizing cocktail connoisseurs could have been saved from pumping the oozie substance in their mouths for a buzz if they were allowed to make more choices when they were younger.

"The bad decisions we see every day aren’t the result of lack of data, or lack of access to data. No, they’re the result of a schooling culture that is creating exactly what it set out to create... When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions...and when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers. " -Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams

I sat down a few weeks ago with some teachers who invited me to help them begin using Scrum for their team. These were very well intentioned and bright teachers, who worked very well together. As we discussed what was the most important goal for them, their frustrations with the bad behavior of their students surfaced. One of the stories we developed was to help students make better decisions.  I asked, "When do students get to make decisions?". The response was, students don't. I then asked "How will students be able to make good decisions if they have no opportunities to make any decisions?".  It was amazing to see how the teachers quickly began to express perhaps the issue was not the kids, but them. They reflected how they were caught in a vicious cycle of their own design. Their efforts to control students bad behavior by reducing student choices prevented students the chance to learn how to make good choices.

It shows what great people these teachers are to be able to have these insights. Of course, I was delighted when they came to the conclusion that using Scrum with their kids could be the framework they need to get out of the vicious circle and into a virtuous circle. Scrum is a 21st Century Learning framework that allows students to progressively grow in self directiveness and decision making at all stages of the process, while the teacher guides students with goals and constraints to work within.

Most classrooms are like this. I see great people who are teachers get lost in the paradigm that good student behavior is sitting down and listening. Obedience and compliance are the values. The teacher is making all of the decisions. Students must follow. The long term ramifications are that students never develop the mental muscles needed to make good decisions. Without the protection of strong decision making muscles, students are victimized by their own brains impulses, and end up doing stupid things. I think most teachers got into teaching to empower students , but, without a  system in place to operationalize student empowerment, the de facto standard of command and control and daily grind takes over.

In the book "Making a Good Brain Great", Dr. Amen,  makes the distinction between "brain-driven" and "will-driven" behavior.
Will-driven behavior is goal directed, capable of making good judgements. Brain-driven brains act on impulses and short sighted outcomes. When the brain is healthy, it is will-driven and uses hand sanitizer to clean their hands. When it does not work right, it is brain-driven, and wants to drink hand sanitizer.

From ages 3-10, the brain has twice the activity of an adult brain as it goes through explosive growth of social, intellectual, emotional, and physical capacities. By age 11, the brain begins to prune connections to increase efficiency. The connections of the brain that it did not use often are tossed and those connections used frequently are kept.  I believe frequent exercise of choices in a student's elementary school years will lead to more will-driven brains, as the brain will keep these strong connections during the pruning stage.

Source: Braintrust Consulting Group Not adapted for classrooms

I see Scrum as the ultimate will-driven brain building machine! It iteratively increases student decision making in rapid cycles of self-directed learning and frequent feedback mechanisms. Scrum uses a repeating Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle, called Sprints, which is usually 1 -2 weeks long.
  • Sprint Planning - students engage with the teacher in commitment-driven goal setting. Self-organizing student teams  then collaborate to create and carry out their own tasks to achieve these goals.
  • Daily - students check in with each other in a Daily Standup to to commit to their decisions for that day and be accountable to one another for the previous days commitments.  
The end of the Sprint is reinforced by rhythmic feedback cycles:
  • Sprint Review -  student team is accountable for their results of their goals by demonstrating their work.
  • Sprint Retrospective - students reflect and improve their teamwork, culture, values, and process.
Imagine, with each 1 week Sprint, students grow not just in their knowledge, but growth in character development, self-directiveness, and goal-driven behavior. Scrum provides an all-in-one integrated framework for growth in these areas and more, which I hope to describe in future posts.

If teachers do not allow students to make decisions in their early years, around age 11, the brain prunes the little decision making skills she had.  If teachers introduced Scrum in a students early years and continued to use Scrum in each grade, perhaps the students in the poster would be deciding on how to make the next generation of hand sanitizers instead of digesting them. Without opportunities for students to make decisions, they lose the decision making and goal setting capacity to make their dreams come alive.

I believe Scrum is the framework that can transform Seth Godin's manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, into a reality. Scrum can restore the ownership of dream building back to the students and turn schools into Dream Catchers rather than, as Godin believes, Dream Stealers.  Scrum is more than just a 21st Century Learning Framework, but, a Dream Empowerment Framework.

"When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions" Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams

Remember, come to the Scrum Gathering Atlanta on May 7th 1:30pm to talk how about how you can help save kids from a future of gulping down ounces of hand sanitizer. Be an Agile Hero - Spread Scrum to Schools!

Apr 4, 2012

Transcend to an Agile Activist for Vibrant Schools

Fellow Agilists, would you want these skills and attributes for a teammate on your agile team?

  • Innovation and Creativity
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility

I think the answer is a resounding yes. Indeed, the Agile Manifesto and Agile Frameworks, like Scrum and Extreme Programming, instill these values and skills throughout. These skills are not from an Agile Job description or performance review, these are the skills outlined by the Council for 21st Century Skills, being adopted by schools to instill in our students across the country. This should get you really excited! Imagine, the uphill battles many us have had with pushing Agile into our organizations, against the grain of top-down control culture, because we believed these skills and values not only make better products, but make for a better place to work, and a more fulfilling and meaningful career. When the young students of today enter the workforce of tomorrow, they will have the effect of changing organizations and communities with legacy cultures in mass. It could be a tipping point for our society as a whole. Are you excited!

Well, hold on! I hate to burst your bubble, but the deep down adoption of these 21st Century Skills are in jeopardy. Just see some of the professional development material for teachers to "teach" 21st Century Skills. As if they could be taught, they can only be nurtured and grown from students intrinsic motivations. Classes, such as, Intel's 21st Century Assessments, state,  in order assess a students problem solving, for students to keep a log. Man, I would never want to solve a problem, EVER,  if I was forced into compliant overhead to prove to a teacher that I actually solved a problem. Isn't the evidence of a successful challenging project the result of problem solving? Wouldn't daily stand ups, observing  answering the question of, "What is my impediment?", with sticky notes landing and taking flight from the Impediment Board of As Agilists, we know the principle, of show, don't tell. We understand and have a framework that taps into intrinsic motivation with minimal viable compliance. Like inserting Agile into a waterfall wrapper, and killing all the benefits of Agile, 21st Century Skills are being delivered from a 20th Century, command and control, mass education teaching approach.

I make a call out to all Agilists that care about our kids, our students, and the future. Go forth and talk to teachers, talk to your own kids, discuss Agile with Principals, talk to School Boards, to share your Agile knowledge to transform our schools into engines of vibrant growth for the 21st Century. Teach a free class, offer an after school program, open up your garage offer fun projects for kids in your neighborhood, and use Scrum so they can become self-directed makers. Work at any and all levels that engages you to grow these digital natives into innovation natives, to make Generation Flux into Generation Agile. You are already masters of 21st Century Skills and are what the future needs. Now, make a difference with the powers (yes, if you realize it or not, you have powers to transform the world) you posses from Agile. I am here for you, and I hope others are also. Let's make a vibrant future by partnering with our schools and communities, and transcend being just an Agilist to an Agile Activist for a vibrant world.

Remember, if you are coming to Atalanta for the Scrum Alliance Gathering, lets discuss how we can be powerful change agents in society, on May 7th at 1:30pm, for Generation Agile, Scrum in Schools, with yours truly.

John Miller
Vibrant Lives, Work, Communities, and Schools

Apr 2, 2012

Vibrant Students: Notes from an Agile Classroom:

A report from an amazing 4th Grade teacher using Scrum in the Classroom:

My students surprise me everyday with what they can do with this process.  I am especially impressed with how motivated and driven they are.  This past Friday they were begging me to let them use the Scrum to complete their projects.  I gave them thirty minutes in the morning and then we continued our daily routine.  I had a sub come into my class that afternoon.  When I came into my class Monday morning I noticed that there were a few more projects started by two groups of students.  I couldn't figure it out since I gave them time and they didn't do it when I was there.  The rest of the afternoon was Math, Writing, and their monthly reward time at the end of the day.

I asked the students when they did it and they said that they asked the sub if they could come into the class during their reward time to work on their projects.  The sub had workroom for students with missing work or behavior.  These students were neither type but chose to come in. I was amazed! They chose their topic, groups, and when to do it with out me even being there.  My students love this process and it is such a joy to see them excited to come to school everyday.

4th Grade Teacher and Certified Scrum Master

Apr 1, 2012

Generation Agile - The Scrum Gathering

Agilists can transform the world, not just the world of work, but also in education and communities for a vibrant future. I am honored and very excited to be selected as a speaker at the Global Scrum Gathering in Atlanta, on May 7th.  Join me at 1:30pm to stimulate ideas and action about how Scrum can transform education, why it is the best foundation for a 21st Century learning environment, and how you can be a passionate force for a vibrant future.

Session Description

John Miller
Hyper-Sonic Flight
Your Scrum flight will be fueled by passion and meaning as we show how Scrum is being applied to classrooms and schools. Students are happier, more engaged, more creative, and empowered in an Agile learning environment. Teachers discover their work is more rewarding and fun. Understand why Agile is the BEST learning environment for 21st Century learners. A call to arms for us to ban together & outreach to schools using our Scrum expertise to build better schools & a brighter future for our children. Discover a new meaning in Scrum, and how it can power your passion to improve the world.

Your Thoughts

I would love to hear your ideas, what you want discover, discuss your own experiences, and how you would like to engage in the topic. Be a part of the transformation.

Please comment or email me at agileschools (at) gmail (dot) com.

John Miller