Stakeholder Collaboration

"Stakeholder collaboration over complex negotiation;"

When I switched from working in tech to working in education, I noticed many differences, but two stood out: (1) Almost everything in education has to be negotiated; and (2) The best ideas are often rejected, in favor of anything—no matter how poor it may be—that can be tolerated by the largest number of people.

Many people think union negotiations cripple education. But I think it's the day-to-day compromises we make that have a more significant negative effect. In school factionalism—sometimes just a faction of one—sinks many promising initiatives. And this, I think is where many people outside of schools get the idea that educators run things more for their own benefit than for the benefit of children and their families.

Here again, Agile reminds us of what we kind of already know—but it does so in a different way. We're not fools; we know that getting along and working together is better than the alternative. But we don't have many mechanisms in school to make this work. Agile does.

Stakeholder collaboration in Agile is not a "nice to have", it's a requirement of the method. You can't have "customer-focused" team when team members are more focused themselves and their disagreements. You can't run off to your own classroom and do what you want every day if you're part of a self-organizing team. You can't play alone at all if you're implementing Scrum.

Same goes for the kids. Group work is sometimes the most rewarding work there is. But kids need to understand the rules and roles that make group work work. Because Agile was designed as a team framework to begin with, it provides support for better teamwork.

Negotiation is sometimes and valuable. It's part of how we get along, how we insure fairness, and how we assert that everyone in a community has a voice. But negotiation can't become more important than collaboration or our work devolves to the lowest-common-denominator.


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Steve Peha

There are three kinds of stakeholder collaboration that I have found to be incredibly powerful, and Agile supports them all:

  • Teacher-Student-Family Collaboration. If we took Agile's true customer focus seriously, we'd end up being natural collaborators with students and their families. In an Agile software project, the customer is directly involved in determining requirements and evaluating functionality. The "customer" is literally part of the team. Why can't this be the case in school? The best success I've had working with teachers in creating this kind of teamwork has been with SAGIS assessment and, at the secondary level, with The 3P Grading System.
  • Teaching-to-Teacher Collaboration. The best results I've seen in schools have come from teachers sharing highly optimized practices up and down the grade levels and across the curriculum. I don't know why this doesn't happen more; we certainly do a lot of sharing of bad practices through program adoptions and textbooks. But when I've seen even a small group of teaches share good teaching—especially good classroom management practices—I've seen incredible gains and a much-improved work environment. Agile supports this idea through named patterns of practice. Everyone on a team knows what the practices are called and how to use them.
  • Teacher-Administrator Collaboration. This hardly happens ever. And it's very sad. Principals have a unique opportunity to guide their teachers as a team. The Agile Scrum Master role within the Scrum method may be a reasonable way for principals to get involved positively with their teachers. The job of removing impediments to progress is the perfect job for a principal to assume—and a great way to win teachers over.

One of the things we have to get rid of in schools is the default adversarial nature of our relations: teacher-student relations are assumed to be adversarial until proven otherwise; teacher-teacher relationships are often characterized by immature behavior and petty bickering; teacher-parent relationships are often perfunctory (if they develop at all); and teacher-administrator relationships are foolishly constrained by unfortunate assumptions about labor-management relations.

Agile insists on well-functioning teams, and has many structures and practices that support this.

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