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!


  1. Excellent post. I absolutely love what you are doing for education.

  2. Thank you Patty! That encourages me to keep moving forward : )
    I did make some corrections today on the post, I noticed several errors.
    Please let me know how I can make the blog more useful to you.


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John Miller