How do teachers continue to get better at what they do? What forms of professional development are the most effective? Critical Friends Groups (CFG) are widely recognized as places where teachers can reflect, collaborate, and generate their own learning, and action research is another powerful form of professional development for the reflective practitioner. For the past two years, ten CFG As Research Team (CART) Grant groups sponsored by the Houston A+ Challenge have been exploring how engaging in action research can kick their CFG practices up a notch.
Earlier this semester, four action research groups from Houston presented their work to an international audience at the National School Reform Faculty’s fourth annual Research Forum. These teams have been exploring diverse questions such as
- Does using poetry improve the reading fluency of Kindergarten and 1st grade students?
- How does changing the content and context of collegial conversations create a space for collaboration and reflection? How is this shift illuminated in teacher practice and expressed in student learning?
- How does change in administrative leadership affect the school culture, as interpreted by empowered school leaders? and
- How can an intermediary organization best support collaborative, reflective learning?
Like other CFGs, these CART groups meet regularly to examine student work, explore texts, engage in consultancies, and other reflective activities. Additionally, they are mindful of collecting evidence to show how their practice has changed, and they have made a commitment to sharing their work with a broader audience. Action research isn’t just about creating knowledge for yourself—it’s about trying to influence others as well.
You can download a helpful introduction to action research here.
Does your group have a ritual for important transitions like the end of a school year? Even though this season is astoundingly full of activities, it’s important to take time to reflect together about what you have accomplished, what you have learned from each other and what you hope to be doing in the weeks and months ahead.
The Talking Stick Ceremony is a simple yet powerful way to share reflections.
Dear Donna: I was hoping you could give me some information on CFG training. I participated in CFG when I was a student teacher, and I think that my current school is missing out on much unused potential in our instruction. I am a second year teacher, and no one at my school is trained. What link should I use to apply for coach training? --S.D. in Spring Branch.
Dear E.C.: The Houston A+ Challenge will host a CFG New Coach Training August 3-8, 2009. You can find more information and a link to the application at
Although individuals may apply and can certainly practice many skills for enhancing their own reflection and leadership, I highly recommend attending the New Coach Training with a small team of colleagues from your campus. We have found that people who attend the training seminar with colleagues are better able to implement CFGs in their workplaces.
If you have questions for Dear Donna, send them to CFGCoach@houstonaplus.org. Donna Reid is a Houston-based National CFG Facilitator and a consultant with Houston A+ Challenge.