My dictionary defines "passion" as "boundless enthusiasm," and that is exactly what I feel for Critical Friends Groups and the power they have to improve our practice. Unlike most professional development vehicles, CFGs have the potential to truly transform our work by helping us keep students at the center of our professional conversations and by giving us the tools we need to have difficult conversations with our colleagues. However, CFG is not just about using the tools — it’s about using the tools to build communities. CFGs are all about building relationships and tackling tough questions together, instead of by ourselves.
Gene Thompson-Grove, one of the founders of CFGs, put it this way:
"It is the one reform initiative, in my experience, that makes any sense, because it is rooted in a belief that the learning of students — of ALL students — is what makes our relationship to each other, significant. And it is one of the few reform efforts that truly empowers teachers to be the authors of their own learning, that gives them the capacity to assume leadership around issues that really matter in their schools and districts."
The purpose of this e-newsletter is to fuel the passion for CFGs by keeping us connected and offering encouragement to deepen the collaborative, reflective work that you do. You can expect timely tips and information in your inbox twice a month while school is in session and once a month during holidays.
The Passion Profiles Activity is a protocol that takes the more common Compass Points Activity deeper by encouraging us to reflect on the passions that drew us into education and then working in small groups to develop questions about our practice with like-minded colleagues.
I used this protocol in my home group at the National School Reform Faculty Winter Meeting in December, and participants remarked:
- "I want to use this at my school. We have a new principal and I think this will be a great way for her to be able to see the strengths of her staff."
- "I enjoyed the passions profiles today. It was a great way to flesh out what the members of the group value."
- "I particularly liked 'Passions.' Getting to bond with one like-minded was validating. I will use it with my own group."
Dear Donna: I took the CFG New Coach Seminar a couple of years ago. I have never coached an official CFG, but I use "CFG stuff" like creating norms and using protocols all the time to help make meetings run more smoothly and enrich classroom activities. I feel like I am barely scratching the surface. How can I take my CFG practice to the next level?
— WANTING TO GO DEEPER
Dear Wanting: Congratulations! The fact that you want to go deeper is a great start. It’s true that the facilitative leadership skills that you learned during your initial training can be applied in a variety of ways, but a true CFG asks something more of us:
- CFGs keep students and their learning at the center,
- CFGs make time for reflective dialogue,
- CFGs value collaboration and inquiry,
- CFGs pay attention to the norms and values that drive the work, and
- CFGs assume that everyone in the group will make their practice public.
If you are interested in rekindling CFGs in your context, then start by exploring the Houston A+ Challenge and National School Reform Faculty websites to see what resources are available. Make a commitment to making your own work more public and seek out like-minded educators to support you. Reconnect with other coaches by attending local coaches clinics, and make plans to attend a national Winter Meeting. You can also contact Donna Reid or Tim Martindell for encouragement. We are passionate about CFGs and would love to help you strengthen the professional learning communities in your workplace.