School Reborn 2020: part 11 – keeping open & agile!

Many people reading this will be aware of agile methodology and mindset. The idea, first adopted by the software industry where you launch unpolished products on the basis that immediately seeking customer feedback allows you to improve your software product and release .1 and .2 versions for download. Basing the development of your solution on regular feedback cycle leads to better outcomes as it’s not based on assumptions held by experts who are not the end customer. We live in a world now where the companies that thrive are those who can gather customer feedback and act upon it quickly. We need students thinking critically about whether each school day was of any benefit to them and feeling they can make or suggest changes tomorrow.

Complexity needs agility

Developing new structures for a high school currently running its old structures requires an agile mind as the complexity and number of stakeholders requires you to remain open minded to changing direction, even in radical ways. This last month has seen us make such radical changes with sizeable ramifications.

For the last 5 months, we have had 16 teams of 6 teachers working on interdisciplinary units that combine 3 of our traditional subjects. This was on the basis that each unit was 9 weeks long and most teams by now were pleased with the planning so far. But … and it’s a big but … it became obvious to all that 9 weeks was just too little time to do anything significant. Our middle leaders proposed us cutting the number of annual units to 8 and dividing the 16 units already planned over two years. This just made too much sense to nearly everyone and we quickly moved on it.

Advertise leaders’ mindset constantly

This has ramifications both positive and negative but the vast majority are positive and now having 18 weeks in a unit has teachers both relieved and excited about the deeper we can go in learning. People have said to me “Richard, why didn’t we do this at the beginning? It seems so obvious!” I would have to agree but unless you encourage a culture of constant suggestions, people don’t always speak up and an agile environment relies on stakeholder feedback to work properly.

The key learning that has arisen from this and a few other recent examples in the way that we lead this change is promoting the thinking of leaders so that all stakeholders can act on it. It is all very well leaders of an organisation knowing they are agile and open to suggestions from anyone, but it is equally important that all stakeholders are regularly reminded that that is the case.

Remind me, how do you think?

In a busy workplace, it is common that any two individuals or groups might not meet regularly and the mindset of person A is forgotten by person B. After days of no direct contact it is easy for people to lose sight of how others are thinking and operating. In times of change, it is really important for leaders to find ways to maintain a culture and encourage as much input as possible from all those effected.

More improvements.

Our significant dedication to learning awareness and reflection (4 hours a week) is developing nicely. We have introduced checkpoints on all units to monitor student progress and created a cyclical reflection and critique programme of student driven activities between each set of checkpoints. The students still have a lot of opportunity to personalise their approach and perspective in any unit but will be expected to report a strong narrative about how they are developing and the exact learning they are gaining. This is the sort of learning narrative often invisible in any standardised testing environment.

A keenness for learning

As mentioned in previous posts, we have thought it’s important for all students to develop and maintain genuine passions and interests. We have allocated time to this (four hours a week). The challenge for any high school with this sort of initiative is centred on trust. To transition to a higher trust model, we are needing to meet people who hold certain mindsets halfway. We need the flexibility to monitor more closely those students not yet ready for complete free range while at the same time still trying to encourage that those same students develop interests in such a way that their keenness to be productive improves their habits and this people’s trust in them. This is difficult and I’ll report next post on what we develop.