August 09, 2020
My name is Jody Bergman, and I am a public school teacher.
When I decided to take the leap into the IT world, people thought I was crazy. The most tech experience I ever had was connecting my Chromebook to the wireless projector in my classroom. But what people didn’t know is that I had been studying Agile and Scrum, and the parallels between being a teacher and a Scrum Master were made abundantly clear to me. After 15 years of telling high school and middle school students to reach for their goals and invest in their future, it was time for me to follow my own advice.
Now I’ve found myself lucky enough to play the role of Scrum Master at Moser Consulting, utilizing my experiences and knowledge from my previous life on a daily basis. As many know, the role of Scrum Master is ultimately one of a servant-leader. And who better to be servant leaders than teachers?
Takes a Holistic Approach: Good teachers teach the “whole child”. They see each student as a unique individual who brings their own experiences, backgrounds, and preconceived notions into the classroom. Each child has their own hopes, dreams, and goals, but also their own barriers and blockers to overcome. As Scrum Master, I view each member of my team the same way. Every team member has past experiences, whether traumatic or utopian, and brings the lessons learned from those experiences to the team. Through understanding those past experiences and investing in my colleagues to learn their personal passions and strengths, I am able to play to those strengths and foster those passions, investing in the “whole” of each one of my teammates. After all, humans are not resources. Everyone has passions and talents that should be cultivated and nurtured.
Builds Community: “Working agreements” and creating a safe space. Students--I mean team members--are not going to open up and share their true feelings if the right environment isn’t created. Take a Sprint Retrospective for example: Why would I expect a team member to open up about their challenges and frustrations if I haven’t first created a safe culture of trust, security, and openness? It is my responsibility as a Scrum Master to ensure my teammates feel safe to express their true opinions and open up to the team without judgment or retaliation.
Guides: The modern teacher looks very different from what I experienced as a student when I was in a classroom. Education pedagogy has shifted from teachers being the “Sage on the Stage” (the ultimate knowledge-holder who imparts said knowledge to the eager pupil), to the “Guide on the Side,” (the one who, while still having knowledge, encourages the student to seek out wisdom on their own and not just take the teacher’s word as gospel). Similarly, the Scrum Master is the ultimate “Guide.” I may not have all the answers, I don’t need to have all the answers, but I can guide the team to discover them, rethink problems, question the norm, and challenge themselves. Here are a few “Side Guide” questions I have utilized as both a teacher and a Scrum Master:
• How could you have done that differently?
• Is there a better decision that can or could be made?
• Is there an easier/cheaper/less time-consuming solution?
• Who around you can help you troubleshoot that problem?
• What can I help you understand? If I can’t help you, who can I get you in touch with that is able help you?
• What did you learn from this that you can carry forward?
• What were your frustrations?
• Do you trust your teammates to help you?
• Do you trust me to help you?
• What are you proud of?
Facilitates: Rule #1 of my classroom: Don’t come to me with a problem unless you’ve already thought of a solution. While this rule successfully eliminates most complaints, there are legitimate circumstances where venting, and most importantly solutioning, are needed. One year, after hearing my students complain that the annual drama production was being cancelled, I challenged them to come up with possible solutions to keep the show going. I had them think outside the box: Could a parent assist with practices? Were sponsors needed to help fund costumes, scenery, etc.? Could I set up a meeting with the principal to discuss the proposed solution? How can I help facilitate? (Of course, that’s how I ended up directing the play, but that’s a story for another day.) It's easy to get caught up in complaining and commiserating, but what good does it really accomplish if no solution is applied? As Scrum Master, it’s my job to help brainstorm these solutions and assist in formulating a plan (note: I did not say “make the plan for the team”) as well as challenge it from various perspectives and play devil’s advocate.
Mediates: Conflict is something that never happens in the classroom or among professionals, right? False. I’ve broken up more fights in my classroom than a bouncer at a nightclub. And while I do hope I never have anyone on my scrum team come to fisticuffs, I also understand there will be disagreements, raised voices, and grumbling. Having the skills to successfully mediate conflict in an impartial and helpful manner is crucial to being a Scrum Master. Every teacher can attest to having their own “bag of tricks” to mediate conflict, ranging from finding a compromise to having distance apart or even removal from the classroom. This same “bag of tricks” can easily apply to the Scrum Master mediation role; however, I hope I never have to send any of my colleagues to the principal’s office.
Coaches and Teaches: I put this last on my list for a reason. As a teacher, I never cared if my students walked out of my classroom knowing how to ask to go to the bathroom in Spanish or knowing how to solve for “x”. What I did care about was them leaving with a sense of purpose, a sense of community, and a sense of pride in what was accomplished. While yes, having a solid foundation of Agile and Scrum principles is key to the success of the team, can that foundation be built without first building rapport, gaining trust, and treating all team members as equals with hopes, dreams, and ambitions? It all circles back to the Holistic Approach. A team will never “buy-in” to Agile or Scrum unless a culture of respect, camaraderie, and trust are first built. Why would children who have been let down, hurt, and perhaps even abandoned by every adult in their lives choose to trust their teacher? Because teachers believe in seeing and acknowledging the whole child, fostering positive relationships, overcoming barriers, and working to help each individual realize their full potential. As a Scrum Master, I adopt the same mindset by viewing my teammates holistically, as unique individuals, by creating an environment where my they feel heard, valued, and safe, and by building a solid foundation of trust and respect where they are able to be taught and coached with an attitude of openness, willingness, and gratitude.
Although my title has changed to “Scrum Master” I will always be a teacher. I will always approach my teams and coworkers with a holistic view, desiring to build rapport, create a community, and establish trust. I will always challenge them to strive to be better, rely on their teammates, and question the norm. I will mediate conflicts as they arise, promising to always be a sounding board, confidant, or advocate. And I will teach them about the principles of Scrum and Agile, but hopefully, mostly about themselves.