I’m calling this section of the blog “tea talk” because the posts in this category will be personal reflections, thoughts about teaching and learning and professional growth that I might share with a colleague over tea. Faculty narratives of lived experience are equally as important to our professional development as a formal evaluations or written research which is why I’ll share these reflections here.
Spring semester at my university beings tomorrow – we have a January Winter Term, so we always begin later than other institutions. Because I wasn’t teaching in January, but instead writing, I haven’t been in the classroom since mid-December. The break is nice, but it gives you time to build up the coming semester in your head, both positively and negatively. I am a worrier by nature, so you can imagine where my head goes.
This spring I will be solely teaching in the Design Thinking Studio in Social Innovation immersive semester pilot program. The Studio has Agile origins; three colleagues and I developed it after imagining what Agile higher ed might look like, doing away with arbitrary constraints like seat time, grades, siloed schedules of unrelated courses. You can learn more about the program through the link above, but let’s just say it’s a very intense teaching experience with huge potential for deep student learning if done well.
But because I am a worrier by nature, I worry. Often to the extreme.
What if the students hate the program and drop on the first day? What if they don’t like each other? Or us? What if no one wants to partner with us when it comes time for projects? etc. etc. It’s not really a healthy way to go into a semester.
One way I’ve found to break the cycle and regroup is to view my anxiety through the lens of the five Scrum values. While grounded in empirical control theory and based on the core tenet “inspect and adapt,” Scrum practitioners are also guided by five values that, when felt and lived, are supposed to strengthen Scrum teams, empower them for success, and lead to professional and personal development for each team member. Below is each value in bold, the value statement from the Scrum Alliance web page for each value in quotes, and my own interpretation.
Focus. “Because we focus on only a few things at a time, we work well together and produce excellent work. We deliver valuable items sooner.” The luxury of focus in often difficult during the semester. I teach undergraduates in mostly writing-intensive courses, so my students tend to be my focus throughout the semester. I often then prioritize service at the expense of research or writing up my own work. But because I am only teaching in my pilot program and it is a small number of students, I can focus during work days on the things I do value most – student learning, sharing teaching and learning research through SoTL publications, and sharing Agile Faculty with my peers. Yes, I have many service commitments, which I value, but I will work to focus this semester as best I can on teaching and writing to manifest my own priorities.
Courage. “Because we work as a team, we feel supported and have more resources at our disposal. This gives us the courage to undertake greater challenges.” I think it takes courage to walk into a classroom every day, perhaps less so into classes that are going well but definitely more so when they aren’t. Developing and teaching in my pilot program is in and of itself an act of courage. We are attempting to break down what we think is wrong about the artificial structures of higher education and create something really different. And that has been really hard in practice. We are doing something very new with our university, faculty, and students, so there is no clear road map to success; we learn from the pilots as iterations and hope for approval to run another iteration. It can be difficult not to take bumps in the road personally, but I will act with courage in facing both successes and roadblocks this semester to serve my students, colleagues, and my professional well-being.
Openness. “As we work together, we express how we’re doing, what’s in our way, and our concerns so they can be addressed.” It’s easy to keep what happens in your classroom private. And it’s just as easy to fall back on the “I’m really busy!” response when someone asks you how you are doing. Because my pilot program is a team-taught venture, I owe it to my colleagues to be open about my teaching strategies, strengths, fears, and problems related to the program so that we can design the best experience possible for our students and for ourselves. But when that trust is deep as it is with us – we’ve been working on this project together intensely for almost three years – it’s also easy to fall into venting or negativity because of the intensity of the program. So this semester, I will be open to my peers about my intellectual and emotional needs while providing the same support with encouragement and without judgment.
Commitment. “Because we have great control over our own destiny, we are more committed to success.” Focus and commitment are closely related for me, and even as I find myself panicking about making sure this semester’s second full iteration of the pilot program is wildly successful, I know it comes from a place of commitment to the ideas behind what we are doing, my desire to help students (and colleagues) succeed and excel, and my own desire for success and respect as well. Much of my anxiety comes from this place of commitment. Because we are a pilot that lasts a full semester, stopping to reflect and reboot if needed can be a challenge. This semester, when I begin to panic about something related to the program, I will stop, remind myself that it’s because I care so deeply about the program that I’m worried, and re-commit to the ideas and values of the learning experience.
Respect.”As we work together, sharing successes and failures, we come to respect each other and to help each other become worthy of respect.” Respect is the easiest value to live when I work with such wonderful colleagues. If we are being honest with ourselves through, in the heat of the semester sturm und drang, we can forget to respect our students and maybe ourselves. We can get caught up in group dynamics, live their stress as our own, and perhaps forget what we need as faculty to remain well, optimistic, and engaged in the learning environment. Going into this second pilot, I will keep an attitude of respect for my colleagues, students, and self, remembering that what we are setting out to do in this program is innovative, unique, intense, but important.
The values of focus, courage, openness, commitment, and respect already align with my values as a professional, and walking through them helps me to recommit and mentally prepare for the semester ahead. One of the things that really attracted me to Scrum beyond the project management framework was this attention to humanistic values and the mindset that we are all doing the best we can at a given moment and that helping those around us grow (and being open to that support ourselves) is equally important as productivity. I’m ready to begin the semester and open to what comes.
Do the Scrum values align with your own personal values? How might you apply them in your professional development or classroom?