Monday, August 8, 2011

Critical Friends and Helping One Another Succeed

On my first day back to school today, my colleagues and I did a full day's worth of training on the use of critical friends group protocols.  I'd done critical friends group protocols in the past, although I wouldn't say I've ever been part of a critical friends group (CFG).  After today, if i had to define a CFG, I'd say it's a group that meets regularly to try and improve the teaching (or some other profession's) practices of its members.  The point of CFGs, in my mind, is that they give teachers a way to actually meet and productively discuss their teaching practices.

I know it sounds stupid, but those types of meetings don't happen naturally in schools.  Really.  Teachers meet and discuss the current bell schedule, a certain student's discipline problem, or what snacks we want to provide for parent-teacher conferences.  Logistical items.  Since leaving college and Teach For America, not once have I been in a meeting where teachers discussed their actual teaching practices in a way that wasn't just bragging or complaining.  In a way that invited constructive criticism and room for improvement.

Aside from changing recruitment practices and higher ed. teaching degree programs, helping teachers within a school learn from one another is the most important change that could be made to turn around schools today.  From what I've seen in public education so far, teachers almost never watch one another teach.  If they do, it's very difficult to provide constructive criticism and there is no incentive to actually act on that criticism.  I understand - it's difficult to invite criticism about something as personal as teaching style.  But the current system provides very few methods or incentives for improvement.  Just blame and once-a-year test scores that are difficult to tie in with actual daily teaching practices.  If it were part of the teaching practice to be observed, to receive regular feedback regarding your teaching practice, and to be expected to act - in some way - on that feedback, I think things would be drastically different. 

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