Posts Tagged ‘Critical Friends’

Endeavoring to Strive for Excellence–With Critical Support~

EDU 6600–Communication and Collaboration Blog for Week 5:
This week’s topics of Professional Learning Communities and Critical Friends provided timely “food for thought” for me—both within my role as a teacher in a public high school as well as my role as a graduate student at Seattle Pacific University. As a teacher whose district is fully embracing the implementation of PLCs—I feel greatly supported in my work at school as I continue to collaborate with colleagues on behalf of the students we jointly serve. It is reassuring to note that my district, endorsed by our superintendent, school board president, and union president and our district’s entire PLC Guiding Coalition (including teachers and administrators from across the district) provided each team leader a binder of PLC materials with the following statement:
Many of these documents were created by blending ideas that are currently in used at buildings in our district. We combined ideas to make the best documents possible in order to help PLC teams. Some ideas and documents in this binder were found at  and others were adapted from books about Professional Learning Communities….(in support of) Our vision: Every school in NKSD will begin the 2011-2012 school year with common protocols to help facilitate regular and productive PLC team meetings in their content areas (NKSD, 2011).

Within the screencast shared by fellow EDU 6600 student, Cindy Legley, she refers to what is supported in the Critical Friends Group literature to remedy a lack of balance in responsibility. Specifically: shared norms and values which remind teacher teams of the shared responsibility of focusing on student learning and the fact that “all students are the responsibility of all teachers”. I find this particularly important in my work with special education students as we (SE teachers) collaborate with the general education teachers. I remember the “old days” when unfortunately special education students were referred to by some gen education teachers as “your students”. From my perspective, we have come a LONG way!

One of the strategies that stood out most clearly to me as a tool that might enable me to more fully enlist my peers in the collaborative process is Daniel Baron’s Success Analysis Protocol, described on page 240 in Chapter 8 of Zepeda: “1) Reflect on and write a short description of the “Best Practice” of your CFG. Note what it is about the practice that makes it so successful…”.  I see an immediate application for use of this protocol as our high school’s special education PLC prepares to have a “brainstorming” meeting with the special education PLC of the other high school within our district. This “teaming of our PLCs” is strongly supported by research by Joyce and Showers (1982) referenced in Dr. Williams’ screencast where she notes:  “teacher coaching of other teachers (peer coaching) being more powerful than other inputs for implementation of new practices” (Williams, 2011, screen 3).

One of my EDU 6600 classmates, Nick West, cited the following in the discussion link for this week from Zepeda, chapter 9.  “A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend.” (Zepeda, p. 225)  Nick went on to state, “I really liked this idea of a group of people coming together to help foster meaningful professional development by helping to keep each other accountable through honest and direct communication”.  I am hopeful that as a SPU graduate student embarking on my first experience of participating in a formal “peer-review” opportunity, I will find this “Critical Friends” experience to be both positive and beneficial to my work with students.

In response to the discussion question: Where can adopting a learning stance most benefit your work for the students in your care? I would have to say that keeping the “long-range view” in mind provides the greatest benefit for my work with students. I believe that balancing between the immediate steps–and the readjusting along to way to stay “on course” toward the desired goal, are both essential for making progress. The idea of learning to “adjust” vs. “focus” is paramount to success in life. This has been my experience, both personally—and in my work with students. Hilty, in chapter 15, refers to work from Collins (2001) in the following statement: “In his study of organizations that made the leap from ‘good to great’….Greatness required persistence, fierce resolve, and consistent, coherent effort over the long haul. There were no shortcuts” (Hilty, p. 162). This week, with extra deadlines in both “my world as a teacher” and my “world as a student” has truly been a week of stopping to “adjust” and “refocus” as I endeavor to strive for excellence.

Hilty, E. (2011) Teacher Leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education. New York: Peter Lang.

Legley, C. (2011) Screencast—Critical Friends Group, retrieved Octover 29, 2011 from:

North Kitsap School District. (2011). Collaboration Team Protocol Binder.

Williams, T. (2011) Screencast—Book Groups and Protocols,  retrieved from SPU Blackboard, October 24, 2011 from:

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works. New York: Eye on Education.