Why Kindergarten Teachers Are The Best Scrum Masters.
Kindergarten teachers have the perfect profile to become your best Scrum Master!
Marty de Jonge
A typical Scrum Master job description
When browsing through Scrum Master vacancies I notice a repeating set of requirements:
- Bachelor degree or work and maturity level
- In possession of a (PSM I or equal) Scrum Master certificate
- several years of experience in this role;
- At least 2–3 years of experience in a technical environment.
- Experience with various DevOps tools (e.g. Gitlab, Ansible, Vagrant, Docker, etc).
- Experience with project management through e.g. Jira, Confluence, Azure
Details may change but the requested competencies and demonstrable certifications are common.
Yet, I’ve never seen a requirement like:
- Extensive experience in kindergarten education or child care is valued.
A missed opportunity, because good kindergarten teachers are the most successful Scrum Masters!
In this article, I will explain why I am convinced of this. Also, I’ll show you how you can perform the “kindergarten check” on the Scrum Master role in your team.
Generally, around four years of age, most children go to ‘school’ for the first time. It varies a little from country to country, but from a pre-school group, or straight from home, they go to their first ‘school class’. A big step for most children (and for the parents, it often takes, even more, getting used to).
Counting, learning colours and shapes. Telling your story in the morning circle, playing together (and sharing toys). Singing, listening to a story. For toddlers, there is a lot to learn. In the initial phase, it’s more for fun. In the second phase, the teacher starts preparing the children for the ‘big school’. Playfully teaching them to read, write and do arithmetic.
The toddlers discover a new world! Little by little, they start to notice there is a difference between the classroom and at home. As a teacher, it is important to stimulate the toddlers to develop this insight. They do this by talking about behaviour and emotions in all sorts of ways.
I don’t know about you, but I have great respect for these teachers. Often about 20 children who all grew up in their ‘own world’ for the first 4 years of their life. With their own house rules, often with the same people around them for 4 years now. (And they’ve perfectly learned how to wrap them around their fingers to get things their way). All with their own strong will, their own world reference and then one day…
BAMM! As a kindergarten teacher, you get all of them in your class and you have to create a group of them. A group where there are new rules that apply to everyone from now on. (When I was little and had to go to the toilet, I had to ask for the ‘pee chain’ before I could go. So the teacher knew who was on the toilet. — still a childhood trauma to me).
At the same time, you want every individual child to develop him/herself to the best of their abilities. You want them to be able to take the next step towards primary education. In addition, parents expect you to take their child’s whims into account. And to communicate extensively about their offspring's progress.
Well, you know… They just do it! Every year again with a mostly new group of children. And, I’ve never heard of anyone staying in the toddler group until they’re 20th. So, apparently, sooner or later we were all successfully developed to make a new step.
A random organization
Almost everyone who works within an organisation is part of a team. Whether it is a software development team, a marketing department or a ‘chapter’. Usually, you don’t have the luxury to choose this team yourself. With a number of people, you are put together by ‘someone’ and you have to get the job done with these folks.
Same as the 4-year-old toddlers I mentioned before. Just keep in mind, these boys and girls come in with close to zero experience and they do manage to become a team. The teacher is there to guide them in the process to become one. Teams in organisations are composed of people that are ‘several-times-4-multiplied’ old of age. Also, they have much more experience in becoming a group. However, they still need a guide in this process, their Scrum Master.
If you look at the role that the Scrum Master has within this, the Scrum Guide says:
The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. — The Scrum guide 2017
In addition, s/he also has the responsibility to provide various ‘services’. Towards the Product Owner, the Development Team and the organisation as a whole.
The activities to give content to this role have been translated by Barry Overeem into the 8 stances of a Scrum Master. Let’s use these as guidance and walk through them. Let’s see what these stances impose and how kindergarten teachers give content to these apparently ‘effortless’.
The 8 stances of a Scrum Master
1.Servant Leader: whose focus is on the needs of the team members and those they serve (the customer), with the goal of achieving results in line with the organization’s values, principles, and business objectives.
A kindergarten teacher focuses primarily on the needs of the children in their pack. Also s/he manages the expectations of the parents and puts her/him self at the service of the final goal. Being; give these children everything they need to make the next step.
2. Facilitator: by setting the internship and providing clear boundaries in which the team can collaborate.
The daily rituals at the kindergarten such as the circle talk before we start the day. Or at 10 o’clock sharp we all eat/drink something together.
Setting clear boundaries; Don’t bite each other! everyone gets their turns to play in the doll’s corner.
Facilitating a safe environment in which every child can develop as to its abilities. It’s all a logical part of their tasks.
3. Coach: coaching the individual with a focus on mindset and behaviour, the team in continuous improvement and the organization in truly collaborating with the Scrum Team.
The personal coaching of each child is different.
One is a cheeky little girl who immediately starts fighting when things don’t go her way. Not because she’s born as a bully, but because she doesn’t know another way to express herself yet. With some good coaching the kindergarten teacher can show her other ways and make sure she doesn’t grow up to become one.
The other is a timid boy who should stand up for himself and can do much more than he is showing at the moment. He is shown by appraisal and support from his teacher that he has qualities and his opinion matters.
For every child the kindergarten teacher seems to find the right ‘touch’ to find their best place within the team and as an individual.
4. Manager: responsible for managing impediments, eliminating waste, managing the process, managing the team’s health, managing the boundaries of self-organization, and managing the culture.
Sure, it is important that you develop your own identity, that you learn by your own mistakes and that you learn to solve conflicts yourself.
But you know, there is always a tower of strenght that you can turn to if you really need help. S/he will always support you, stand up for you and believe in you. In every child of the group! The clear boundaries and structures you need to have an environment in which you can strive.
5. Mentor: that transfers agile knowledge and experience to the team.
An experienced kindergarten eacher has experienced it all before. The homesickness you feel when you are at school for the first few days. The doubt you have whether you are doing well enough, since Cynthia already knows her complete ABC and you don’t. How do you find out what is the best way for you to “learn to learn”?
S/he knows what it needs to become the best version of yourself.
One smart move on mentoring I’ve seen kindergarten teachers do was this:
Whenever a new toddler enters the group, the eldest children are often referred to as ‘help teacher’. Their ‘job’ is to take the newcomers by the hand and become it’s first ‘mentor’. The older child feels appreciated. The younger one has an ‘almost’ peer with whom he can feel familiar and to which he can mirror himself. The oldest child learns to ‘mentor’ in a playfull way and it releases the burden (a little) from the teacher themselves.
6. Teacher: to ensure Scrum and other relevant methods are understood and enacted.
Learning your numbers or to read are of course the first things you think about, but things like working together or learning to concentrate, even when it’s a really difficult puzzle are equally important. It are all competences that you have to learn and develop to be able to go to the ‘big’ school.
And what about the ‘magic tricks’ they learn that even makes the life of every parent easier.
After your own unsuccessful attempts to let your offspring do a bit more themself, instead of always shouting “Mommy, must help” all the time. The teacher taught them how to finally put on their coats themselves with this fantastic life hack. Or, they suddenly learned to eat with a fork instead of your food getting cold because ‘the little princess’ demands that she is fed by you ….
7. Impediment Remover: solving blocking issues to the team’s progress, taking into account the self-organizing capabilities of the Development Team.
Of course, the teacher is there when a quarrel gets out of hand or when the same girl is not allowed to participate on the playing fiels over and over again.
But remember, there is no greater impediment than if you were too late at the toilet and peed your own pants. The teacher always has a spare pair of trousers somewhere to solve the impediment.
8. Change Agent: to enable a culture in which Scrum Teams can flourish.
Possibly the most important role of the kindergarten teacher. Ensuring that everyone can experience the enormous change you go through between your 4th and 6th/7th year in a good and pleasant way.
Looking back, when you entered the kindergarten you were actually just a baby, and look at you now!
You’re a big boy or girl ready to go to primary school. A little scary, but confident that you can do it. Thanks to… the teacher!
The kindergarten check
Above we’ve seen, measured with the 8 stance yardstick, that kindergarten teachers actually exercise all these typical “Scrum Master” competences on a daily basis. Now it is time to shift our point of view and perform a “kindergarten check” on your current Scrum Master position. For this, I composed a general kindergarten teacher job profile based on the approximately 35 I’ve gone through.
This profile consists of 12 different elements that together describe an ‘ideal’ kindergarten teacher candidate.
Typical Job Profile (Dutch) kindergarten teacher
What you do:
- Teaching children in combination group 1 and 2.
- Contributing to the general development of children.
- Besides your contribution in the classroom, active participation in the Kindergarten teacher team.
- Creating a safe climate in the classroom.
Who you are:
- You recognize yourself in the words patient, creative and a great sense of responsibility.
- You have a great ability to put things into perspective and a healthy dose of humour.
- Openness, honesty and professionalism are pillars that you live by.
- You really care for the children that have been trusted to you.
- Together with the staff, you create a pleasant workplace for the children every day, but also for yourself.
- You are enthusiastic, flexible to make the best of it in these special times.
- When things get rough, you remain calm.
- You want to go for it. (but your colleagues will be there to help you)
Now walk through the above job profile again, replace ‘children’ for ‘team members’, ‘classroom’ for ‘team space’ and take your Scrum Master (or yourself…) in mind.
Now, score in how many of these 12 mentioned elements of the ‘perfect’ kindergarten teacher you recognize your Scrum Master.
- Did you score more than 10? Congratulations! You are a lucky bastard.
- Did you score 6 or lower? Maybe it is time to rethink if you’ve got the right person for the right job.
- Did you score between 7 and 9? I hope the ones you couldn’t cross uncovered the aspects where small improvements can have a big impact.
And if you’ve got a vacancy for a Scrum Master any time soon, look beyond the usual suspects. Include people who have an education or health care background in your jobseekers selection.
What do you have to lose? A few more resumes to go through. A few more job interviews to handle. And you might find the perfect candidate in a place where you least expected it.
The most visible parts of a Scrum Master’s job like certifications, use of tools and knowledge of code, these are things you can learn. However, the more invisible or ‘soft’ parts of the job are much harder. Having the right ‘mindset’ and a people-oriented attitude is more something you have or you have not. If there is a, maybe until now untapped talent for it, it can be further developed. But you can not ‘learn’ a mindset is there no base for it.
This article was originally posted on Serious Scrum.
Marty de Jonge
As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.