By December Kinney |

It’s not uncommon for me to wake up from a dream panicked about having a major assignment due, despite being several years removed from the classroom. I remember the time and effort it took to complete work well in more ordinary times. I know that the required time and effort have only increased this year due to COVID-19. I hear this constantly confirmed by my mom, a high school guidance counselor working more closely than ever with students, parents, and instructors. As an Agile methodology practitioner, several ,Scrum concepts have helped me more easily complete long-term professional projects; as a former instructor, I realized that these concepts might also be beneficial for those seeking to support students this year.


Robert K. Greenleaf first defined the term servant-leader in his essay The Servant as Leader. On Scrum Teams, the Scrum Master plays this essential servant-leadership role.

“The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” -Robert K. Greenleaf

Servant-leaders seek to remove blockers, provide coaching, and help organizations better support the Scrum Team. In this context, those seeking to support students during these times may want to keep service at the forefront of our minds. For example, we can serve students by producing or securing exceptional online learning experiences for them or by seeking to understand other interactions they have in their home lives and helping them find a balance with time spent learning. It is inspiring to see parents and educators already acting as servant-leaders for students during this pandemic.


In Scrum, sprints are periods of one month or less in which a usable product increment is created. In the context of the 2020-2021 school year, it may be daunting for students to think about the entire year right now or even an entire semester. We might do well to encourage them to think of each week, every two weeks, or even every month as a sprint. During each “sprint,” they can set smaller goals that may seem more achievable. The task of mastering a set of 20 vocabulary words might be better adjusted to a task of mastering a set of 10 vocabulary words in two separate sprints. Encouraging students to set and achieve many smaller goals rather than one big one should provide plentiful opportunities for successful learning and positive reinforcement during a time when both are much needed.

Inspection and Adaptation

In addition to working within a defined period, Scrum Teams are responsible for inspecting progress towards a sprint goal. If it is determined that the outcome will not satisfy the sprint’s aim, the team must adapt processes or materials to ensure success. Similarly, it is ideal to check in with students throughout each of their sprints to see how their learning progresses. We can encourage students to be open about their needs, check for differences against expected and real results, and change methodologies, online learning technologies, etc. if need be.

Sprint Review and Retrospective

While inspection and adaptation provide opportunities to review progress during a sprint, two events at the end of a sprint provide more formal opportunities to do so. The Sprint Review provides an occasion for the Scrum Team to review the work that was accomplished during a given sprint and discuss what to do next. For students, the Sprint Review is akin to homework, a project, assessment, or perhaps even a post in an online forum engaging with other students. Whatever the format, students should be able to demonstrate what they learned during the sprint.

The Sprint Retrospective is also held at the end of a sprint and is an opportunity for the Scrum Team to focus more on the “how”—i.e., to review the way the team did its work and identify improvements to processes and practices. Similarly, it can be beneficial for students to take time at the end of their sprint to reflect on their learning journey. We should encourage them to speak up about things they did that led to success or things they lacked if they were unsuccessful.

Retaining an Agile Mindset

Embracing an Agile framework like Scrum to think about this academic year in sprints may make the workload feel less daunting for students. Consistently checking in with students, changing course if need be, and evaluating progress at the end of each sprint should set them up for success in a COVID world and beyond.


December Kinney

December Kinney
Project Manager at Construct


Schwaber, K., & Sutherland, J. (2018). The scrum guide™. Scrum Guides. ,