"Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;"

Anyone who has been working in education for the last ten years has noticed how processes (like testing) and tools (like standards) have come to define and dominate the work of individuals and to determine how we interact.

There's nothing inherently wrong with testing. If we did less of it, if we focused on key points in kids' development, if we used better tests, if we provided teachers with timely data they could use to help their kids improve testing might be much more successful and much less controversial.

If we used standards, as they do in other countries whose education systems we admire, as a guide rather than a rule book, they might be of help to less experienced teachers without choking off the creativity of more experienced teachers. Standards could be used to support differentiation, but as they exist now, within the context of a high-stakes testing system, they are used increase conformity—among both teachers and students.

In each case, it's easy to see that the problem isn't the practice but how it is used and valued in the system. Testing and standards would have more positive effects, and far fewer negative effects, if they were implemented in the context of valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Most things in education would work better on this basis. So many big decisions in education don't seem to value to any particular person—though they do often have positive effects for people outside the education system like politicians and publishers.

Many current changes are beginning to constrain interactions between individuals as well. Standardized curriculum aligned to standardized tests often leads to district- and state-wide mandated program adoption.

These programs act like scripts that determine how individuals interact. Even the most "progressive" educator-created improvement systems (like Professional Learning Communities, for example) use structures the inhibit the formation of self-organizing teams and apply rules or protocols that favor certain types of decision making over others.


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Steve Peha

When we talk as much as we do about "changing the system", I think we forget that "the system" is just people. Schools are just collections of people and the result of their work is the result of their collective interactions. When we think about it this way, it's obvious that individual and interactions are more important than processes and tools.

The doesn't mean we discard processes and tools. After all, Agile itself is a process. What it means is exactly what it says: we value processes and tools but we value individuals and interactions more. To me this means never letting a process or tool compromise an individual or interaction.

PLCs are a good case. Why are all the teaches in a certain grade or department forced into the same groups by default? Why shouldn't people form groups based on who they work best with? When it's time to adopt new practice, why does the vote of mediocre majority have power over innovative individual?

What we should strive for are processes and tools that make individuals more effective and their interactions more satisfying—processes and tools that serve invidividuals and interactions, not the other way around.

To get to this point, we must first learn to value ourselves. Too many educators struggle with patterns of victimhood and low self-esteem. The we must value children and their families. They are the reason we are here, after all.

Finally, we must value each other. Teaching may feel like an individual sport because most teachers do it alone most of the time. But education—the process of helping kids move kindergarten to high school graduation—involves many of us; it is clearly a team sport.

In other parts of this project, we'll talk about three important Agile contributions: (1) Paired Teaching, derived from the Extrememe Programming practice or Paired Programming; (2) Collective Kid Ownership, derived from the practice of Collective Code Ownership; and (3) Self-Organizing Teams, a key strategy in the formation of highly product groups.

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