Often the focus here is on the learning environment (a term I prefer to classroom): what is and what should be happening there. But to enhance effective 21st century learning, we must also look at what happens in the staff room, in the work of teachers growing and learning and collaborating. Clearly we know this has to happen. In our fast changing world, what our students have to learn, and they environments in which they are learning, are changing even faster; to meet these changes, our teachers need to be growing and changing too.
Teachers, however, are educated professionals, with great wisdom, experience, and judgement; certainly they are here at St. Gregory. So the question becomes, how do we teach the teachers? By having teachers teach themselves and each other, by bringing their wisdow and insights into the work of learning and growing. One especially interesting initiative in this is the so-called Critical Friends Groups, groups of educators who come together for facilitated collaborative learning. St. Gregory will launch its CFG initiative next week, with five teacher trained as facilitators leading five groups.
The CFG website provides FAQs, including these answers to what the purposes are of CFGs:
- Create a professional learning community
- Make teaching practice explicit and public by “talking about teaching”
- Help people involved in schools to work collaboratively in democratic, reflective communities (Bambino)
- Establish a foundation for sustained professional development based on a spirit of inquiry (Silva)
- Provide a context to understand our work with students, our relationships with peers, and our thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs about teaching and learning
- Help educators help each other turn theories into practice and standards into actual student learning
- Improve teaching and learning
An article in Education World explains the values of CFGs in this way:
“Participants in CFGs learn to work with peers in a collegial fashion on issues of teaching and student learning,” Faith Dunne said. “Since school practitioners have a history of working in isolation, collaborative work requires the development of skills such as peer observation, close examination of teacher and student work, giving effective feedback, and the creation of new knowledge (in Peter Senge’s sense) through collaborative effort. Coaches of CFGs — and, ultimately, participants — learn how to facilitate group work as well as how to balance their roles as both leader and coparticipant.”
For the evolution of teaching to meet the demands of a new era, we need to find forums to promote among educators more reflection, critical thinking, innovation, risktaking, and feedback. We know these are how our students learn, and they must be built into systems to allow us, too, to learn. Our excitement here at St. Gregory is that Critical Friends Groups, and the time we are committing to them with weekly late-start Thursdays, will stimulate us to reflect more upon our practice, to think more critically about our choices, to try new approaches and take more risks in our classrooms, and to obtain more feedback about our effectiveness. We are just setting forth on this adventure, but it is my intent to use this blog to share our progress as we do so, (while, of course, maintaining all appropriate confidentiality aligned with the protocols of CFG groups!). Keep an eye here for future updates.