Teaching Social Intelligence and How It Relates to Agile

Teaching Social Intelligence and How It Relates to Agile

Being an agile trainer, I’m always interested in new techniques in teaching, and one of the blogs I subscribe to is that of Georgia teacher, Vicki Davis. Davis is not an ordinary teacher, however. She uses project-based learning and technology designed to teach compassion and empathy.

I listened to a presentation given by Davis at the “Education: Next Generation” conference titled, “Using Projects to Teach Compassion and Technology.”

I was particularly interested because soft skills are not typically taught in a classroom, yet skills such as social intelligence and emotional intelligence are particularly important for success in agile environments.

These are the types of skills that are so important for agile leaders, yet it seems that they’re rarely taught in the classroom.

Davis, author of the book, “Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds,” and podcast, “Every Classroom Matters,” teaches her students to become “social entrepreneurs” by tapping into their “heartbreaks,” and helping them to create apps that will do something to help address those heartbreaks.

“What are the things that break your heart and why? How can we do something to address that heartbreak?” are questions she asks her students. “It’s a great technique to get kids excited about their opportunity to change the world,” she says.

The kids have created apps to help with issues such as human trafficking, cutting and cancer.

The apps can be found on the site, MadAboutMattering.com, and not surprisingly are developed using agile and lean techniques, including Kanban.

In her talk, Davis talks about several concepts that we teach in agile management classes, such as empowerment, the growth mindset and capitalizing on the strengths of individuals.

Though Davis is empowering and focusing on strengths of students, she pointed out the importance of these skills in the workplace and that if bosses focus on the strengths of their staffs, studies have shown a dramatic increase in employee engagement.

Another parallel to agile teaching was Davis’s emphasis on the importance of conversation.

“It’s the conversations that change everything,” she says, giving examples of times where conversations between teacher and student can set the trajectory for growth, confidence and self-esteem that will lead students to meet their full potential knowing someone believed in them.

Davis talked about the importance of ensuring everyone had a voice in conversations, reminiscent of what we teach Scrum Masters.

She uses Socratic dialog, teaching with questions, but uses techniques to ensure that it’s not only the extraverts who are speaking up.

One way she does this is by giving students three poker chips. They use a poker chip when they contribute to the conversation, but once their chips are gone, they can’t speak until everyone’s chips are gone.

This puts pressure on the quiet ones to use their chips by speaking up. Though this may take them out of their comfort zone, Davis has found that this technique has exemplified that everyone has something to bring to the table.

Another skill Davis teaches her students is how to “professionally disagree.”

In talking to them, she will sometimes say something that she knows the student doesn’t agree with to see if they will challenge her. If they don’t, she’ll talk to them about why they didn’t speak up, and they’ll often answer that they didn’t think it was appropriate to disagree with the teacher.

She’ll then go on to teach them how they can respectfully speak up when they hear something that they disagree with. She wants the students to question. If something doesn’t make sense, ask why?

It’s encouraging to hear that Davis is teaching skills beyond the traditional, but really delving into these areas of social and emotional intelligence.

These students will become future leaders who will lead with empathy and compassion.

Already, these students are making a difference with the apps they are creating. For Vicki Davis, she finds meaning in helping the students make that difference.

Learn more about her teaching methods here:


Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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