By Laura Williams
Ok, so look, it’s not really about the time it takes; it’s about the steps you take towards the impediment crusher mindset and the processes you put into place to set your students up for success. And when you take these steps, you will find yourself teaching and thriving in an agile classroom.
Regarding mindset, we have to look at ourselves as teachers and see ourselves as impediment crushers. When we think about learning, we know that there are barriers for our students. How can we personalize the approach to ensure that all students can engage in learning exactly where they are at? I believe that shifting towards a more agile classroom allows us to navigate these challenges that we know will show up in our classrooms every year. The very definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is why I have shifted my teaching and learning “operating system” to a more agile one. I want the gold standard in education for all my students; this is the closest I have come in my experience.
So what is this operating system? An agile classroom is one that anchors itself on creating iterative learning routines that bring clarity to the learning path and creating a visible classroom with visible classroom artifacts. In these routines, we can establish a learning flow that intentionally helps students improve their 21st-century skills (critical thinking, collaboration, complex communication, creativity, etc.).
These iterative learning routines include:
- Planning – What will we learn today or this week?
- Aligning – How does what we are doing, the learning tasks, connect to our big ideas or questions?
- Reviewing– How did we do on these learning tasks? Did we learn? This is about “the learning.”
- Retrospecting- How can we improve for the next learning sprint? How did we do as a team? How did we do as an individual in our decision-making? This is about “the learner”.
It’s through this flow, also called a learning sprint, we build in time to have discussions around the learning and the learner. We can root out misconceptions or impediments to learning that our students have along the way, and we can continuously improve our skills as the learner. And by rooting out, I mean that we don’t always know what students know or don’t know. We don’t always know where the struggle is rooting from. Coupling this with the visible learning artifacts, we can visualize the work and see how the work is being done, and this helps us identify roadblocks or struggle points quicker. So how do you operationalize this? Through the learning canvas, we can see exactly where students are, whether as individuals working on learning tasks or teams working towards their team learning deliverables.
So what does that look like for the teacher? Imagine you walk into a classroom where students manage their own learning. The teacher serves as a guide, helping to create the learning backlog. The learning backlog is essentially a prioritized list of learning objectives. These objectives drive the learning. And we chunk these out into learning sprints. Learning sprints allow students and teachers to focus on the tasks at hand around a specific learning goal related to the objective. Teachers can help students determine what they are learning during the sprint, but there’s room to allow students and teams to contribute to “the how” of the learning. This provides students voice and choice during the sprint. As students are working on the goals, teachers can make their rounds to check in with individuals and teams to provide real-time custom support and feedback.
So to keep things simple, here are my Top 10 Tips for becoming an Impediment Crusher:
- Tend to culture. Engage students in team building and introspection regularly. A great time to do this is during the Retrospective Routine and the Learning Alliance.
- Move away from random groupings to creating and sustaining teams within your classroom. A team culture creates a support network for your students, thus allowing a team approach to crushing impediments. You, the teacher, are a part of the team too!
- Include Regular Check-ins. Regular check-ins with individuals and teams allow for misconceptions and roadblocks to be identified quicker. It also tends to develop social and emotional skills in our students. Not to mention, it helps establish a positive rapport with students; sometimes, that’s just the thing to move the bar for that child. We have a Check-In Routine to help you apply this daily.
- Make learning visible. Even a simple “To do, Doing, Done” is a great way to bring clarity to the learning and keep everyone on the same page. We recommend using the Learning Canvas.
- Allow for iterations. Iteration is the stuff of continuous improvement. Whether we are trying to improve the learning artifact or the learner. Students can take more risks and engage more when they know it’s not a one-and-done. Learning Sprints are a structured way to iterate deliberately.
- Align learning tasks to the evidence of student learning. This is the quickest way to eliminate busy work that may not be adding value to the learning objective. The Review Routine is an opportunity to show evidence and elicit feedback. Impediments are revealed so the teacher can help remove them.
- Include regular reflection. Reflecting on how we learned and worked together can help students self-identify strengths and areas of improvement. This helps students grow their metacognition. Check out the Retrospective Routine to make this a reality.
- Make it work for you. An agile classroom will take on a form of its own because it’s a people endeavor. And it’s the community of learners that shapes the culture. Customize your approach based on your needs.
- Don’t forget to have fun. Impediment crushers need joy to avoid burnout.
- Join a network of agile teachers! Twitter: @agileclassrooms #agileclassrooms Engage with educators live in our Agile Certified Teacher workshop. Join the Authentic Learning Alliance Google Group.
Laura is an authentic learning expert, instructor for Agile Classrooms, and founder of the Authentic Learning Alliance. As a Project Manager for PK-12 students, she incorporates authentic learning experiences with area partnerships into classrooms. Laura is a certified Scrum Master and Product Owner with a passion for project management and transforming education. With over 10 years of experience as an educator and consultant, she holds a B.A. in Interdepartmental Health Studies, an M.A.T. in Secondary Science Education, and Principal Licensure and an M.A. in Ed. Leadership and Policy Studies.