A Retro on Retros

It seems clear to me that a lot of us out there don’t like retrospectives.  Ok… maybe you are an Agilist and you actually love them (me too)… but I feel pretty safe in saying that this feeling is not shared by all the members of your team.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately and it seems to me that this “not liking” aspect can be broken down into two categories.

Retrospectives make me uncomfortable.  Examples of this would include: “I have trouble speaking up in a group setting.”; “I  have difficulty seeing different points of view especially when they are at odds with my own.”; “I don’t want to create conflict or hurt someone’s feelings.”

Retrospectives are unproductive.  Examples of this would include: “I prefer to focus on my core work than retrospect. That’s where I feel most productive.”; “What we talk about at the retro is less important than what I’m working on right now.”; “We talk and talk, but we don’t actually do anything.”

I would say that most participants in a retrospective will identify to some degree with the “uncomfortable” and / or “unproductive” views of a retrospective.  Rather than viewing this as a problem to solve, I would suggest that these “dislikes” are an opportunity for the team to explore with curiosity.  So consider…

Making retrospectives comfortable. Consider on a personal and team level: “What needs to happen so that everyone can engage with the activity?  What are different ways that we can share ideas, sample different points of view, and be at ease with different attitudes on the team?”

Making retrospectives productive. Consider on a personal and team level: “What needs to happen to make these gatherings productive? Are we talking about the most important problem impacting the team’s ability to deliver value?  If not, then what will it take for us to do that? How do we hold ourselves accountable to our decisions and actions coming out of the retrospective?”

If the retrospective is generating some dislike on your team, then perhaps the time has come to have a Retro on Retros?

Agile Teaching 103

At this point, you’re almost home. You’ve set the context for learning (Agile Teaching 101), you’ve created memorable lessons (Agile teaching 102), and one more thing remains…

We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.” – John Holt

I’d like to advocate for the value of “homework” or practice as an invaluable teaching tool. It is every bit as important for grown-ups as it is for children because every student (young or old) experiences some level of apprehension or fear when faced with something new.

If you’ve done your job as a teacher, then you have participated in bringing your student to an uncomfortable edge by introducing something new to his reality. If you want your lesson to translate into your student’s every day life… and I sincerely hope you do, because that should be your success criteria… you will have to help him to overcome his fear of trying out his newly discovered skills.

Therefore, in all that you teach, there should be an opportunity for your students to practice what they’ve learned in a supportive and safe environment. This will give them the opportunity to gain the confidence in themselves and their team (yes, group work IS important) that will allow them to use what they’ve learned in the days to come.

Happy Teaching 😀

Agile Teaching 102

Now that you’ve created a good foundation for your teaching, you’ll be ready to dig into the some new stuff with your students.  Here’s my second tip for your consideration…

“All learning is done through meaningful association.”

This picks up directly from Teaching 101’s “Teach them where they are at” idea from last week.

If your goal is to have your students retain what you have to teach, then you’ll need to help them create connections between what they already know and what you would like them to learn. Memory is a key component to learning and your new lessons will only “stick”, if you can find a way for your student to capture and own that knowledge.

Start with what is familiar to them and create connections to the new material. In this spirit, it doesn’t hurt to throw in as many different styles of learning while you are at it. For dry material, I’ve been known to sing at my students and dance like a fool in front of them… anything to help create a meaningful and memorable connection to what’s new. If you are truly interested in teaching and haven’t read Gardner’s book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, then you might want to put that book at the top of your reading list soon to explore different types of learning in order to integrate this into your teaching tool set.

Stay tuned next week for the next installment in this series… Agile Teaching 103… 😀

Agile Teaching 101

In Agile, we know the importance of continuous improvement and the key role that learning plays in this process. But we rarely speak of the important role that teaching plays in making it all possible.

I started my career as a high school English and Math teacher and, long before that, I worked with university students with learning disabilities. It’s from this experience that I would like to offer up a few tips for Agile teachers out there.

Here’s the first…   “Teach them where they are at.”

It’s not uncommon for novice teachers to try to pass along their agenda without consideration for their students’ context. In our eagerness to impart knowledge, we forget that our students may not be ready to receive what we are trying to teach.

Instead we need to take time to understand the current reality of our students. Consider what hurdles they are going to have to overcome before they can entertain your agenda. Keep in mind, these hurdles can be knowledge based just as much as they can be emotionally based.  Good teachers work to to fill-in those gaps…

So beyond gauging the knowledge level of your students, this implies understanding what motivates the people that you are teaching. Remember also that if your students aren’t self-motivated, then you’ll be expected to create that motivation. Motivation is important, because motivation creates active engagement in your students. Active engagement is the only way that a student can tap into the brain power they will need to learn what it is that you have to teach.

Stay tuned next week, for Agile Teaching 102… 😉