A Critical Friends Group (CFG) brings together four to ten teachers within a school over at least two years, to help each other look seriously at their own classroom practice and make changes in it. After a solid grounding in group process skills, members focus on designing learning goals for students which can be stated specifically enough that others can observe them in operation. They work out strategies to move students toward these goals and collect evidence on how those strategies are working out. In a structured setting of mutual support and honest critical feedback from trusted peers, they then work to adapt and revise their goals and strategies and to modify conditions within the school so as to better support student learning. A portfolio of each member’s work documents evidence of their progress.
Each CFG meets for at least two hours monthly with a coach, sometimes from within the school and sometimes not. Many Essential schools have more than one CFG; and typically the groups broaden their perspective through partnerships and regional meetings with CFGs from other schools. The Annenberg Institute’s National School Reform Faculty provides training to CFG coaches and helps with yearly week-long summer institutes for school teams.
Sometimes people with a common interest will form a Critical Friends Group whose members hail from different schools. Librarian Mark Gordon, for example, coaches a “virtual” CFG that links five Essential school librarians via electronic conferencing; and CFGs made up of Essential school principals convene in many regions.