Friends care about and want to help each other. Critical friends want the same things but are not afraid to say what needs to be said to help. The Critical Friend Visit process is designed to support both of these objectives in an educational setting.
October was very busy for us at TLSP as we began piloting Critical Friend Visits in our schools. Basically, we train principals and teachers from our schools in how to use a specific classroom observation tool, conduct focus groups with teachers and students and determine findings to answer three questions:
- Do classroom interactions and organization ensure a classroom climate conducive to learning?
- Is classroom instruction intentional, engaging and challenging for all students?
- Do teachers regularly assess students’ progress toward mastery of key skills and concepts?
Sometimes the findings are painful to examine, sometimes they are affirming or encouraging. Yet, all of the findings are discussed and reflected upon. Once priorities are determined, action plans are created that clearly stated the next steps needed to achieve a short-term goal to address a finding from the Critical Friends Visit.
We see this process benefiting our schools in three major ways:
- Building ownership in continuous improvement– Our schools understand that we should always be trying to get better. Although, it has been difficult to know where to start and how to create manageable goals. Critical Friend Visits provide a structure to establish short-term goals for long-term benefits.
- Focusing on the art and science of teaching– When teachers gain experience, they learn the art behind teaching: building relationships with students, making material interesting, knowing when and when not to push students. However, researchers have also discovered universal engagement strategies that all teachers can include when designed their lessons. The science of lesson design is carefully considered during the analysis phase of Critical Friend Visits.
- Help us develop a shared language– We have discovered during our initial CFV’s that several common education terms have been the focus of debate among our participants. What do we mean when we say cognitive engagement? What would students be doing in a classroom in which differentiation was occurring? What are critical thinking skills? These questions will be answered collectively among our TLSP schools when they choose to participate in Critical Friend Visits. As we develop a common language, we share common experiences and strategies, and truly become a collaborative network.
Please pray for us as we expand our list of participating schools. We are beginning with six schools this year, four have already had visits and two more will welcome us in the spring. In the following years, our plan is to add four to six more schools until all have participated in a Critical Friends Visit. We will also continue to support the improvement efforts in schools already engaging in the process.
These are challenging times for our students and teachers; yet critical friends visits can provide us with a process and support system to keep our schools academic programs strong and vibrant.
Director of Academic Excellence
The Lutheran Schools Partnership