Applying Agile Concepts in an Early Childhood Education Setting

One of the aspects of being an Agilist that I most enjoy is finding creative ways to apply these concepts in non-traditional ways. When we get right down to it, it’s hardly surprising that concepts which work well in one domain (for instance, software development) can work quite well in other domains, often with some relatively minor changes to terminology. So let’s turn our attention to Early Childhood Education (ECE).

The Guild Concept

Many Agilists are familiar with an idea that became part of the Engineering Culture at Spotify, which is that it’s helpful to create an environment where cross-cutting groups of people are encouraged to form and to interact on topics of mutual interest. Therefore in many organizations there are Guilds where there is a core idea that interests that Guild, such as Test Automation, or Agile Coaching, or Software Development where there might be a focus on a particular skill set or a set of libraries/tools.

The most obvious parallel to a Guild concept in ECE is to have one or more Guilds that focus on particular topics of interest for Educators. It’s easy to imagine that a Guild concept could be particularly helpful in medium- to large ECE settings, where there could be dozens of Educators on the staff in the same institution, and where different people on the staff might have shared interests in various topics that they might want to discuss.

Leveraging Agile Practices

Definition of Done

One of the concepts that is most common in the Agile community is a shared “Definition of Done” (DoD). The way a DoD works is that a group of people, most often consisting of multiple teams, reaches a shared understanding of what “done” means to them, and they make a point of making that shared understanding highly visible, often displaying it in places where it is likely to be seen, such as on walls or via electronic tools (or both).

Another important aspect of a DoD is that it is cross-cutting, where each thing that is part of that DoD applies across multiple teams.

Team Working Agreements

It’s important to point out that within the context of a particular team, there are often practices in place that are unique to that team (such as the notion of a Team Working Agreement, which we will revisit below, as a “Classroom Working Agreement”).

Acceptance Criteria

Furthermore, individual pieces of work, which we often call “user stories,” have a set of criteria which are unique to that user story, which provide guidance on things like how to properly test that user story for completeness.

Summing Up

To sum up the concepts we’ve discussed in this section, we like to see constructs such as these in an Agile software development setting:

A Definition of Safe

Let’s say we’re talking about an ECE setting of medium to large size, meaning that it’s an institution with ten or more staff who are involved with education, or administration, or both. Let us further assume that it’s important for there to be shared understanding across all of those staff about what “safe” means. Therefore, a Definition of Safe might include things like:

  • Which types of toys/behaviors are okay in an indoor setting
  • Which types of toys/behaviors are okay in an outdoor setting
  • When/where Educators should or should not be using mobile devices

Just as with the Definition of Done concept we discussed above, which is shared across teams, a Definition of Safe is intended to apply across classrooms/learning spaces.

Note: The notion of safety is important within the context of Agile software development as well, which is why we have concepts like Anzeneering.

Note 2: A Definition of Safe is just one example of a cross-organizational construct that could be relevant in an E2E setting. Other examples could include a “Definition of Nurturing,” or a “Definition of Parent Engagement.”

Classroom Working Agreements

Let’s further suppose that every classroom has multiple Educators, and that the Educators in each classroom might find it useful to agree upon and display a “Classroom Working Agreement.”

To give some examples of a Classroom Working Agreement:

  • How we handle the logistics when parents arrive with children
  • Beginning-of-day responsibilities
  • How we greet parents and children in the morning
  • How we dress
  • How we speak to each other
  • How we divide daily tasks in the classroom
  • Our interaction style with the children in the classroom (for example, mindfulness, being engaged, being “present”)
  • Where we keep mobile devices when we’re in the classroom
  • When we take breaks
  • End-of-day responsibilities
  • How we say goodbye to parents and children