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Professional Teaching: Intention (Scrum Master as a Teacher Blog Series #2)

March 18, 2022

Prior to reading this blog, please read the introduction to this series here.

Professional Teaching is a complex skill that requires practitioners to probe, sense and respond to a changing learning environment. As Scrum Masters, we are naturally at home within complexity, and therefore the ability to apply empiricism to learning should be simple. However, for many reasons, teaching is often forced upon unwilling (or unwitting) Scrum Team members causing the outcome to be less valuable than intended. As such, creating the environment where learning is sought out is vital to the Professional Scrum Master (and therefore Professional Teacher) so that the team are more likely to achieve intended outcomes. Thus, without the correct ‘intention’, it is fair to say that learning often becomes didactic and is only received at a surface level. It is the purpose of this second post in the series about professionalising the teacher stance to explore the first competency of ‘Intention’ and how the Professional Teacher would demonstrate it.

The concept of ‘Intention’ applies to both the purpose and methods used to impart knowledge. Consider how engaged you were in training your employer forced you into – did you learn a lot? It’s something all Professional Scrum Trainers can empathise with; when companies pay for a private class and tell a team they are going to be trained, we see lower engagement (and assessment success) than with those who self-funded their participation (and therefore have chosen to be there). Scrum Masters that achieve the professional teaching competency outlined by ‘Intention’ understand that the Professional Teacher is accountable for the culture and environment where learners want to be present. There are many ways that this can be improved, both actively and passively, but the key outcome is that learning is initiated by the learner- the teacher does not force it.

Consider the following two questions alongside a personal context when you last taught your team something:

  1. Did you decide they needed to be taught something based on an observation OR did they seek out your expertise?
  2. Did you set the agenda OR did you collaborate on the intended outcomes?

By its nature, learning requires student engagement and clear outcomes. When considering these two questions in the professional context of a workplace, you can ensure that the teaching is selfless and intended. We are considering the concept of active learning rather than passive here, and therefore the Professional Teacher has previously worked to improve the atmosphere where it’s acceptable to ‘not know’.

To take an example from Professional Scrum, perhaps you’ve been in a Sprint Retrospective where the Scrum Team said “Why do we need to have the Daily Scrum every day? Perhaps every other day would be appropriate?” This is an opportunity to collaborate on what they want to achieve (a question familiar to many Agile Coaches), i.e., their desired outcomes/goals and offer the possibility that you could teach them. Teacher-learner contracting is important and, similar to professional coaching, permission is needed before teaching your Scrum Team. This is because the Professional Teacher needs to understand the boundaries of what is being requested so that they don’t over-teach and begin preaching. Preaching is painful and quickly demolishes the trust built with the team, so special care should be taken to gain transparency on the requirement before starting. You may have noted already that this contracting culture and transparency is very dependent on the Scrum Values, and that’s because it is.

If you’re wondering whether you are fulfilling the competency of ‘intention’, look at some of the criteria below. It is not meant as an exhaustive list, but something to promote conversation at multiple levels.

Evaluation Criteria

As the Scrum Master:

  • I do not teach without permission
  • I focus on teaching the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’
  • I evaluate whether teaching is the most appropriate option before doing so
  • I consider what the Scrum Team are trying to achieve by requesting my teaching
  • I re-visit the topics/efficacy of my teaching, perhaps in Sprint Retrospectives

As the Scrum Team:

  • We feel able to approach the Scrum Master to request teaching on a topic we need help with
  • We frequently evaluate and can identify our knowledge gaps and therefore we don’t need to be told what we need
  • We are open and specific about our needs so that appropriate support can be given
  • We frequently seek out learning and training

As the organisation:

  • They are open and specific about their needs so that the appropriate support can be given
  • They provide support in the form of time/funding for Scrum Teams to learn new skills to improve delivery
  • They support the creation of a learning culture rather than a delivery culture

The achievement of these criteria is the accountability of the Professional Teacher. For example, they support the ability of the organisation to create a learning culture as part of being a Professional Scrum Master – the onus is not solely on the organisation to do this on their own.

Actionable Ideas

What can you do to improve the ‘intention’ of your Professional Teaching? Here are some actionable ideas that you may like to try:

  • Learning sessions – In every Sprint Retrospective, ask the Scrum Team for an area/topic that their knowledge is weakest in. Perhaps it’s what a great Sprint Review looks like, what to do when they’re struggle to define a Sprint Goal, or even something more technical such as testing frameworks? Take that opportunity to offer teaching and see whether they are interested.
  • Designing the Team Alliance – Taking the activity of the DTA from Systems Relationship Coaching, work with your Scrum Team to identify what they want their culture to be like. Use prompt questions that make them consider their learning and environment so that they define continued learning as part of their ethos
  • Sprint Review attendance – Encourage participation in the Sprint Review from the organisation, as this is a great opportunity for impediments to be surfaced wider than the Scrum Team. Presence of senior management matters because it provides the support and willingness to hear about problems and provides empowerment to improve the current situation.

So, there we have it, a discussion around the first competency of the Professional Teacher. The simple fact is that a lot of ‘Intention’ is achieved through effective coaching for self-management, namely that a Scrum Team who knows what they need (and seeks it out) is living Scrum and empiricism. Creating the environment where knowledge is desired and understood to be needed to change the status quo is vital, and the Professional Teacher (and by extension the Professional Scrum Master) is accountable for this.

Next up in this series, the ‘Evaluation’ competency will be discussed within the context of empiricism and Scrum theory.

Ryan is the primary trainer at Optilearn. He is an experienced Scrum Master, Agile Coach and educator. HA headshot of Ryan Brook, Professional Scrum Trainer.e is a Professional Scrum Trainer with and also holds Qualified Teacher Status in the UK. Ryan believes that the best teachers are the ones who practise what they teach, and so he maintains active consultancy to constantly put theory into practice.

To check out his upcoming classes, please look here.


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