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Below is an exerpt from the School Reform Initiative’s website which defines a Critical Friends Group. This is the institute I attended in Alpharetta, GA in July 2012 lead by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen (@tvansoelen). I attended with the professional learning intention of building my facilitation skills. I left understanding that I had done so through exercising and practising my participant skills.

CFG builds the learning capacity of the group by engaging members in significant work in an environment that supports risk taking. To make it more likely that learning in CFG will build the group’s capacity for transformational learning, several key elements are essential.

  • Groups are voluntary and sustained. A critical friends group is made up of a group of six to ten educators who meet regularly, perhaps every four to six weeks, over a sustained period of time. Membership is often voluntary. Voluntary participation helps to increase the likelihood that the members are committed to taking on risky and challenging work and staying engaged over time. Similarly, CFGs continue to work together beyond the completion of a particular time cycle such as a semester or school year.
  • A skilled and experienced facilitator or coach supports the group. The coach, who frequently is a member of the group who has participated in professional development to develop the skills, strategies, knowledge, and dispositions to facilitate the group’s learning.
  • Groups use protocols to build their capacity for learning. The disciplined use of protocols or agreed upon processes and structures helps the CFG build its capacity for learning. Protocols help sustain a steadfast focus on teaching and learning. And, they offer the structure that allows a group to deprivatize their practice and explore the most difficult and challenging issues of insuring that students experience educational excellence.

Since I have returned I have officially started a CFG. 11 amazing administrators volunteering their time, trust and academic energy to learning and leadership reflection.


Presenter Check-In (Fish Bowl) following Issaquah Protocol by Dr. Thomas VanSoelen

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I have begun, stopped and started again on a training regime in preparation for the Detroit Free Press Marathon on October 21st, 2012.  Along the way I will be running with some new collaborators in Algonquin Park this August as we begin #UnPlugd12.  I am excited, tired and anxious to see my goal through. 

To me this whole marathon thing is such a great metaphor for the work that goes into moving our schools forward.   The steps in training is where the real work is done.  Each run is different in length, intensity, speed etc.  Each run is just another attempt at building resilience, strength and stamina.   Each run is practise and preparation and each run is recorded, diagnosed and tracked.  The intent?  To set pace and prepare the body for the event.

Here is the catch.  It is completely an individual experience.  You are only racing for yourself and only against a time standard that you set.  The metaphor for me is strengthened in that I set my growth plan, act on it, move forward on it with critical friendships and make sure I am looking at multiple angles for evidence of growth, stagnation or need for refinement.

I will run tomorrow, I will run tomorrow, I will run tomorrow.  My mantra.  I am not procrastinating.  Au contraire.  I am making a commitment, living up and building trust, in myself.

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