Agile starting in kindergarten?

Earlier this year my daughter came to work with me.  Although she was only 6 years old at the time, she came to co-deliver a day in the agile coaching course that I was running.

It was interesting to watch as she explained the growth mindset, “golden conversations” and the importance of mixing both persistence and flexibility in order to build resilience.

But where did she learn all that?  I would love to say that having an agile coach for a father helped her, but I am increasingly starting to fear that in fact, her grade one class is a high performing agile team and that somehow we are “un-teaching” kids agile so that they struggle as adults.

My fear only increased last Friday when I went to the school assembly to watch the grade one show case.  Students at the school are apparently expected to showcase their work to the wider school community.year one showcase

OK – it might be a coincidence that they were using the same word “showcase” without understanding agile.  They even used power-point, which suggests that they were secretly doing a status report rather than a showcase.  But then I saw 6 and 7 year old children introduce what they had been studying.  After some of the team explained their experience with the topic they showed a video where many of them participated in demonstrating what they had learned.

Apparently this happens weekly at a school-wide level and more often within the classroom that one  learning team sits in.

So they can do a showcase, but that is the least of the things us experienced agilistas have mastered.  All you need to remember is that it is a showcase for the purpose of feedback and that it is not a roadshow, which is for the purpose of marketing.

I asked my daughter if they have a stand-up and she said no.  Instead they have a “crunch and sip” session to start each day.  It is a bit like a stand-up except the kids get to sit down and it is catered.

While they sit and eat vegetables and fruit to energize for the day, the teacher explains what is in store for them during the day.

But of course things change during the day in the fast changing world of the grade one student so they track their learning on a story wall.

The kids ask questions and make sure they are clear on the expectations for the day.  They often debate what should be on the wall or what order things should happen in.  Of course there are some dependencies on other teachers or shared resources (the library, sports and music sessions share dependencies on other classes).  But the class agree how to work around those dependencies to make the most of the day.

And you guessed it – the session only takes 10-15 minutes each day.

stor wall.PNG

But since things change during the day they move things up and down the wall to keep track of what they have covered and what remains undone.  So at any point in the time any student or visitor knows where things are at.

I asked my daughter about documentation and she said that there was no need to document stuff on the wall anywhere else because they only needed the headings – the learning happens in their work, not on the wall.

But she then added that they use a lot of books and things to learn from people who are not in the room.  This is, apparently, completely different to what they have on the wall.

The stuff on the wall is only there for the kids and teacher to feel comfortable that they know where they are at.  The knowledge sits in their heads or in the material they build while learning.  Those are my words, not hers, but it is roughly what she told me.

But just because there is no Jira or online backlog does not mean that the story wall is their only tracking tool.

It turns out that this is only one of the tracking tools they use.  During the day students might feel bored or flustered.  So they assess topics against the tortoise-cheetah scale.

Students rate whether the pace feels to slow for them (we are moving like a tortoise) or if things are moving too fast (like a cheetah).  Then they course correct so that the pace of work (er learning) is just right – they feel stretched without feeling rushed.

They also employ some kind of traffic light system.  When they complete a topic the teacher can ask who really understood it.  Kids can hold up a green circle meaning that they get it and they are happy to explain it to others.  They can also hold up a red shape to show they are confused and would like another kid to explain it again.  So showing a green status is a bit scary if you don’t really get it because you will potentially be called on to teach the topic in a minute or so.  A yellow shape means that they get it but maybe not enough to explain it to the other kids, or they would be happy to discuss it but might need some support.

On the surface level, then, it seems they are already implementing agile learning at “shu level.”  But maybe they only go through the motions of agile.  Maybe they don’t really get the learning/growth mindset or the importance of strong, empowered teams.

Well, that is another story, because that is where they really excel.

The children have created a community of learning and they have all shared what they really want (enough room to sit) or do not want (interruptions when they are listening).  Based on this they created a community agreement that they hold each other accountable for. There are no penalties or rewards, just a class of 6 and 7 year olds telling you that you are not supporting the team.

But they went a little further by highlighting the learning habits that the team is focused on improving – beyond maths, reading and other delivery items.  Apparently they have discussed 5 habits that they will improve during the year – collaboration, thinking, research skills and mindset, effective communication and self-management.   I suspect that the teacher influenced this set of values but I can assure you that the kids have discussed and debated it.

Those are things that you apparently need to master to perform well as a grade one student.  They are almost the rules to play the game.

But rather than seeing them as yes/no capabilities, the students pursue ongoing improvement in each of these.  This means that they need to “self-manage” their own learning and also coach each other.

I asked if this included retrospectives but my daughter was confused as to why you would only revisit improvement once every 2 weeks. Apparently this is too slow in the fast moving world of the 7 year old.

Speaking to her teacher, they employ continuous “formative” feedback for the learner and the teacher to focus on continuous improvement in learning skills.  They also employ slower, periodic,  “Normative” feedback to evaluate learning on a periodic basis, but this would not be sufficient on its own.  This is part of the “deliberate practice” component of learning with a growth mindset.

So I guess my daughters grade one teacher is a bit like an agile coach, except that she is working with 7 year-old kids who are still learning emotional intelligence and self-management, not adults who have had ample time to grow these skills.

Grade one teachers also get paid a little less and they work on deliverables that are slightly more important (the lives and future success of a generation of children) rather than our user stories and showcases.

So I thought of offering some advice based on my agile guru status but I was a bit scared that both the teacher and my daughter might start schooling me instead.

I am not going to drill further into golden conversations, resilience or growth mindset here – but you can be sure they are learning more than just how to stack blocks.  They are full-on learning how to learn and thrive in a rapidly changing world.



4 thoughts on “Agile starting in kindergarten?

  1. hi, thanks for sharing this story. I am doing research to see if we can apply agile principles in a kindergarten. May I know which kindergarten this is?

    Thank you


    1. Hi Regina. Sorry about the long delay in responding. The school was High Fields in Lindfield Sydney, but I think the NSW Education Department encourages similar teaching in schools across New South Wales in Australia. If you send me an email at james@kingsinsight.com I can see if I have a contact for the school


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.