The Critical Friends Groups concept was developed by the National School Reform Society in the USA. Basically it is a professional learning community made up of 8-12 educators who meet once or twice a month for about one and a half to two hours. The aim of these groups is to improve teaching practice through reflection, inquiry, collaborative learning and explicitly talking about our teaching practice. Taking the time to discuss our practice in a CFG is one way we can try to turn our theories into better teaching practice and improve student learning. An important aspect of this is mutual trust and respect and a freedom from fear. The main tool used in CFGs is protocols.
Today's meeting started with a protocol called Connections. The aim of this protocol is to build a bridge from where we are to where we are going. We took 6 minutes to reflect and share whatever we wanted - to bring our thoughts and stories into the meeting and maybe to connect to what we were about to do. With this protocol there is no compulsion to speak or to speak in any order. It's possible just to sit quietly and think and reflect to yourself without sharing. It does not involve responding to anything that anyone else has said, in fact we were told to speak only once. The rest of the time we simply listened to what the others in the group were saying. I noticed that at times it was hard just to listen and not to respond.
We then had some time to read and used another protocol: Save the last word for me. We read an article and then decided as individuals what was the most important passage in the reading for us. In the group we took turns to read these statements out load to the group, but didn't say anything about them at that time. After some time to reflect on these passages, the rest of the group had one minute each to respond and say what they thought about the chosen passage, then the first person had a further three minutes to say why he or she chose it and what it meant to them. We repeated this protocol until everyone had shared his or her reading.
Today's reading was entitled Willing to be Disturbed, from Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley. This reading was basically about our willingness to have our ideas and beliefs challenged so that we can think in new ways. Here are some of the passages that I found most interesting from this reading:
- We don't have to let go of what we believe, but we do need to be curious about what someone else believes. (In our discussion some of us disagreed with this and felt that we did have to let go of some of what we believe.)
- A rich tapestry of interpretations are much more interesting than any single one.
- When I notice what surprises me I'm able to see my own views more clearly, including my beliefs and assumptions .... If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.
- It's not differences that divide us. It's our judgments about each other that do. Curiosity and good listening bring us back together.
- We have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty.
- Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new.
While I was reading and listening to what others in the group were thinking I kept coming back to the IB mission statement "others with their differences can also be right". I think one of the most powerful things I got out of this meeting today was this:
I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine ... I know we don't have to agree with each other in order to think well together.Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc