Critical Friends Group® work has the power to radically change the culture of a school.

Guest post by Penny Preen-Kynigou, Part 2 of a two-part post

So how can we initiate Critical Friends Group (CFG®) communities in such a way that they take root?  Many participants in my CFG Coaches’ Trainings had ambitions to deliver immediate results in their schools the following September.

If you haven’t already, please read my post about Phase 1 here. I suggest looking at the process as a series of gradual incremental steps taken over time, in two distinct phases. The initial phase is the creation of a pilot Core CFG community. The second phase is rolling-out the CFG concept to the wider school community. Taking incremental steps both acknowledges the complexity of the task and respects the perspective of the ‘late majority,’ those who prefer to wait and see, as they have seen initiatives come and go.

This article focuses on the roll-out phase.

1: Familiarizing the faculty with CFG style work.

How to approach launching wider faculty work … and address potential naysayers.

Having developed a pilot Critical Friends Group community and considerable experience facilitating from working in your classroom and with that community, Speed Success Triads is an ideal first protocol to try with the wider faculty. Everyone feels comfortable in sharing a success and all can contribute, regardless of their experience as teachers. Do a practice session on this protocol with your Core CFG group. Then you can seed those Core CFG members around the room in the larger group to support triads in following the process accurately, especially during the ‘turn away and separate’ step.

The key learning is in this protocol comes in the debrief. After triads share back the key elements they identified as making for success, take time to also debrief the process. If someone expresses some negativity, remember this is not a personal attack. As the facilitator, your role is to surface the feelings in the room and open the conversation to the group: “Does anyone feel the same? Does anyone feel differently?” Those who experience value from the activity will share their point of view and those who did not immediately see the value will hear other perspectives.

The Quotes Introduction Activity (or its variant, Block Party), Chalk Talk, and Affinity Mapping are also equally effective entry level activities which can be done with the whole faculty outside the setting of an ongoing CFG group. All of these help to familiarize the wider faculty with NSRF protocols and the beginnings of building trust within Critical Friends Group work.

2: Research.

Become an authority.

Some background reading lends authority as you seek to share the value of CFG work and, if you have already established a Core CFG group, can be a great opportunity to practice your text protocols.

Some excellent shorter articles are:

  • Building collaborative communities: by teachers for teachers by Penny Preen-Kynigou and David Nelson, NSRF Connections June 2016
  • Critical Friends Groups and NSRF protocols help transform The Bishop Strachan School culture by Helen Pereira-Raso et al, NSRF Connections March 2013
  • Dear Dan: How much time should I spend convincing naysayers by Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak blog

Longer reads to consider:

The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Professional Development by Dana and Yendol-Hoppey.

3: Planning for the next level

Plan to open new CFG groups during PD time and to host a New Coaches training

Plan with administration to offer CFG groups as an option during a regular monthly PD time. Voluntary participation is key in sustaining growth at this point, so another option should be made available to those who do not wish to try CFG work just yet.

As you plan to open new CFG groups, you will need more trained coaches. If you already had a group trained and kept meeting as your Core CFG group, those certified coaches now have even more experience to lead new groups. If not, host an NSRF CFG New Coaches training for the Core CFG participants to equip them for their new role, and recruit others to be trained, too.

4: Recruiting new membership

Plan to pitch for new members at faculty meetings early in the year.

Share the goals of CFG work and testimonials from the Core CFG participants about what they have gained. Avoid sounding like a secret society and keep the terminology simple: refer to protocols as activities. Emphasize that participation is a commitment for a full year and that everyone will present during the year.

A new model for PD initiatives: offering teachers voice and choice in their own professional development

As you will have noticed I always describe CFG work as a PD option. Perhaps the greatest problem in sustaining a professional development initiative lies here. That one size will not fit all. The case here for working via a strategy of gradual incremental steps, fits into a wider analysis which takes into account realistic acknowledgment of many teachers’ differing needs and quite natural initial skepticism.

What if we accounted for these factors in our planning? What if we gave teachers voice and choice over how they spend their PD hours? What if professional development opportunities were differentiated? Then CFG groups can be offered as one option among others, with teachers opting in and committing to participate for a year at a time. After all, we believe differentiation is best practice for our students, so why would it not also be best practice as teachers learn together?

Guest post by Penny Kynigou, NSRF International Facilitator from the American Community Schools of Athens. Penny teaches fifth grade and is the co founder and co-coordinator of the ACS Athens Collaborative Learning Community, a Critical Friends forum for professional reflection, creativity and growth. She also runs her own professional teaching blog and can be found at bloggingthelearningcurve.wordpress.com. She may be reached at pkynigou@gmail.com.