Academics / Middle School / Upper School

Free Your Mind: Educational Agility in a Modern World

By Jacqueline Westerfield, Grandview Preparatory School, Head of School

Our world is changing by the second. Each day, we race to catch up with mounting responsibilities, media streams, and new projects. As a school leader,  I recently joined colleagues from across the globe at Columbia University to work extensively on exploring one big pressing question: How do we wisely educate amidst a sea of constant change?  In a time where invalid information is plentiful and opinions are sharply polarized, our team explored strategies for centering ourselves and our schools around the timeless values of good teaching.

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Educators today ask, how do we build a strong foundation when the ground beneath us shifts so rapidly? Modern society no longer leaves time for a foundation of learning to ‘settle’. Many of our children will have careers that don’t yet exist, so how can we be sure we are placing them on the right path? This question underscores the realization that our foundation has never really been beneath us. Our foundation is within us.  

To steady ourselves for the road ahead, we need to align our movements with who we are in this moment and where we hope to be in the next. We must strengthen how we move. The term ‘agility’ is defined as the “ability to move physically and/or mentally, quickly and with ease, toward a desired outcome” (Merriam-Webster 2017). Here in Florida, our school’s desired outcome stresses both modern thought and timeless ethics in the context of personalized learning. To be ‘agile’ in this endeavor, we recognize that personalization, by definition, requires less standardization. Less standardization requires more tools and expert craftsmen.

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Expert teachers are essential for a mission centered around personalized learning. What is equally essential, is the right tool kit to advance multiple learning initiatives. From design thinking to inquiry based learning, the complexity of these methods creates an extensive balancing act for both teachers and students. As a result, our school searched for ways to simplify the process and propel our projects to the next level. In December 2016,  Grandview participated in AGILE/SCRUM training with John Miller of Agile Classrooms, in partnership with the Scrum Alliance, to develop a multifaceted strategy for our leadership team, teachers and students to propel our work more effectively from concept to outcome. The AGILE/Scrum method is not a curriculum or subject matter. It is a process to make thinking ‘visible’ and productivity more streamlined.

The AGILE/SCRUM method is well known as a success strategy in global industries and we believed its benefits would be powerful in our school setting.

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The training gave us new insights on how to wisely manage multiple initiatives. For student curricular goals, we implement AGILE as a strategy for design thinking, inquiry based projects, and tracking of individual skill practice across interdisciplinary units. For leadership team goals, we have shifted away from long, sit down meetings (where we often failed to quickly implement solutions to known problems), to ‘stand-up’ meetings where we work toward solutions more efficiently.  

The visible tools are empowering. Our boards, post-it notes and constant collaboration help to eliminate stress and instead create something tangible. Something real. Something moving toward completion. Our attention is focused on the needs of our team and students, because the work will be there when we return.

The foundation within us enables our minds and hearts to use these tangible tools to stay centered, regardless of how society spins and changes around us.  

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