Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is a CFG?
A CFG is a professional learning community consisting of approximately
8-12 educators who come together voluntarily at least once a month
for about 2 hours. Group members are committed to improving their
practice through collaborative learning.
How did the idea of Critical Friends Groups develop?
In 1994, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform designed a different
approach to professional development, one that would be focused on
the practitioner and on defining what would improve student learning.
Since the summer of 2000, Critical Friends Groups training is coordinated
by the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) at the Harmony Education
Center in Bloomington, Indiana.
What are the purposes of a Critical Friends Group?
Critical Friends Groups are designed to
a professional learning community
teaching practice explicit and public by "talking about teaching"
people involved in schools to work collaboratively in democratic,
reflective communities (Bambino)
a foundation for sustained professional development based on a spirit
of inquiry (Silva)
a context to understand our work with students, our relationships
with peers, and our thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs about teaching
educators help each other turn theories into practice and standards
into actual student learning
teaching and learning
What are the characteristics of a professional learning community?
Professional learning communities are strong when teachers demonstrate:
norms and values
focus on student learning
of shared responsibility for the learning of all students
Professional learning communities can develop when there is:
to meet and talk
empowerment and autonomy
learning community is enhanced when there is:
What is the difference between CFGs and PLCs?
foundation in the knowledge and skills of teaching
or school structures that encourage the sharing of the school's
vision and mission (Kruse, et al)
There are a wide variety of professional learning communities (PLCs). Many PLCs are groups where teachers get together to:
- Study state and national standards, the district curriculum guide, student achievement data, etc… and then agree upon outcomes that each student should achieve for every subject.
- Develop assessments to monitor each student’s mastery of the outcomes.
- Analyze student performance based on these assessments.
- Discuss new strategies to implement to raise student achievement.
So, the work is very focused—all very much driven by standardized test scores. Teachers meet in PLCs to make sure the kids do well on the agreed upon assessments and if they don’t, require the students to put more time into learning what they didn’t get the first time around.
How are teachers supposed to help students do better on the next round of assessments? Most PLC trainings suggest that teachers develop norms or protocols to clarify expectations regarding roles, responsibilities, and relationships among the team members, but do not give you those “norms or protocols.”
During NSRF New Coaches Critical Friends Groups training, we actually give you the tools that you need to collaborate with your colleagues in your CFGs to improve student outcomes. We also teach you how to improve your faculty meetings, classroom practices, parent conferences, cabinet meetings, strategic planning sessions, inquiry groups, and study groups. So, participating in a CFG is not “one more thing on your plate.” It is the tool you use to get “the things on your plate” accomplished in an efficient and effective manner.
felt uncomfortable at those sessions critiquing or criticizing a colleague's
work. I have a hard time with the word “critical.
That is a common misconception about NSRF founders' use of the word “critical.
In CFG context, critical means “important, “key,
“essential, or “urgent, such as in “critical
care. Furthermore, when a group of educators develop a CFG,
they begin by spending time discussing and developing norms about
how to give feedback and how to question in a sensitive manner so
that everyone feels comfortable. Trust and confidentiality are established
might those norms be?
That depends on what the group decides. The norms might range from
being on time, to watching air time, to confidentiality, to being
prepared, or to challenging the thinking of group members.
happens during a CFG session?
Lots of different activities may occur in the ongoing sessions, each
of approximately 2 hours.
coach typically may facilitate one of several time-managed protocols
(strategies or formal structures) for examining student work, brought
to the group by one of its members.
coach may facilitate a protocol for examining teacher work, brought
to the group by one of its members.
members will support each other and improve their teaching by giving
and receiving feedback, by questioning each other and themselves,
by reflecting on their work or their students' work, by addressing
dilemmas, by collaborating across disciplines, by confronting assumptions,
mindsets, and expectations, but never by blaming students or social
might maintain a reflective journal on a given prompt or around
the more generic, “What am I thinking about now? What do I
plan to do about it? (Bisplinghoff, et al)
coach may begin the session with, “So, what did we try or reconsider
since the last meeting? (Bisplinghoff, et al)
members might request a peer observer to help them improve a specific
aspect of their teaching.
coach might facilitate a text-based discussion of a topic of concern
or interest to the group.
Why do CFG participants say that CFG work is more satisfying when compared
to other kinds of professional development?
is focused on their own teaching and their own students' learning.
takes place in a small group of supportive and trusted colleagues
within their own school.
- The use of protocols and activities promote efficient and effective meetings.
have control over their own professional learning needs.
happens in the Critical Friends Group Coaches Training?
The purpose of the training is to train/prepare coaches
to coordinate honest and productive conversations with colleagues
focused on improving student learning and improving teacher practices.
Some of the skills the coaches practiced were:
norms for working together
guidelines for dialogue
the dynamics of offering and receiving warm (supportive) or cool
clarifying and probing questions
protocols for examining student and teacher work, for solving problems,
setting goals, observing peers, and building teams
What is a Critical Friends Group (CFG) Coach?
A CFG coach is someone who has gone through a 5-day New Coaches CFG seminar. CFG coaches are qualified to run Critical Friends Groups (CFGs) in their schools, as well as use NSRF protocols in their classrooms, staff meetings, department meetings, etc… CFG coaches are not qualified to train other people to be CFG coaches. That’s the job of NSRF’s National Facilitators.
What is a National Facilitator?
National Facilitators are CFG coaches who go through additional training so that they are qualified to facilitate 5-day CFG New Coaches Trainings, as well as other workshops, strategic planning sessions and school visits associated with NSRF. This additional training includes coaching a CFG for a year and interning with a mentor National Facilitator.
I have to be trained as a CFG coach to participate in a CFG?
Absolutely not! To participate in a CFG you need to
committed to improving your practice,
to meet regularly,
your responsibility for contributing to each member's learning,
to the norms established by the individual CFG group.
the facilitator and/or participant is an administrator, doesn't that
bias the discussion?
No, but the administrators are sensitive to that perception. A CFG is composed of equal members
where there is no "hierarchy of expertise" and it must be
a democratic, reflective and collaborative community of learners.
large is a CFG?
A group of 8 - 12 is an ideal size. The composition of a group is
ultimately up to those interested in starting a CFG.
changes happen as a result of an individual's participation in a CFG?
Quoting Jon Appleby, a CFG coach in Maine, “I have been fortunate
to experience what the support and push of a CFG can mean, and how
powerful and accelerated our learning can be if we allow ourselves
to both lead and follow, to question and to be questioned, as equals
with thoughtful peers. I have also discovered, personally, that my
energy and wellness as a teacher depend upon the revitalization that
occurs when I share, among friends, in critical reflection and when
I am, therefore, learning myself.
Research indicates that classrooms move from being teacher-centered
toward student-centered. Furthermore, teachers are more thoughtful
about connecting curriculum, assessment, and instruction. Teachers
in CFG's believe that they can affect student achievement and these
teachers have higher expectations for student learning, which, in
turn, leads to greater student achievement.
you tell me more about the National School Reform Faculty?
NSRF promotes the values of reflective practice, collaboration, shared
leadership, authentic pedagogy, democracy, equity in opportunity and
achievement, and social justice to form the basis of a national movement
that will result in improved teacher quality and improved learning
for all students. (Dunne).
More information is available throughout this website.
“Critical Friends Groups: Teachers Helping Teachers to Improve
Student Learning Faith Dunne, Bill Nave, Anne Lewis, Phi Delta
Kappa Center for Evaluation, Development, and Research Research Bulletin,
No. 28, December 2000.
“Reflections of an NSRF Coach, Jon Appleby, June 1998
“Building Professional Community in Schools, Sharon Kruse,
Karen Seashore Lewis, Anthony Bryk
Issues in Restructuring Schools, Report from Center on Organization
and Restructuring of Schools Spring 1994
“Critical Friends, Deborah Bambino, Educational Leadership
March 2002 pp. 25-27.
“What if… Peggy Silva, Connections: Journal of NSRF,
Spring 2002 pp. 6, 14
“Documenting Decisions: Making Learning Explicit in our CFG,
Betty Shockley Bisplinghoff, et al
Connections: Journal of NSRF, Fall 2002 pp. 4, 15-18
Modified from a document prepared by Marie McKenzie and Anne Marie