Educators frequently face dilemmas — those sticky situations that force us to choose between alternatives. It seems that as soon as one difficult decision is made, another dilemma rears its head and demands our attention.
As Critical Friends Group coaches, we have the tools and training to help ourselves and our colleagues face dilemmas with equanimity. Gathering a group together and using protocols such as the consultancy helps us look at our dilemmas with fresh eyes. Asking clarifying questions forces us to make sure that we understand the problem before we try to solve it, and formulating probing questions can help us surface assumptions and identify the beliefs and values that guide our decisions.
This is a habit of mind. Even if you can't find two or three other people to sit down with you for a consultancy, the discipline of asking yourself a few clarifying and probing questions before you dive into problem-solving will guide you to make better decisions that are aligned with your own core beliefs and values.
If you need a refresher for how to facilitate the consultancy, you can download it here at "Consultancy Protocol".
The instructions for the teambuilding activity shown in the photo can be found at "Broken Squares".
The "Issaquah Protocol" is a good alternative to the more familiar consultancy.
Named for a town in Washington where a group of National School Reform Faculty facilitators were meeting when they developed it, this protocol uses a progression of question types to help the presenter and the participants think more deeply. It's also a good choice to use with a large group.
When you try this protocol, be sure to allow a full hour. Don't be tempted to skip any steps! The rounds of questions and answers build on each other and lose effectiveness if any piece is shortchanged. Also, during step seven, it's a good idea to ask the participants to write their probing questions on index cards before they speak them aloud. The presenter can take the index cards home for further reflection.
Dear Donna: How do I match up the best protocol with the work that my group is addressing? How do I learn new protocols?
— FATIGUED FROM FACILITATING CONSULTANCIES
Dear Fatigued: The best way to learn how to facilitate new protocols is to JUST DO IT.
You can gain confidence by keeping in touch with other CFG Coaches and attending the follow-up events that the Houston A+ Challenge hosts for beginning and experienced CFG coaches. (We'll publicize upcoming events on the Houston A+ Challenge website and via this e-newsletter.) The NSRF Winter Meeting is also a great place to expand your repertoire of activities that strengthen collaborative, reflective learning communities.
You should also explore the NSRF protocol sitemap whenever you want to search for a better fit. This well-organized resource page divides the CFG activities into categories such as "Learning from Texts" and "Learning from Dilemmas." For example, if your group members share a dilemma, try the "Ping Pong Protocol". If a member wants to spend time gaining a deeper understanding of a complex problem, then "Peeling the Onion" may be a better choice.
Whatever you choose, always allow plenty of time to debrief. By asking the group to reflect out loud about how the process worked, you will all gain insight into the strengths of each protocol.
If you have questions for Dear Donna, send them to CFGCoach@houstonaplus.org. Donna Reid is a Houston-based National CFG Facilitator and a consultant with Houston A+ Challenge.