Agile, Agrippina…Online! (or BEC’s 2020 in Review)

Like many people, I started my 2020 sitting around the dinner table with family and friends. With a good meal and sparkling wine to toast in the New Year, 2020 had gotten off to a great start. 

One of my 2020 goals involved Agile. In 2019, I had begun reading about applying the Agile mindset in the classroom and wanted to learn more about it. Simply put, Agile is an approach used in software development and project management, where teams work and deliver in short intervals known as sprints. Agile has its own manifesto, vocabulary and techniques. It is not a process but a mindset. On January 7, 2020, I had the opportunity to meet with a specialist to discuss Agile in Education. I wanted to learn how to bring the Agile mindset into my language learning classroom. It wasn’t just about my own mindset, but the mindset of my clients – especially those working toward a business degree at the EP Kaderschule. At our January 7 meeting, the expert and I discussed the possibility of a workshop and I agreed to get back to him later in the year. 

In February, inspired by a visit to Schaffhausen to watch a live broadcast of Porgy and Bess, I had arranged to see Agrippina with a friend in Bern. Except for summaries I had found online, I knew nothing about Agrippina, but my experience in Schaffhausen had been magical. Not only did we have front row seats to the opera, the camera work put us on stage with the performers. My friend and I set out to the cinema at Westside in the rain. After a light meal in the food court, we went downstairs to claim our seats and enjoy a glass of prosecco before the broadcast started. But there was just one problem, the event had been canceled because of the corona virus. It was February 29, 2020.

Of course, I had heard of the virus and had followed news reports about local quarantines as it began to spread in Switzerland, but I never imagined that it would cause events to be canceled. However, by March 17 everything was “canceled” as Switzerland entered “lockdown”. It was only then that I began looking for resources to support online teaching. With my husband’s help, I installed TEAMS on my desktop and practiced using it with him as my model student. Within 7 days, Business English Consulting was up and running online and fortunately, my clients were with me.

Looking back on a year of online teaching, I can honestly say that I appreciate the flexibility it provides. In some ways it is more demanding, but it also encourages me to be more creative and develop better ways of meeting my clients’ needs. I also learned that: 

  1. clients were willing to help when one of us was having technical difficulties.
  2. attendance improved with in-company clients because they could log-in regardless of where they were. 
  3. the document filing system in TEAMS means clients always have access to classroom worksheets. (I may never photocopy again.)

But what about Agile in Education? I still love the idea of adopting a mindset that puts the learner in charge of setting goals. I appreciate the concept of “incremental learning” and “reflecting” on the progress made (or not). And I especially appreciate these three reflective questions, which I have been asking myself at regular intervals this past year:

  • What did we do well?
  • What could we have done better?
  • What new things can we start doing to improve?

To be honest, I am still not sure how to fully nurture this mindset in a business degree course built around traditional semesters and exams - especially considering that like most of us, these clients seem to have their own expectations about what happens in a classroom.

But maybe I am just overthinking this. Perhaps the best thing to do is to just take the first step and start the conversation with my classes. At the EP Kaderschule, we are approaching the end of the semester, so it is a good time to use the reflective questions for feedback. When the new semester starts, I will still have a set curriculum to cover, but I can encourage the students to set their own learning goals and time frames within the constraints of the curriculum. I can then encourage reflection and adaptation as the semester progresses.

It may not be a pure form of Agile in the classroom, but it is a start. As the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, is quoted as saying “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. Now is the time to take my first step.

To learn more about the Agile Classroom, check out this article by Rodulfo J. Prieto, co-founder of Laboratoria:

The Agile Classroom: Embracing an Agile Mindset In Education | by Rodulfo J. Prieto | Laboratoria | Medium