Articles + Research

How One School Implemented Authentic Agile Education

Updated: Oct 6


Introducing authentic agile patterns and practices in education is a balancing act. The instructor has to:

  • Balance textbook learning with real-life applications.

  • Manage the tensions between assessing individuals to meet the requirements of traditional schooling and assessing the value created by teams.

The Darrow School, a coed boarding school in Columbia County, New York, offers a perfect case study.


Young Founders Program

The Darrow School's Young Founders Program (YFP) helps students from diverse backgrounds learn Agile and apply it to real-world contexts and markets. The program was a year-long residential program based on campus. The goal of the program was to test the viability of teaching Agile tools and practices as authentically as possible. In other words, teaching with the least amount of interference from school structures and mindsets that are not compatible with Agile. The students in the program were recent high school graduates who were headed to college or into the workforce and wanted to a Postgraduate Year or gap year program before taking the next step in their education or vocational path.

First, the students received instruction in Agile patterns and practices while they decided what their Young Founders Project was going to be. The project needed to meet the needs of a specific target market or population, as discovered through Jobs To Be Done interviewing and more general consumer insight gathering interviews.

Next, the students learned the Scrum framework via direct instruction in a week. Each student then served as the Product Owner for their project and learned how to be effective in that role as they worked to bring their product or service to the market. Each student also served as Scrum Master on the project of another student in the cohort. This allowed each student to learn these roles in a hands-on, real-world way over several months. The school provided start-up funds for each project.

During the program, each student had an Agile team comprised of fellow students working on their project for several months and, in turn, served on teams for other students. Each student continued to finalize the development of their project after they had a full team supporting their project. Students ran through the Scrum meeting pattern as prescribed by the Scrum handbook.


Teachers conducted an informal assessment of each student with feedback on a nearly daily basis. Feedback came from the faculty and also from the student Scrum Master. The school modified the formal assessment to the details of the program's goal and method, an essential feature of its function.


Learnings

In summary, teaching authentic Agile to students requires:

  • Educators to go beyond standard modes of student assessment and balance textbook learning with real-life application. One root cause of tension between traditional school and authentic Agile education is that schools focus almost exclusively on and measure the individual, while we know that teams are what create value.

  • Students to apply Agile patterns and mindsets in real worlds and real markets.

  • Educational leaders who are willing to support the alien DNA of Agile within organizational structures that are not hospitable to many parts of the Agile mindset and operational patterns.

After the Program

At the end of the program, the four students in the first YFP cohort reported significant gains in self-confidence, self-efficacy, and enjoyment in learning. Two of the students started college after the program. One student became a Scrum Master and was seeking to work in that role. Due to a personal crisis, one student left at the end of the program and provided no update. The Board of Trustees decided to drop the program because it fell outside of the school’s core mission. The author departed the school to continue popularizing authentic Agile education.

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