Trust, Deep Analysis, Positive Feedback, Constructive Criticism, Growth – These are some of the characteristics of a critical friends group.
I recently completed a one week Critical Friends Group facilitator training. I participated with thirteen other faculty and administrators from my school. Eric Baylin and Monika Johnston from the Packer Collegiate Institute led our group.
At the National School Reform Faculty web site, CFGs are defined as:
… a professional learning community consisting of approximately 8-12 educators who come together voluntarily at least once a month for about 2 hours. Group members are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning.
We spent a week using protocols, or structured conversations to analyze readings, listen carefully, analyze pieces of student work, dig into dilemmas, and plan for the future. These protocols (many found here) allowed us to focus in and have deep conversations about the work we do in schools: teaching and learning. It put us in a learner role and quickly helped us listen and provide critical feedback for our colleagues. The week built trust between and among the participants and developed what McDonald et. al. describe at Facilitative Leadership in The Power of Protocols: An Educators Guide to Better Practice. Leadership from within the faculty of a school, instead of top down.
Towards the end of the week we created a plan for the Fall by scheduling dedicated times to continue to practice and build our facilitation skills. By setting specific goals and scheduling dedicated time, we committed the group to continue to practice.
Building CFGs into the culture of our schools will help us dive deeper and become better educators. Helping our students become better learners and citizens. I’m excited to see how we grow and develop in the fall.
Have you used CFGs? What practices do you consider critical for growth and development?