1 NSRF TM is a professional development initiative of the Harmony Education Center in Bloomington, Indiana. Introduction Self-Guided Tour to NSRF TM Critical Friends Groups TM Welcome to our "primer" on Critical Friends Groups TM (CFGs). This tour will focus on the unique opportunities CFGs present to educators, their students, and their communities. Feel free to page through from front to back, or use the index below to jump to the sections that most interest you. If you have any questions or comments, please call or us anytime ( or We look forward to discussing CFGs with you and your organization. Kind regards, Michele Mattoon, NSRF Director In a Nutshell: What is a Critical Friends' Group? p. 2 What Can CFGs Do For My School? p. 3 Why "Critical" Friends? p. 4 Trust and CFGs, Purpose of CFGs p. 5 What are Protocols and Why Should We Use Them? p. 6 Essential Values of NSRF Protocols p. 7 NSRF and the Annenberg p. 8 Educational Outcomes p. 9 CFGs and Other PLCs p. 10 CFGs Improve Student Learning p. 11 What happens in CFG Meetings? p. 12 Why do Educators find CFGs effective? p. 13 CFG Benefits and Facilitative Leadership p. 14 Training Agenda -- How to become a CFG Coach p. 15 Open Trainings p. 16 On-Site Trainings p. 17 Investment in training coaches p. 18 Next steps p. 19 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 1
2 A Critical Friends Group TM (or CFG TM ) is a professional learning community consisting of 8-12 members who are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning and structured interactions (or protocols). CFG members meet at least once a month for about two hours. p 2 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM
3 What Can Critical Friends Groups TM Do For My School? 1 Help students succeed 1 Model and build 21st Century Skills 1 Build trust 1 Reduce teacher and administrator isolation 1 Change school culture 1 Build diversity of thought 1 Extend and share leadership 1 Facilitate participation from all members 1 Provide healthy challenges 1 Foster equity 1 Honor and prioritize time for deep reflection 1 Support strategic planning 1 Reveal solutions to complex dilemmas 1 Develop critical problem-solving 1 Encourages creative, new thinking (sometimes around old problems) 1 Carefully analyze work, and support everyone in receiving and giving focused, actionable feedback Most of all, CFGs are about collaboration colleagues working together to improve their work and that of their students, continually striving for excellence through shared goals, norms, and values. NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 3
4 Why Critical Friends? Critical Friends In CFG TM context, critical means important, key, essential, or urgent. CFGs are never about criticizing others, neither members, nor students. p 4 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM
5 Trust and Your CFG TM Newly formed CFGs lay groundwork with trust-building protocols and activities. This creates a safe atmosphere for members to talk about challenging issues. One important beginning protocol is generating a set of agreements to work by (including the expectation of confidentiality). Members also learn specific protocols to give feedback in a sensitive, constructive manner, and how to talk about topics that may put others into their emotional danger zone. The Purpose of CFGs In a CFG, members are actively encouraged to continuously challenge each other to adopt practices that foster education and equity. By supporting diverse thought, experience, and perspective, CFGs encourage members to build upon one another's participation. Surprising revelations are the norm in CFGs, not the exception. Trust and confidentiality are foundational attributes of every CFG TM "Something that comes out of a Critical Friends Group is that everyone has to be vulnerable. When you make yourself vulnerable and everyone knows that that s a part of the process, I think people trust each other more and that s really when change can happen." A CFG Coach in Bombay, India NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 5
6 What Are Protocols and Why Should We Use Them? NSRF Protocols Protocols are structured processes or guidelines to promote meaningful and efficient communication, problem solving and learning. By using them within a group who share common values, they re great vehicles for building the skills and culture needed for successful collaboration. Protocols permit an honest, deeply meaningful, and often intimate type of conversation which people are not in the habit of having. p 6 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM Like guardrails along a highway, protocols, under the leadership of a trained Coach, provide guidance and safety, and help ensure your arrival at the proposed destination rather than being pulled off-track.
7 Essential Values of NSRF TM Protocols Led by a trained Coach, NSRF TM Protocols: Give time for active listening and reflection. Prioritize equity and parity so all voices may be heard and honored. Make it safe to ask difficult questions. Allow participants to gain differing perspectives. Accomplish much more than typically happens in a short period of time. "My partner and I used the Affinity Mapping protocol with our principals group recently with great success! The silent brainstorming session generated a variety of action steps for the group to prioritize, leading to a definitive plan to continue our work next year. Thank you for your support during our training and beyond! Best quote from our evaluation form: 'This network has taken [our organization] to the next level.' Love it!!" A CFG Coach in Ohio NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 7
8 NSRF TM and the Annenberg Our History In 1994 the Annenberg Institute for School Reform designed a different approach to professional development, one that would focus on the practitioner and on defining what practices actually improve student learning. Since the summer of 2000, Critical Friends Group TM training has been coordinated by the National School Reform Faculty TM (NSRF TM ) at the Harmony Education Center in Bloomington, Indiana. p 8 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM Harmony School, home of the National School Reform Faculty since 2000
9 Educational Outcomes CFGs result in greater student learning and success by helping teachers and administrators intentionally develop and implement "best practices." Educators help each other turn theories into practice and standards into actual student learning. Meeting monthly supports ongoing opportunities to review student work, assignments and assessments, so every child can be successful in school. "I like having people listen to me. It feels good. I feel valued. I feel like my opinion matters; [this training] reinforced that there is no one best stance on equity in student learning. It's very complex and needs to be examined from many points of view." -- new CFG coach in Wisconsin NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 9
10 CFGs and other PLCs Many Professional Learning Communities focus on standards, with the goal of students performing well on standardized tests. One organization that promotes PLCs states that teachers need to develop norms or protocols to clarify expectations regarding roles, responsibilities, and relationships among the team members of the PLC. But how exactly are educators supposed to do this? CFG TM training will teach you the tools that you need to collaborate with your colleagues to improve student outcomes. If PLCs point you toward the destination you re heading for, CFGs provide both the road map and the wheels to get you there.. p 10 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM "I have appreciated the wealth of concrete strategies the very clear descriptions of the protocols and the opportunity to engage with the Resource Book. I value that we are talking about equity. I look forward to continuing to engage in this conversation. For all our intent to focus on equity, as a district, it seems that we rarely talk about it." A new CFG TM coach
11 CFGs Improve Student Learning NSRF TM offers more than two hundred protocols and activities that can be used to support, restructure or improve schools, adult and/or student work. For example, protocols have been designed or adapted for: * Looking at Student Work * Improving teacher work * Strategic planning * Looking at a variety of professional dilemmas * Discussing texts * Implementing observation experiences among peers * Establishing equity * Building leadership in high school classes * and many more uses, growing as experienced coaches find new ways of building upon established protocols! NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 11
12 What Happens In CFG TM Meetings? Each CFG session is run by a trained CFG coach from your school or district. The coach typically facilitates one of several timemanaged protocols for examining a dilemma or piece of work brought to the group by one of its members. Group members could request a peer observer to help them improve a specific aspect of their teaching. The coach might facilitate a text-based discussion of a topic of concern or interest to the group. Members often maintain a reflective journal on CFG sessions or a given prompt. p 12 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM
13 Why Do Educators Find CFGs Effective? CFGs are an ongoing process that encourages educators to continually strive for improvement throughout their careers. CFGs are focused on the participants own teaching and their own students learning. CFGs take place in a small group of supportive and trusted colleagues, generally within their own school or program. CFGs allow participants to have control over their own professional learning needs. "I can use all this in the classroom. I learned so many excellent ideas to avoid 'lecture mode.'" A new CFG TM coach in Greece NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 13
14 Protocols and activities learned in CFG training sessions can be used throughout the school to improve: faculty meetings parent conferences cabinet meetings strategic planning sessions inquiry groups overall school culture Participants have also found that the structure of protocols can even permeate their private lives, to improve communication in study groups book clubs faith committees even conversing with friends and family members! NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 14 CFG Benefits Are Not Limited to CFG Meetings Facilitative Leadership CFG work helps develop facilitative leadership for everyone involved. Everyone in the CFG, participants and coaches, learn and expand their skills in this area. Often, many people find themselves using these skills in their other communications and decision-making processes.
15 Training Agenda: How to Become a CFG Coach During a five-day New Coaches Training, NSRF prepares coaches to facilitate honest and productive conversations with colleagues focused on improving student learning and teacher practices. Some of the skills coaches learn are: Setting norms for working together Active listening Understanding guidelines for dialogue Learning how to give and receive constructive feedback. Using protocols for examining and improving student and teacher work, solving problems, setting goals, observing peers and building teams Careful crafting of the agenda includes passive, active, and imaginative protocols. There was great reinforcement of intentionally chosen protocols and placement to get to a deeper sense of community and sharing as professionals on specific topics and/or dilemmas. --Kaethe from Florida NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 15
16 Open Trainings Thank you so much for a wonderful, enlightening three days. I ll use my new tools at school to inspire others to share ideas and work collaboratively for common goals. Can t wait for the next two days! --Deborah from California NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 16 NSRF holds Open Trainings three times a year in Bloomington, Indiana, typically beginning in February, July, and October. Because educators often find it difficult to leave their work for five consecutive days through the school year, only the July event is five continuous days. Trainings during the school year are scheduled with a 3/2 break: the group gathers for the first three days, then on the third day together, they look at their calendars to decide together when they will return for the remaining two days, usually in April or January. These seminars are attended by educators from across the country and beyond, from a variety of types of educational institutions (K-12 or a subset, public or private, university, seminary, etc.), as well as a variety of roles (teacher, professor, HR officer, administrator, etc.) Content is personalized to the attendees needs. Each coach trainee brings a dilemma and/or a piece of work to use within the group.
17 On-Site Trainings Or if you have a number of people to train as coaches, NSRF can bring our five-day trainings to you for a more cost-effective option. On-Site Training Seminars are specifically tailored to the particular needs of your school or district. It was great to see a CFG in action today and get a sense of the power of the techniques while reflecting upon how it would go for the whole faculty. I m finally optimistic about being able to actually conduct collaborative learning groups and expand the number of conversations at school about teaching. Of all the seminars I ve attended, I have never felt more empowered as an educational leader because CFG really works within my strengths. Almost everything we did had short-term to immediate practical applications for my work. --Phu from California NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 17
18 Your Investment On-Site CFG coaches training averages between $740-$795 per participant for groups of fifteen. (The amount will vary depending on your location and the size of your group.) This option is usually best if you d like to train 10 or more people. Attending an off-site training ( Open Training ) averages about $795/participant. Travel, lodging and dinners are not included. This option is best if you d like to train single participants or small groups. NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 18
19 Next Steps Contact NSRF director Michele Mattoon at or with your questions or to inquire about possible dates for on-site training. For more information, visit NSRF s website at NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM p 19
20 Thank you for reading our materials. If you have any questions, please call our offices at , or visit our website at The National School Reform Faculty TM (NSRF TM ) is a professional development initiative that focuses on increasing student achievement through professional learning communities. We train individuals to coach Critical Friends Groups TM, or CFGs, a specific type of Professional Learning Community (PLC). Critical Friends Groups TM use protocols and activities to facilitate meaningful and efficient communication, problem solving and learning. p 20 NSRF TM Self-Guided Tour of Critical Friends Groups TM Copyright 2012, National School Reform Faculty TM