Leadership, Reflection

The Value of a Critical Friend

One of the things I have often talked about, is how grateful I have been to work with people whom I could discuss educational ideas with and who would give me thoughtful, honest feedback.  They would provide a different perspective, reinforce my beliefs, or challenge me to think more deeply.  The more I have traveled, the more I have come to realize that these friends are ones to be treasured – and they can’t be found just anywhere.

This week, I had an appraisal visit by our Assistant Principal.  It is my second of the year and it begins with a 10-15 minute discussion about the lesson to be observed.  I sat down with my appraiser two days prior to the lesson and confessed that I had no idea what I was going to be doing.  I am pretty sure that I did most of the talking, punctuated by a few softly spoken but well directed questions that kept making me expand and clarify my thinking. I left that short meeting more inspired and enthusiastic than I had been in a while. The lesson that grew out of that meeting was the one I just posted about on my blog and on a shared blog for inquiry teachers. It was a great lesson and quite honestly I owe most of that to being given the opportunity to sit with someone and share my thoughts knowing that this person wants me to succeed, is interested in ideas about inquiry, and is really listening to me and the needs of my classroom.

Do you have this person (or group of people) at your school?

criticalFriends

One of the things I have always said is that there is a wealth of talent within the faculty of a school.  A lot of important professional development can come from people meeting to discuss ideas. But it has to go deeper than that.  There has to be a level of accountability. There has to be some kind of tangible purpose.  You have to be prepared to have someone hold the mirror up to your teaching practice really closely – and then you have to be prepared to potentially change the way you do what you do.  It is this that motivates me about teaching. The variety.  The opportunity to try new ideas.

Thankfully, it seems that life has a way of connecting such like-minded individuals together.  But what if ‘life’ forgets to connect?  At the beginning of our school year, our Deputy Head of School wanted to initiate a Critical Friends group.  He wanted about 8 or so people who were willing to commit to meeting, discussing, observing, and of coming together with questions about their teaching in order to improve their practice.  For scheduling reasons, this group never took off.  Now, more than ever, I am convinced that this is the type of forum that is beneficial for me as an educator.

One of the key factors that makes a Critical Friends group different from say, a PLN, is that the Critical Friends are all from within your own school. By working collaboratively with the support of the school you are no longer trying out ideas in isolation nor are you swimming alone as you try and navigate new waters of ideas.  In an ASCD article, Deborah Bambino cites four roles of Critical Friends groups:

  • Critical Friends give feedback
  • Critical Friends collaborate
  • Critical Friends find new solutions
  • Critical Friends collaborate

There is a protocol to be followed when being a critical friend.  It can look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 3.15.50 PM

If you are interested, here is some further reading on the topic of Critical Friends – and not just for teachers!

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