We all have strengths and weaknesses with the preferred stances of a Scrum Master. Like many of the teams we work with, being ‘key-shaped’ comes to mind – cross-skilled and competent at many things but having a deeper knowledge of certain stances more so than others.
Personally, I feel more effective as a teacher and facilitator than when I’m coaching. You will, no doubt, have your own perspective on your skillset. However, what I’ve observed in my practice as a consultant and Professional Scrum Trainer is that we can become overly reliant on the stances we are comfortable in. We sometimes forget that Professional Scrum very much relies on the cross-skilled Scrum Master. As an ex-teacher, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’m very comfortable within the teacher stance, but I often find myself over-using it. Subsequently, it’s only upon reflection that I realise I was using the wrong tool for the job. In this blog, I’d like to share my perspective on how a Scrum Master fulfils the stance as a teacher, but more specifically, the differences between teaching and Professional Teaching.
Note that there is an inherent language conflict in this post between being a Professional Teacher and being a Professional (Scrum) Trainer. A trainer and a teacher are not the same. It is beyond the scope of this content to explain why this is the case, but suffice it to say it is more than just nuance.
What makes something ‘professional’?
The first point I’d like to make is that the ‘Professional’ part of Professional Scrum is not a throwaway concept. It dovetails with (but is materially different than) the many implementations of Scrum that are being used by teams around the world. If you’ve ever felt like you’re just ‘going through the motions’ then it is likely your Scrum is no longer Professional; it is likely that your Scrum is no longer conforming to the mindset, principles and ethics that surround and are embodied within the Scrum framework. My opinion is that if you dive deeper into the stances of a Scrum Master, each of the positions has its own ‘Professional’ set of principles and ethics that guides its success, and it is therefore the responsibility of anyone calling themselves a ‘Professional Scrum Master’ to be aware of and uphold them as a community. To justify my opinion somewhat, we are perhaps more familiar with the concept of Professional Coaching (the collective understanding of the guiding expectations of what coaching entails) and what defines it as being considered a ‘Professional’ capability, but we don’t consider there being that expectation for a level of professionalism within the other stances. So, what’s stopping us?
Every day, Scrum Masters will teach the Scrum Teams, Product Owners, and organisations that they work with. Whether it’s a new technique to improve transparency, educating them on the Scrum boundaries or supporting them with self-management, it all falls to the ‘Scrum Master as a Teacher’. I’m a big fan of radical candour, and I’ve got to say that many Scrum Masters believe that they are good teachers simply because they deeply grasp the subject content – but this is just a small part of being a teacher. Taking an example of a world expert on Scrum, does that necessarily mean they can teach it? No. A teacher is someone who can take content, impart it appropriately, and help the learner to internalise that knowledge to the point of personal application. A Professional Teacher though, is so much more even than that, with content delivery barely scratching the surface. It’s not just content and delivery, but rather collective onus on setting expectations, evaluating outcomes, subject mastery, delivery structure, adapting for different learning styles, assessment, and interaction with wider professional responsibilities. A Professional Teacher of Scrum is accountable for all these areas and therefore continually refines their approach to them. Collectively, this is known as their pedagogy.
The pedagogy, principles and ethics of a Professional Teacher are wide-ranging and cumulative. Below I’ve tried to clarify my understanding of what competencies might define this level of practice.
- Intention – The purpose of assuming the stance of ‘teacher’ is selfless to the greatest extent possible. The learners must be seeking to learn, otherwise it’s not teaching, it’s lecturing i.e., teaching should be initiated by the learner rather than the teacher. The Professional Teacher creates the environment where learning is desired to improve practice, rather than given without request.
- Evaluation – The Professional Teacher exercises a learning feedback loop. They identify, deliver, evaluate, and refine throughout the teaching engagement such that knowledge gain is validated. Whilst it is a commonly held belief that the burden of learning is on the learner, a Professional Teacher rightly owns that burden themselves. They remain accountable for the learning outcomes.
- Continued development – The mindset of continued development is present in all professional competencies. The need to keep knowledge and skills relevant (i.e., applying theory as opposed to solely teaching it) is vital to the Professional Teacher. The holistic improvement of personal knowledge demonstrates the value that a Professional Teacher sees in improving both personal and learner outcomes. This is fulfilled by:
- Pursuing skill mastery in the form of content and practice
- Frequent performance-related peer-evaluations involving feedback against transparent criteria
- Performing action research that is reviewed by community peers.
- Variety of delivery – All learners have different needs and therefore the Professional Teacher understands the relevant applicability of exercises and content. They adapt content and delivery style, in-flight, due to continual evaluation and assessment. They support the different levels of knowledge of each participant and attempt to differentiate activities based on an individual’s learning journey. The Professional Teacher has a toolkit and variety of activities to meet the learning outcomes required, to stretch, support and challenge everyone. This is supported by their knowledge of learning theories.
- Professional standards – Upholding the ethics and wider guidelines of the profession is vital. This is modelled by upholding a professional ethos and requires the tolerance and dignity of all learners.
This all links to Professional Scrum because I believe that the identification and evaluation against professional competencies is a necessary building block that exemplifies and supports the values and mindset required for Professional Scrum. For something to be considered ‘Professional’ it must have guidelines that attempt to qualify a practitioner’s effectiveness.
Are you a ‘Professional Teacher’?
In this post I have attempted to define (at a very high level) the rigor of being considered a Professional Teacher, with the express knowledge that many won’t meet the definition. Like other professional bodies, independent accreditation and formal education is required to be considered a ‘Professional’ and the same applies to the Professional Teacher. However, I don’t believe that it is necessary to master all Scrum Master stances to be considered a Professional Scrum Master. Professional Scrum simply (!) requires a conscious effort to iterate and increment our knowledge and practice across all areas, using professional competencies to identify value gaps. To use the Evidence Based Management KVAs as a reference, we all have our Current Value (knowledge), but there exists a value gap between our current state and our Unrealised Value (future knowledge), defined perhaps by professional competencies. Can you be a professional without mastering everything? Of course, because what makes us professional is not mastery of a competency, but the accredited education, formal certification, and intent and purpose to meet the competencies of the profession.
I’d be keen to hear from anyone who has thoughts or feelings on the content of this post. I have not written this with the intention of it being read as doctrine, but rather a piece to elicit discussion on a topic that interests me.
I intend to provide more clarity on the competencies I’ve identified above in future blog posts.
Ryan is the primary trainer at Optilearn. He is an experienced Scrum Master, Agile Coach and educator. He is a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org 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.