Agile Classrooms in the Alps

Leysin American School in Switzerland

We have seen Agile grow beyond software development in areas such as manufacturing and marketing in recent years. Agile continues to expand into the world of education. Nestled high in the Swiss Alps, teachers of the Leysin American School (LAS),  are embracing Agile to help prepare their students to achieve in a future filled with uncertainty and change.

Paul Magnuson is the director of LAS Educational Research (LASER). The center’s mission is to experiment with and document innovative approaches to student-centered learning. Paul and his colleague Bill Tihen, a member of the school’s IT team, see Scrum as a way to grow self-directed learners. The idea of using Scrum, the most popular Agile methodology, in their classrooms came from Bill, who had coached Paul in the past on Kanban, pomodoros, and other – from Paul’s point of view – “techy ways” of working. When Paul was struggling to get students to work functionally in teams on an extended iBook project, Bill suggested looking into Scrum.
To help incorporate Agile into their school, they brought in John Miller, a Certified Scrum Coach and Chief Empowerment Officer of Agile Classrooms, for two days of training. The Scrum Alliance has been a big supporter of John’s commitment to using Scrum to transform the world of education ever since he unveiled the first classroom to use Scrum at the Atlanta Scrum Gathering in 2010. When the Scrum Alliance, the largest Agile organization in the world, heard of Paul and Bill’s desire to implement Scrum for their students, they stepped up to sponsor the event. The Swiss Group of International Schools also co-sponsored the workshop.
Twenty-five educators attended John’s Agile Classroom Workshop. The room filled with energy as sticky notes began covering the windows and the walls. Using the core principles of Scrum and the latest research on effective learning, participants designed their own highly visible learning radiators, used the Learning Rhythm as an iterative learning cycle, and created their own vision of 21st Century learning.
Because the workshop was in the last quarter of the school year, no one expected much by way of implementation. So what happened was surprising!
  • A university professor left saying how inspired he was and how eager he was to share Agile with this dean and colleagues.
  • An administrator created plans to use Scrum to improve focused collaboration on the committee she chairs.
  • One group was excited to incorporate Retrospectives for student reflections immediately.
  • Another teacher is creating a club where students will use Scrum to manage their own activities.
  • A group of teachers came up with an idea to use the Scrum boards and cards to connect and track learning between their classes for cross-curricular integration.
Agile Classrooms Workshop at LAS
LAS began planning in 2014-2015 for the opening of a middle school (grades 7 and 8) in Fall 2016. Alongside less interesting considerations like the anticipated number of teachers, classrooms and type of curriculum, the exciting idea of using Agile as an instructional constant is being integrated into ongoing planning.
In 2015-2016 a small committee will use the concept of the Visible Classroom to manage their work for increased transparency and collaboration visually. Even as LAS designs instruction to support greater student self-regulation through Agile principles, they’ll be gaining greater experience with Agile … by using it!

To learn more about the innovative work of LAS Educational Research, please visit their website
To learn more about the Scrum Alliance, visit

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