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July 8, 2008
This Week: Students Become Critical Friends
Students in the Houston region's first student-focused
Critical Friends Group training get active during one
of the week's many leadership-building activities.

A first for the Houston educational landscape took place the third week of June: 15 students were trained in the processes of Critical Friends Group, the professional learning approach embraced by the adult educators in the schools these students currently attend. The students were part of a pilot program sponsored by Houston A+ Challenge to promote leadership, reflective practice and study skills. Groups of students from Challenge Early College High School (Houston ISD) and Dwight D. Eisenhower High School (Aldine ISD) participated in the weeklong program.

Michaelann Kelley and Mary Matthews facilitated the daily sessions and said they were impressed with the consistent quality of student insights and reflections. The students' Critical Friends Group journey ran parallel to the paths that many of their teachers had traveled before them -- in fact, during the week some of their teachers were taking part in CFG new coach training in the room next door. (Click here for a list of new coaches trained in June.) Not unlike those adults, the students reported that many of their experiences were powerful and life-changing.

The statements below were taken directly from students' reflection sheets. In addition, you can hear from a couple of the students directly in this video chronicling the week of CFG training.

This program is one of the best things I have ever experienced. Yes, we learned some of the things that can be used as a leader to help groups and clubs, and we also had a lot of fun. - 11th grader, Eisenhower HS

I feel that this program has been really eye-opening. I feel that I am going to leave here as a better person … I feel that if people go into this program with the mentality that they will give their all, then they can make bonds that will last a lifetime. - 11th grader, Eisenhower HS

I would love to have other students have this same experience. I learned that learning never ends. - 12th grader, Challenge Early College HS

The program brought many new and old faces together. This program made everyone better leaders. Many of the protocols that were learned this week can be implemented in our school’s advisory program. - 12th grader Challenge Early College HS

While the group faced many challenges and successes because they were the first to experience the program, both the students and the facilitators learned much more than was planned.

As one student wrote, "At the end of the week we were no longer two schools thrown into the same program, we were friends that shared the same experience."

Protocol of the Week

When working with adults or with students, starting on a positive note is a sure way to keep an audience. The Constructivist Protocol for adult work is a protocol that I have used for over ten years in new coaches trainings, with campus staff development and in my classroom. Every time I have used it the results have been spectacular. I have found this protocol to be a staple in my CFG toolbox. One of the funniest things I ever heard during a debrief of this protocol was from a "slacker" type student who said, "No fair -- you tricked us into telling you what our best work looked like, and now I have to work that hard." Try this protocol with your students or colleagues find out how hard they can work.

Download The Constructivist Protocol

Dear Donna ...
Donna Reid

Dear Donna: I am having a hard time getting my school to pick up Critical Friends Groups. How can I take something I believe in and make it go whole-school next year? - FRUSTRATED

Dear FRUSTRATED: Slow down, I know how you feel. I was once in your shoes. I have found that the best thing to do is model the behaviors that you want to happen. Be sure that you are meeting with a group on a consistent basis and that you are doing substantive work. After a year, invite (with permission of your group members) key personnel to observe your work. See how this works and decide your next step based on your campus culture.

Remember the tortoise always wins the race.

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.

Save The Date

July 30-31
Houston A+ Challenge Reforming Schools Summer Institute
Univ. of Houston - Hilton


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