As of today, even large corporations seem to have realized that organizations controlled from above are too slow to adapt to constant changes of our fast-paced world. And what about schools: is it possible for such a complicated and diverse system to become agile and flexible enough to react to children and the environment?
In February 2001, seventeen software engineers gathered at Snowbird Ski Resort, Utah, to discuss alternatives for developing a software. This gave birth to the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which is still regarded as the creed for agile systems. About 20 years later, agility grew to be a global phenomenon: today, it is not only the magic word in the IT sector, but it is applicable in every organization, therefore in schools as well.
What is an agile school like? Even though modern societies live in a fast-paced, digitalized world, most schools still operate using a centralized system based on strict hierarchy that was established 150 years ago. Agility is not simply a method; it includes behavior, perspective, and operational culture. Its key is the innovation and flexibility that a self-organized team can use to react to fast-paced changes. The beauty of agile perspective is that it can be adapted to almost any organization – therefore to schools as well.
Sprint – the short period of a few weeks until a team achieves a jointly set goal – is a well-known concept in the IT sector. This is not yet the final product but only a unit. The same applies in schools: instead of following a pre-written one-year syllabus, the journey of learning can be constructed using smaller units. This way, both students and teachers can see the framework, and it is possible to determine which areas of knowledge and skills improve in a certain unit/module/sprint. Thinking in modules is efficient because it helps in setting achievable goals for children, and it creates a flexible system which reacts to learning needs depending on what areas to develop.
A characteristic of agile schools is that learning is decentralized into smaller groups. These smaller communities determine their operating rules and values together, and they also cooperate in analyzing processes and making decisions. The group works together with the teacher to set the goals on an individual scale as well as on a group scale. It is substantial to focus on both, as it motivates children to cooperate if the goals of others are also important to reach the common goal. A key element in cooperation is the teacher, who acts as a sort of mentor to the children throughout their journey of learning and assists both the children and parents in setting the goals at the beginning.
Thinking in shorter periods, modules, and smaller groups provides opportunity for regular feedback. At any stage, it is possible to stop and ask the three most important questions regarding both the individual and the group: “Where do we stand?”, “Where are we headed and what is our goal?”, and “What do we have to do to achieve our goal?”. Such constant feedback has an enormous effect on children, as it helps them believe that they can learn a lot by paying attention and practicing enough. Regular feedback increases a child’s self-efficacy and confidence. If they see that their long, long journey of learning does not culminate in a single grade, but they are instead able to make mistakes along the way and learn from them, then they eventually apply development-focused thinking and start to believe that they can achieve their goals step by step.