Last week CCSC hosted the Critical Friends Group Coaches Institute, a weeklong professional development seminar offered by the School Reform Initiative, a Denver-based nonprofit with longstanding ties to the school. Sixteen teachers and school leaders from across the U.S. spent five days training with SRI facilitators Gene Thompson-Grove and Teri Schrader to become CFG coaches at their home schools.
Among the participants were CCSC’s Danielle Makarious (director of special programs) and Ruby Stardrum (learning specialist), who are eager to share what they learned with their colleagues, all of whom belong to one of the five Critical Friends Groups on campus.
CFGs are central to CCSC’s commitment to supporting reflective practice and student-centered learning. In fact, the idea of creating professional communities of “critical friends” originated when CCSC Founder Paula Evans and Ms. Thompson-Grove worked together at Brown University and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform in the 1990s. The groundbreaking professional development protocols they developed subsequently spawned SRI, now an independent network comprised of thousands of educators in the US and internationally.
The guiding principle of a CFG is simple: by meeting regularly with a small group of peers to review and reflect openly on their classroom challenges, as well as their beliefs about teaching and learning, CFG members support each other by asking powerful questions, offering multiple perspectives, and sharing effective strategies.
The result is transformation of practice and improved student learning outcomes. Developing a shared set of norms and values is integral to the success of every CFG, regardless of whether its members work in the same school or come from different schools — or whether they work in a public or an independent school. Over time, trust builds and a CFG becomes a forum where colleagues can learn with and from each other and collaborate to overcome professional challenges.
One of the core CFG tenets is the de-privatizing of practice. “Willingly bringing up tough issues in your classroom, even weaknesses, and asking your peers for help can feel scary to teachers at every level of experience, so building a safe environment for sharing problems is absolutely crucial. We can’t transform schools by shutting our classroom doors,” says Ms. Thompson-Grove, who coaches one of CCSC’s five CFGs.
Other members of the CCSC community who are trained as CFG coach-facilitators are Corinne Kielbasa, Becki Norris, Tabitha Schroeder, Heidi Thayer, and Becky Wilusz.