Definitions: Protocol and activity

NSRF uses the words “protocol” and “activity” to describe structured processes and guidelines that promote meaningful and efficient communication, problem solving, and learning.

Protocols are ideally led by a certified coach to help organize a conversation toward a specific (but unknown) outcome directed by a presenter’s focusing question. A presenter might ask “How can we improve this assessment to ensure we’re not penalizing students from different backgrounds?” or “How might I encourage my school-based coaches to take action to move their schools forward?” or “What do you see in this data that I don’t see?”  We say the outcome of protocols is “unknown” because we don’t know exactly what suggestions or new insights will arise, although we do know where we’re asking participants to focus their attention. 

In contrast, an NSRF activity may “feel” like a protocol because it is still a structured conversation, but NSRF activities have “known” results such as trust-building, convening a meeting, or clarifying a group’s understanding of a specific concept.

When to use protocols

How many times have you sat in meetings and conversations where the content may wander, a few voices may dominate while some are never heard, and lots of “talk” but very little “action” happens?  Like guardrails along a highway, NSRF 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. Not every meeting requires protocols, but many would be well-served by incorporating them.

Protocols help participants …

  • address complex dilemmas with fresh perspectives,
  • improve their work quickly with thought-provoking questions,
  • share and learn from successes,
  • introduce ideas, topics, or programs,
  • expand thinking, find essential messages, discover other perspectives,
  • interpret data,
  • observe classrooms and environments to improve teaching, coaching or space,
  • brainstorm and improve projects, plans, or materials at any stage of progress, and
  • look at student work with specific objectives and needs in mind.

Since 1994, the National School Reform Faculty has created and refined more than 200 protocols and activities to use in Critical Friends Group communities, classrooms, meetings, and beyond. Becoming trained as a certified CFG coach allows you access to ALL of our protocols, including our most updated ones.
If you are an individual interested in learning about becoming a certified CFG coach, click here!
If you are interested in booking CFG Coaches’ Training for a group, please click here to learn about on-site trainings.