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How can we better plan the school year in the post-COVID-19 world?

The COVID-19 crisis has brought to the forefront of significant gaps in our current educational systems. Lack of clarity about the curriculum, and lack of motivation from students, is just two of the many problems that schools currently face. To add to this, the world as we know it has changed drastically. It is evident that current schools and educational institutions were not prepared to adapt to the changes that are required to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. 

The current teacher-centered learning does not lend itself well to remote learning. Students in the traditional schools are made to sit for hours, in a classroom, listening to lessons, they might not find it exciting or fun. The teacher is in charge of what they learn and dictates how they behave in their environment. This system works because of control. However, in a remote learning environment, it is very easy for a student to be completely disconnected from the subject on hand. We simply cannot try to replicate this model for a remote learning environment. The current processes just aren’t prepared to make this change. 

In the agile world, we talk a lot about the concept of organizational agility. This refers to the ability of an entity to adapt quickly and efficiently in a rapidly changing, ambiguous environment. And there is nothing more ambiguous and turbulent than the times that we are living in right now. The time has come for us to re-look at how we think about learning and design our school year.

We need to move away from learning organized around educators and institutions to a more learner-centric approach. By empowering our students to take charge of their learning journey, and changing the way we think about the school year are two of the most important first steps to bring about this change.  

Think of how the current school year is planned. Each grade has a curriculum that everyone in the class will follow (regardless of their abilities and interest). This curriculum is then sent at the beginning of the year to parents, letting them know what their child will be working on in the coming school year. 

Parents are expected to go through what their child will be learning in the next 10 months, and maybe discuss this with the child. Once school commences, the lessons start, and students are expected to learn whatever is presented in the class. They are expected to study it, do the homework, give the tests, and submit the assignments. At the end of the school year, they move on to the next year.

Notice something here? The children are not a part of the conversation at all. They are handed this list of all the topics they need to master in the next school year without discussing with them why those topics were selected. Some students might not be developmentally ready to tackle the topics in the current school year. Others might look at the massive list of mandatory credits required in that year and get overwhelmed. It is no wonder that so many students enter the school year, not motivated and inspired, but rather bored and stressed. 

In the Agile world, when we start a project, we begin with defining and sharing a vision for that project first. Every single person on the team is aware of and believes in the vision. 

Here are the reasons why having a shared vision and mission helps the team: 

  • It increases transparency and communication because everyone is very clear about where they are headed. 

  • It improves team morale because everyone knows that each one is important and that their work matters. 

  • Team members learn to trust each other and work together toward a common goal. 

  • Teams can course correct quickly if required. 

We then take this vision and convert it into a roadmap. A roadmap is a list of items that the team needs to complete to get the project done. 

Once we have a project plan, we then divide this into smaller releases and sprints. Once that is done, the team focuses ONLY on the upcoming release, and all the features they need to build for that release to become successful. Each release has clearly defined goals. The team focuses on achieving those goals.

A release is further divided into sprints, usually 2-4 weeks long, and during those sprints, the only goal of the team is to make sure all the sprint deliverables are done during that time. 

This helps because: 

  • It prevents the team from getting overwhelmed with a massive list of tasks to be done and gets them to focus instead only on smaller, manageable chunks of work that they can get done in the next two weeks. 

  • It allows the team to adapt quickly to a fast-changing environment. So towards the end of the sprint, the team can evaluate where they are and what they need to focus on in the next sprint.  

  • Ensures that the team collects regular feedback from team members and make changes to what isn’t working for the team. This will ensure that adjustments are made earlier on, instead of having to make time-consuming changes later on. 

Breaking down work to be done in this fashion helps optimize predictability and control risk. 

So to recap, in an agile team, we: 

  • Improve transparency by defining a clear long term vision and short term goals for the team. 

  • Divide goals into smaller chunks of manageable tasks.

  • Inspect and collect feedback often. 

  • Adapt by making changes to improve processes 

  • Create new team goals 

If we use these same principals in a school year, it will look something like this: 

  • A year theme: Each school year would have an overarching vision. What does the class hope to achieve in this school year? What big question do they hope to answer? 

  • Define a roadmap: Once that is done, clearly communicate the entire school year roadmap to the class in an easy to understand fashion. 

  • Create teams: Next, divide the class into teams or squads. These smaller teams could have their leaders, and they can, as a group, set goals and processes for their team. They support and collaborate through the school year and ensure that every team member is accountable to each other, instead of being answerable to an adult (in most cases a teacher) 

  • Define learning sprints: Next, divide the school year into smaller sprints (about 6-8 weeks long) where each student, along with their team members, gets to decide what they would like to focus on. Define a clear set of deliverables for the same.  

  • Track progress: Come up with a smooth and transparent way to track each student’s progress through the session. Read this article about how to track progress. 

  • Demo: At the end of each sprint allow students to demo what they have achieved to their class and the rest of the school community. 

  • Reflect and adapt: At the start of the new sprint, retrospect and discuss what went well, what didn’t, and what the student needs to work on for the future session. 

The learners themselves can do all of the above steps. The goal of the teacher should be to create systems that foster curiosity, adaptability, and focus amongst the students.

Then allow the students to chart their path through the school year. 

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