Teachers sprint their way to classroom solutions

October 24, 2017 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Principal Terri Lynn Guimond, a member of the ATA Agile Schools Edmonton cohort, shares her thoughts during a launch event at the Fantasyland Hotel in September. (PHOTO: Jeff Johnson)

An Alberta Teachers’ Association initiative that promotes a grassroots approach to problem solving is growing exponentially.

The ATA Agile Schools Network is a collaborative initiative that seeks to boost the quality and equity of Alberta’s education system by empowering teachers to seek their own solutions to problems they’ve identified.

The program employs a method called “improvement sprints,” in which teachers define a challenge and design a solution that they then implement in a “sprint” of just one to four weeks. If the solution works, it is scaled up within the school. If not, the teacher goes through another quick sprint process in an attempt to solve the challenge.

“The speed is important so you don’t spend or waste too much time and energy on any one approach,” said Jeff Johnson, the executive staff officer who heads up the ATA’s involvement in Agile Schools.

“You’ll know very quickly within about a three-week time period whether the solution that you’re suggesting for a particular problem is working,” Johnson added. “If it’s not, then you pivot and move on.”

This agile approach to problem solving is common in the software industry, he said.

The ATA’s Agile Schools Network is being offered in conjunction with Australia-based education consultant Dr. Simon Breakspear. As well as Alberta, the program is being employed in schools in Australia, Mumbai and Hong Kong.

Last year the ATA program had one Edmonton cohort that included more than 70 classroom teachers along with school leadership teams and a district lead teacher. This year it has expanded to include an Edmonton cohort of about 260 participants and a Calgary group of more than 90.

These teachers are using sprints to address a wide range of identified issues, Johnson said. The method is an alternative to large-scale, top-down initiatives that involve significant expense, hiring consultants, etc.

How do I know learning sprints are having an impact? Because teachers and students are showing me … sharing their stories of success and failure.

–Terri Lynn Guimond, Principal 

“This instead harnesses the power of the teacher to be creative and create his or her own solutions,” Johnson said.

At a launch event in Edmonton in September, participating principal Terri Lynn Guimond said learning sprints are having an impact in her school.

“How do I know learning sprints are having an impact? Because teachers and students are showing me … sharing their stories of success and failure. Learning sprints have drastically changed the conversations teachers are having with one another, improving professional practice and student learning one sprint at a time.” ❚

Agile Schools Network
More information about the ATA Agile Schools Network is available by contacting Jeff Johnson at jeff.johnson@ata.ab.ca.

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