FAQ 2018-04-10T09:56:01+00:00

Frequently Asked Questions

For additional information, please download and read our Self-Guided Tour to CFG® Work for more information in a more easily shared format.

What are protocols and why should I use them? 2017-08-13T21:27:33+00:00

“Protocol” is our shorthand term for structured processes and guidelines that promote meaningful and efficient communication, problem solving, and learning.

Contrast this idea with meetings and conversations where the content may wander, a few voices may dominate while some are never heard, and lots of “talk” but very little “action” happens.

Like guardrails along a highway, NSRF protocols, under the leadership of a trained coach, provide guidance and safety, and help ensure your arrival at the proposed destination rather than being pulled off-track.

Protocols help participants …

  • address complex dilemmas with fresh perspectives,
  • improve their work quickly with thought-provoking questions,
  • share and learn from successes,
  • introduce ideas, topics, or programs,
  • expand thinking, find essential messages, discover other perspectives,
  • interpret data,
  • observe classrooms and environments to improve teaching, coaching or space,
  • brainstorm and improve projects, plans, or materials at any stage of progress, and
  • look at student work with specific objectives and needs in mind.
What are your refund policies for purchased materials? 2018-05-21T13:35:36+00:00

Unused and unopened books and materials in brand-new condition may be returned for a complete refund, less the shipping charges and a 5% restocking fee. DVDs and CDs cannot be returned.

What’s the value in becoming a member of the NSRF® organization? 2017-08-13T21:32:55+00:00

First and most important, NSRF® paid memberships allow us to maintain and improve our work, long-term, so our protocols and activities can continue helping learners of all ages achieve greater successes worldwide. Membership funds also support our ability to offer scholarships for those who need it. (You may also donate specifically to our scholarship fund.)

The National School Reform Faculty® began as a totally grant-funded organization. For several years now, we’ve operated solely on income from our trainings, materials sales, and memberships. When we started offering paid memberships, a decision was made to offer varied levels of fees without any variation in benefits, but we developed this website, new materials, and a tiered membership model to help NSRF be more sustainable into the future and to keep our training costs as low as possible. We hope the increase in benefits inspires you to continue supporting us, as we strive to continue supporting you more and more effectively.

Can I use your protocols in my book/class/workshop/etc.? 2017-08-13T21:31:39+00:00

All NSRF protocols and activities may be used freely in the context of a CFG community or a classroom as long as the attribution to the NSRF organization and the individual authors remains intact. If you’d like to use our materials within a book, workshop, online event, or otherwise, please contact us by emailing us or phone (812-330-2702) to work out the details.

What’s the difference between “protocols” and “Critical Friends Group®” meetings? 2017-08-13T21:22:59+00:00

A protocol is a structured process or set of guidelines to promote meaningful and efficient communication, problem-solving and learning. Protocols give time for active listening and reflection so all voices in the room are heard and honored. The NSRF website includes a comprehensive list of protocols to be used for a wide variety of purposes.

In contrast, a Critical Friends Group community is a particular variety of Professional Learning Community (PLC) so unique that we’ve registered it as a trademark. CFG communities consist of 5-12 members who commit to improving their practice through collaborative learning and structured interactions (protocols), who meet at least once a month for about two hours. Critical Friends Group coaches create an environment of trust that allows participants to give and receive feedback most effectively, and to use our protocols and activities to help students — and teachers — create a culture of excellence.

For a more complete explanation, please read this article in Connections.

Do I have to be trained as a CFG coach to participate in a CFG meeting? 2017-08-13T21:26:21+00:00

No, you don’t. Every CFG® community should be led by an NSRF-certified CFG coach, but anyone can participate. On the other hand, a CFG community that has multiple trained coaches participating can improve everyone’s outcomes. Having more people who understand the reasons for and expected outcomes of each step means that the group’s work as a whole will be stronger and more efficient.

Why CRITICAL? What’s with the name? 2017-08-13T21:22:02+00:00

Think of the “critical” part of Critical Friends in the same vein as “critical care units” in the hospital: the circumstances dealt with in CFG® meetings are incredibly important, essential to the health of your school, oftentimes urgent, and sometimes work-life-threatening. Working together with a group of true friends (not just “congenial colleagues“) who help you continuously improve your practice, celebrate successes together, and actually help solve your day-to-day problems … what could be more critically important than that?

CFG® interactions are never about criticizing, but about friendly, professional support that results in true collaboration and collegiality. We teach you specific techniques to share thoughtful, productive, skilled feedback that avoids bad feelings and improves outcomes.

What is a Critical Friends Group® (CFG®) community and how is it different than a PLC? 2017-08-13T21:19:36+00:00

A Critical Friends Group® community is a particular variety of Professional Learning Community (PLC), and Critical Friends Group® is a registered trademark of the NSRF® organization. CFG® communities consist of 5-12 members who commit to improving their practice through collaborative learning and structured interactions (protocols), and meet at least once a month for about two hours.

Many general PLCs focus on standards, with the goal of students performing well on standardized tests. Educators may come home from conferences and workshops excited about creating PLCs, but quickly realize they weren’t given all the tools to accomplish the goals they espouse.

As it turns out, back in the 1990s before many people had heard of PLCs, the National School Reform Faculty created specific protocols and activities to promote best practices when it comes to teaching, as well as to improve student achievement. NSRF® Critical Friends Group® Coaches Training will teach you how to create an environment of trust, how to give and receive feedback most effectively, and how to use our protocols and activities to help students — and teachers — create a culture of excellence.

CFG work can do a lot for your school:

  • honor and prioritize time for deep reflection,
  • develop critical problem-solving,
  • build trust between colleagues,
  • reduce teacher and administrator isolation,
  • reveal solutions to complex dilemmas,
  • foster equity,
  • change school culture,
  • model and build 21st Century Skills
  • … and much more!

Most of all, CFG® communities deeply support you and your colleagues working together to improve everyone’s work and that of your students.

Can I call my group something different? 2017-08-13T21:24:09+00:00

You can call your groups anything you like and use our protocols and activities within them to great advantage. We suggest that you carefully avoid a name that feels like “jargon.” Some names seem to push people into an “us vs. them” situation, where “we” who know what the jargon means can inadvertently create separation from “them” who do not, which is exactly the opposite to the purposes of Critical Friends.

The name isn’t the magic, and frankly, the protocols in themselves aren’t, either. The combination of using our activities and protocols to build trust, making and honoring agreements, then using our materials regularly to efficiently and effectively deal with dilemmas and work issues … that’s where a small group of educators can have the most powerful effect. And if you’re in an environment where a number of CFG communities (or whatever you call them) work together towards common goals of student achievement, then “magic” happens regularly throughout your organization.

All that said, if you’re using our materials, you’ll need to keep our attribution, the NSRF® name and contact information on them. Although the original NSRF materials were developed using grant funding designed to keep them open and available to anyone, the newer materials are copyrighted, and we do take that copyright seriously. You’re welcome to copy and use our protocols and activities within your meetings or classrooms, but for uses beyond those, please contact us by email or phone (812-330-2702) with your questions or requests.

“Critical Friends Group” is trademarked? I never knew. 2017-08-13T21:24:52+00:00

The NSRF® organization legally owns the Critical Friends Group® registered trademark, and here’s what that means for you. Just as you want to know what taste to expect when you open your preferred brand of soft drink, we want you to be able to expect the highest quality experience when being trained as a Critical Friends Group coach by an NSRF-certified National Facilitator. If someone suggests you take a training from them and they aren’t in good standing with their NSRF National Facilitators certification, we cannot guarantee the quality of training they might provide, and we could not allow you coaches’ access to this website. We also ask that CFG meetings be led by an NSRF-trained coach for the best possible outcome. (See below: “protocol disasters.”)

When you sign up to become an NSRF-certified CFG coach, you will complete five full days of training with us. You’ll experience the protocols as led by an NSRF National Facilitator with a known track record of facilitation expertise and finesse. You’ll experience the protocols as they were designed to be experienced, not in a haphazard way, and then you learn what’s behind that facilitation: the subtleties that aren’t written in the instructions. You’ll learn an important series of protocols and activities to build trust within the CFG communities that you will create and sustain, and learn when and how to revisit those activities for best results. You’ll leave the training knowing the most effective techniques to give and receive feedback to avoid negative outcomes when doing critical, often emotionally-charged work within the CFG meetings. You’ll learn how to select and use protocols to provide balanced participation among all participants in a meeting — not just the ones accustomed to speaking. And you’ll get a toolkit not only for how to run meetings once your CFG community is established, but how to get the work established in the first place.

NSRF National Facilitators are well-trained professionals. They are required to complete the initial five-day coaches training themselves, and spend more than a year honing their practice, interning, and meeting standards. Once they’ve been certified, they continue to work with the NSRF organization to ensure that the trainings they perform meet our standards.

All so that when you see “Critical Friends Group,” you can trust what you’re getting.

What can and can’t I do as a coach? 2017-08-13T21:44:59+00:00

Anyone is welcome to use NSRF® protocols and activities in your classroom, in your personal work, and even off the job in your PTO committee or church group, for example.

As an NSRF-certified CFG coach, you may create and lead one or more Critical Friends Group® communities. You may also adapt existing protocols to better fit your needs (although we recommend you first work with the existing protocols awhile before leaping to make modifications). And you’re expected, within your working CFG meeting, to transparently facilitate protocols so that others within your group can alternate leading those protocols. That’s the best way for a peer CFG coach to be able to bring your own work to the table, if someone else can facilitate that protocol that day.
The one thing you are not yet certified to do is to attempt to train others to become CFG Coaches or suggest they create their own CFG communities. The only people certified to train CFG coaches are NSRF National Facilitators.

Our National Facilitators have all gone through a process that takes more than a year to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to train coaches appropriately. If you are “taught” to be a CFG coach by someone who has not fulfilled those requirements and is not certified as an NSRF National Facilitator, we cannot guarantee your capabilities as a coach, nor certify you as one, nor acknowledge your credentials to allow you coach membership access on this website. If we didn’t train you, we don’t know what you did or didn’t learn. Would you accept the license of a driver who said he was trained in a country you’d never heard of?

Why take the training when the protocols are here for free? 2017-08-13T21:30:41+00:00

Successfully conducting NSRF® Protocols is rather like cooking for a dinner party of important guests: we all know fabulous cooks and not-so-fabulous cooks, and many of us know the pressure of hosting high-stakes dinner parties.

So imagine NSRF protocols as recipes for fine French cuisine, written by a broad variety of chefs. Then ask yourself if you’ll have a more satisfying meal if you attempt the recipes on your own, or if you’ve first experienced the recipes with the careful guidance of a French cooking school. Yes, you might end up with “edible food” if you haven’t been trained, but you probably don’t have all the skills to ensure you the most satisfying “meal,” or desired result.

To be frank, we have heard of many fine people attempting to use our materials without NSRF training, resulting in “protocol disasters“ far worse than a fallen soufflé. A poorly facilitated protocol may fail to deliver the outcome you desire, may leave your colleagues feeling worse about their dilemma or piece of work, and worst of all, may leave all the participants with “a bad taste in their mouths” so they never want to use protocols ever again! So, yes, we highly encourage you to complete CFG coaches training.

Also, the protocols freely available on this website (if you haven’t logged in as a paid member or member coach) are the original protocols developed in the early years of the NSRF organization back in the mid-1990s. If you take our NSRF New Coaches Training or Experienced Coaches’ Training, you’ll have access to protocols and activities designed to be more readily understood by “new cooks.” We’re always trying to help you avoid “protocol disasters” and be as successful as possible.

Can you come to my school/district/city? 2017-08-13T21:42:45+00:00

Certainly! If you have ten to 15 people to be trained, it will likely be more cost-effective for us to send you an NSRF National Facilitator than for you to send all those people to one of our Open Training locations. If you don’t have quite that many people ready to be trained within your school, but you have at least six or eight people to be trained (depending on your budget), we can work with you to “open up” your training to others within your geographic region to get you up to 10 or 15 people, enough for a full training.

“Opening” an on-site training will require your school guaranteeing the full cost of the training no matter how few people participate, and then, with our support, marketing those open spots to fill the cohort. Typically, we set a deadline together to ensure that enough participants sign up so your cost per person isn’t prohibitive. It’s best for us to have a conversation about this rather than try to explain it in a FAQ, so please call us at 812-330-2702.

How large are the training groups? 2017-08-13T21:38:48+00:00

For the five-day new coaches or experienced coaches trainings, we aim to hold to a 1:15 facilitator-to-participants ratio so that every participant gets a uniformly satisfying experience. One major benefit to NSRF trainings is that every participant brings a dilemma and a piece of work to the trainings, and we work on those things together during our week of training.

Did you catch that? Through the course, we actually conduct and practice protocols on your work. We don’t waste your time with “theoretical” or “generic” problems. You’ll use NSRF protocols to bring home valuable, actionable next steps on your own issues. And before the week is out, you will individually lead at least one protocol in a smaller group. Again, keeping a 1:15 ratio of facilitators to participants allows you this personal attention.

One-day intensives can vary in size, depending on the content desired, the number of CFG coaches you already have at your school, etc.

Why do the trainings take 5 days? 2017-08-13T21:35:31+00:00

How often have you attended an invigorating PD event and come home, thrilled to use your new knowledge, only to realize, “Okay, HOW EXACTLY do I accomplish these lofty goals?” And how often have you attended a shorter training and then wanted more practice, more guidance, and more support in bringing the tools home to colleagues or students who’ve never seen those ideas? NSRF® New Coaches Trainings are designed to avoid these letdowns, and more.

Yes, it takes five days. In a standard NSRF New Coaches Training, you will:

  • experience multiple foundational NSRF protocols and activities led by a skilled facilitator,
  • bond quickly with your group through scaffolded activities and deepen that bond dramatically in five days,
  • learn a plethora of facilitation nuances through the trainer’s transparent facilitation of every aspect of training,
  • use NSRF protocols with the group to start solving your own real-world dilemmas and work needs (not rhetorical or sample problems),
  • gain a support network of friends who want to sustain you through your career,
  • practice leading protocols that can carry you through at least a year’s worth of CFG meetings, and
  • get practical support to encourage and develop CFG communities throughout your school.

Five days? It’s action-packed. This is NOT a “sit-and-get” event.

Anything less than five days’ of training is insufficient for you to actually put these NSRF Protocols to work for yourself, your colleagues, and your students. You’ll see. Or we can give you references, if you’d rather have someone else’s word for it.

Do we have to take five consecutive days, or can the training be split up? 2017-08-13T21:36:08+00:00

During the summer months, we tend to conduct trainings on consecutive days to reduce travel costs and keep momentum going. But during the academic year, we typically split up the training so you don’t lose five consecutive days in your classroom or office. Generally, we’ll work with you for three days, then return a few weeks later for the last two.

What does it cost? 2017-08-13T21:42:06+00:00

Open trainings are usually $815 or $825 for five days, depending on the location, plus your travel, lodging, and some meals. All materials used in the training are covered in that fee, including a Critical Friends Group Coaches’ Handbook and a year’s NSRF membership at the coach level for those who complete the training.

If you have enough people to be trained that it’s more cost-effective for us to come to you to conduct an on-site training, the cost-per-person is about $750-1,000 per person, depending upon the number of trainees and your geographic location. Most of our costs in an on-site training are fixed (transportation, lodging, etc.), and the “sweet spot” in terms of keeping the lowest cost-per-person is booking a training for 10-15 people. If you’re interested in a three-day administrative training, those are generally conducted on-site and the price varies by your needs. Please see the on-site training portion of our website for many more details, and then contact us with your questions or specifications for your event. If you wish to be considered for subsidized training either as an individual attending an open training or a school needing on-site training, please contact us by email or phone (812-330-2702).

What are your refund policies for trainings? 2018-05-21T13:41:57+00:00

NSRF works hard to keep the costs of five-day trainings low, and only accepts up to 15 participants per national facilitator, which makes it an especially high-value training opportunity. Because of the limited number of seats and the low margin, full refunds are only available with cancellations eight weeks before the event. If you must cancel between six and eight weeks, you may receive a 50% refund. Later than six weeks, we cannot offer a refund. We encourage anyone whose plans have changed to transfer their paid application to another attendee, if possible. If you must cancel your attendance and/or transfer your registration fee to another person, please give us a call at 812-330-2702 for further instructions. Please note, by submitting your registration to a training you are agreeing to these terms.

What can you teach us in a day, or half a day? 2017-08-13T21:36:59+00:00

In a day, you can get an introduction to CFG work: you’ll learn a few activities and just one or two low-risk protocols. That will give you a flavor of how protocols work, and a bit about what Critical Friends Group® work can do. But in one day, you definitely will not be sufficiently prepared to create and conduct CFG communities on your own, or to effectively use our large library of protocols.

Hiring us for a half-day CFG event, honestly, would probably raise more questions for you than answers: we can tell you about protocols and CFG work, answer some basic questions, offer a solid presentation about the importance of equity or listening skills or feedback (for instance).

But if you need more than ideas, you’ll need to be with us for well more than half a day.

Besides the 5-day training, how can you help us? 2017-08-13T21:37:49+00:00

Schools with active CFG communities, with administrators who understand the great value of protocols, sometimes hire NSRF National Facilitators to lead high-stakes meetings or to conduct very specific, targeted workshops.

When called in for meeting facilitation, NSRF Facilitators can be counted on as a neutral third party without a stake in the outcome. Our job is first, to prep for the meeting by understanding the outcomes you’re seeking with the event; second, to design a program to meet those needs: and last, to facilitate an agenda of protocols and activities to achieve your goals and deliver actionable next steps.

Complex discussions around strategic planning, major dilemmas, and multi-step projects have all been facilitated successfully by members of our team.

Also, if your school is interested specifically in learning observation or Looking At Student Work protocols, or needs support with equity issues, we can also lead one-day intensive trainings. These are most successful if participants have already been certified as NSRF CFG coaches, but it’s not absolutely required that everyone in the room has previously had our training.

We also offer a small, select catalog of materials that we’ve found to be helpful in doing CFG work.

Do I really need to bring my own dilemmas and work to training? 2017-08-13T21:39:22+00:00

Yes. Before a training, it’s hard to believe that strangers can help you significantly. But we debrief after every protocol, and presenters consistently express gratitude and astonishment at the insights they gained from the group.

NSRF protocols, used within a trusted CFG community or training cohort, allow everyone to contribute to every dilemma or piece of work. Even individuals who don’t work in your environment or teach the same classes as you, or come from [private/public, rural/urban, whatever opposite situation you can think of] have insights into your work. Actually, the most effective CFG meetings (like our open trainings) are the most diverse, bringing fresher experience and new perspectives to dilemmas and pieces of work that you and your colleagues have struggled with, maybe for years.

People who come to our Open Trainings and later sit in on On-Site Trainings at their school can attest to the surprising nature of this fact. We encourage on-site trainings and local CFG communities to be built with as much diversity of participants as possible. When all you surround yourself with are people of like minds and like experiences, the outcomes will be less rich than with a more diversified group. There’s just one caveat …

Can administrators be trained at the same time as teachers? 2017-08-13T21:40:28+00:00

We encourage every school practicing CFG work to also invest in training at least a few administrators. Only through experience can anyone really understand the deep and lasting value of this work.

But it’s challenging in an on-site training — not to mention an ongoing CFG community — for administrators to sit around the same table with their teachers when it’s time to do the work: will every teacher in the group feel safe enough to bring their deepest dilemmas and hardest challenges sitting next to their supervisor (or someone who may report to their supervisor)? Usually not. Power differentials make it extremely difficult to feel trusting. Conversely, administrators probably can’t bring some of their dilemmas and work problems to a roomful of teachers.

If you’re not using CFG communities to address your school’s unspoken, deepest needs, then you’re only skimming the surface of what NSRF protocols and CFG work can do for you.

So we encourage, whenever possible, that administrators have their own CFG communities, and neither lead nor participate in their teachers’ CFG meetings. For training, we suggest that admins attend our Open Trainings (where they’ll interact with a wide variety of educators in and out of the classroom — just not THEIR classrooms). If you want admins trained on-site, it’s best to find 10-15 admins within your school or district, or else, with our support, “open up” an on-site administrative training to others in your geographic area.

Many NSRF protocols are beautifully supportive of administrative dilemmas and work tasks. So, just like anyone else in training, administrators will bring home actionable insights on their own dilemmas and work. And because administrators don’t always want or need to coach a CFG group, we developed a three-day administrative training track tuned specifically to administrator’s needs (more on strategic planning, for instance, and nothing on student work). Administrators who take the shorter training will not be certified to lead CFG communities, but they may use the protocols in their own meetings and private work.

Can administrators coach teachers at their school? 2017-08-13T21:44:13+00:00

CFG work is based in having a trusting environment that supports individual growth and improvement. If your supervisor is leading your CFG meeting, you’re not terribly likely to bring your most challenging dilemmas or work to the group, right? Even if an administrator who leads a specific CFG community is not your direct supervisor, that administrator, at best, will have divided loyalties and may not be able to keep your work confidential. We strongly encourage CFG communities to be coached by peers, for the best effect. Administrators can get great benefits from having their own CFG communities, with peer administrators from their school or district, or even from schools in other cities, as well.

I facilitate meetings and trainings for others. Will you hire me? 2017-08-13T21:46:23+00:00

Only if you fulfill all the requirements every other NSRF® National Facilitator has completed (see below).

How can I become an NSRF® National Facilitator? 2017-08-16T23:44:11+00:00

It takes more than a year, and you’ll need to work with a mentor National Facilitator in good standing with the NSRF organization to do your internship. Here are the basic steps:

  • Complete our five-day CFG® New Coaches Training.
  • Maintain a paid coach’s membership in NSRF.
  • Download and utilize the updated [M] and [C] member-only materials in your work, particularly when these newer versions replace [O] versions.
  • Lead a CFG community for at least a year (minimum of 16 hours, usually eight 2-hour meetings).
  • Submit agendas and reflections of that year’s meetings to the NSRF (email documents to or share files with nsrf@nsrfharmony.org). We will review those documents and, if you’re ready, match you with a mentor National Facilitator.
  • Assist multiple mentor National Facilitators in leading a minimum of three five-day trainings.
  • Submit your reflections on those internships to NSRF and your mentor(s).
  • When the mentor believes you’re ready, they submit a letter of recommendation to the NSRF office for you.
  • Sign non-compete forms and instructions on conducting open trainings.
  • Pay your National Facilitator annual fees.