Exactly what IS Critical Friends Group® work?

CFG® work focuses on using NSRF structured conversations, called protocols, to accomplish specific goals. Critical Friends Group cohorts are a particular variety of professional learning community so unique we have registered it as a trademark! These groups usually consist of 5-12 peers who commit to meeting regularly to improve their practice through collaborative learning and the use of NSRF protocols. Members are expected to meet monthly for two hours, if possible, with the goal of supporting one another and improving student achievement. Certified CFG Coaches also often use NSRF protocols and activities in classrooms and in other meetings, conducting “CFG work” outside of a CFG community.

How do CFG communities differ from other professional learning communities?

A professional learning community (PLC) or a community of practice (CoP) is generally defined as a group of educators who meet regularly, often in cycles of collective inquiry and action research, to achieve better results for the students they serve. Sometimes driven by school data, members discuss and share teacher work (such as lesson plans and assessments) to offer each other critical feedback to improve it. They may also examine and discuss student work and professional literature.

Critical Friends Group Communities are a specific kind of PLC or CoP. Although CFG Communities fit the same general definition, the key difference is that Critical Friends Group meetings make avid use of NSRF protocols to accomplish all that PLCs and CoPs do - and more! - in the most efficient and effective ways. When NSRF-certified CFG coaches lead these meetings, attendees achieve greater successes and feel more satisfied as a coach builds trust and maintains the group professionally. CFG communities are designed to work on the projects, plans, and dilemmas brough by a group's participants, using NSRF protocols to approach the materials in a defined way to bring about powerful results.

What are Protocols?

Protocols are very specific and practical communication tools that promote meaningful communication, problem solving, and learning. Protocol structures include steps for active, focused listening as well as reflection and analysis before any suggestions are offered, thus modeling mutual respect between participants. Protocols also ensure that all voices in the group can be heard, building trust and a sense of belonging so everyone may feel more respected and valued. 

What will I be able to do after completing the CFG Coaches’ Training?

CFG Coaches’ Training  experientially leads participants in forming an active Critical Friends Group community, demonstrating skillful use of NSRF protocols to build trust and then address the work and dilemmas brought by individuals in training. By the end of the training, participants will understand how to use NSRF materials to build CFG communities and also how to use them in their classrooms and even in meetings with professional colleagues and parents. CFG Coaches learn to model the key elements of transparency, safety, trust, skillful feedback, and inclusiveness that are foundational to CFG work. These skills, along with the know-how to choose and facilitate the correct protocols for specific needs, can help any group meet their needs, often far beyond their expectations.

CFG Work for Administrators’ Training provides a similar experience but focuses on the specific needs of administrators, the types of meetings they lead, and the challenges they may face in shifting school culture.

NSRF Building Belonging trainings provide teachers with specific CFG materials to use in the classroom to improve every student’s sense of belonging and trust with their peers.

Does this mean I’ll be expected to lead a CFG community after this training is over? 

We hope so, but not necessarily. Many certified CFG coaches do lead CFG communities, but being trained in this work means you can facilitate protocols in many scenarios, with many purposes. Think about CFG Coaches’ Training as a focused, hands-on workshop covering many skills of facilitative leadership. Teachers are often encouraged to take NSRF training to expand their Teacher Leader toolboxes.  

People who complete this training also make excellent CFG community participants, supporting new or experienced CFG coaches in the work and helping others understand what CFG work is all about! Administrators who take our training often use NSRF protocols to leverage productive collaboration, equity of voice, and a sense of belonging in their schools/districts. 

Finally, because this work is so practical, you will find yourself using what you learned in this training well beyond your professional community. Many people tell us how useful protocols are with book clubs, church groups, and even their families!