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Critical Friends as a Best Practice in Peer to Peer Feedback

Critical Friends as a Best Practice in Peer to Peer Feedback

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson, students explore using peer feedback and critical friends protocols to improve practice.

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Welcome. I'm Trisha Fyfe, and in today's video lesson we'll look at the topic Critical Friends as a Best Practice in Peer-to-Peer Feedback. As we learn about this topic, we will work towards one main learning objective, and we'll use the following question to guide our learning in this lesson. How can peer feedback and critical friends protocols help in improving teacher practices?

We've talked about the importance of having support as a teacher when it comes to teacher evaluations, and feedback that comes from these. The whole process can be overwhelming, and without encouragement and guidance, teachers can struggle. Various relationships and groups are formed to help provide teachers the support. Professional learning communities are a great resource, as are encouraging peer groups such as critical friends groups. Critical friends groups are more informal than professional learning communities. The goal here is a more personalized, peer-to-peer support group. For integration of feedback received in teaching, and support and reflection. These are the reasons that these groups are a great fit for the evaluation process.

Critical friends groups can be formed to assist teachers in focusing on improving practice before or after evaluations and feedback. They are a type of professional learning community. Just the same as a traditional PLC, a critical friends group gathers together to determine student goals for learning, and to reflect on professional practice that the teacher is involved. They also assess teacher and student work, and this is done to help look at progress that's been made with regards to those set goals. In critical friends groups, peers give and receive feedback. This is done peer-to-peer, and in a non-evaluative setting. The goal here is teacher improvement in instructional practices.

There are some characteristics that set these groups apart from other professional learning communities and supportive groups. These distinguishing characteristics of these critical friends group are a challenging environment and protocol structures. Let's talk about each of these. First a challenging environment. This is an environment that pushes for the best. Hard questions are asked. Open and honest reflection are encouraged. How are my instructional practices truly impacting my students? Peers challenge each other in critical friends groups to use reflective dialogue as they work toward improvements.

Another distinguishing characteristic is the protocol structures that are a big part of these groups. Protocols guide meetings. Guidelines that are structured are set, and these guidelines are aimed at encouraging communication that is so meaningful. Protocol also helps facilitate problem solving. It improves learning that takes place and helps the teacher avoid group think. This is when structured groups, sometimes professional learning communities, don't have the same level of commitment to challenging each other to think outside the box or work harder to come up with solutions. The group begins to lose momentum. Each critical friends group has diverse goals and the protocols are developed specifically for that group and those goals. An instructional coach often facilitates these guidelines.

When forming critical friends groups, it's important to consider the various protocols that are encouraged by the school reform initiative. I would encourage you to take a look at this great resource to read about the different protocols. And here is the website for that. Structure can be a critical component of meetings of critical friends groups, and the selected protocol can give the structure and help focus the meeting. Maybe you're meeting to address professional challenges, or you're meeting to investigate teaching and learning, or assessment. Your group might be reviewing data and evidence, or your group might be observing others. Regardless of the focus of the meeting, there are protocols available to help when focusing and structuring your meetings.

Let's take a look at some examples. In our video lessons we've been discussing evaluation teachers, so we'll focus on observation protocol for these groups. The first that we will discuss here is the collaborative ghost walk protocol. Here, members of this critical friends group established the focus for the walk. Here's an example. In our school we hope to see-- fill in the blank. The types of evidence we're looking for are-- and again you'd fill in the blank. Together the group walks through the school observing and recording. They're recording the evidence. At times this might be collaborative, and at times it might be accomplished silently, writing the evidence that they have collected. When they're finished recording, expectations regarding the focus of the walk and the evidence are compared.

Another protocol for observation is the first classroom visit protocol, and here a teacher develops a burning question. This is the question that this particular teacher would like to learn more about. A question that is related to something challenging in their classroom most likely. After developing the question, they visit another teacher to gather information. Maybe there is a teacher that has had one student with trouble being off task. This teacher might choose to observe another teacher to gain ideas and insight to bring back to their own classroom with regards to the situation and student. Before the observation, the teachers would meet and the teacher observing would let the other teacher know what specifically they would be observing and watching for. In this case, it would be any classroom management strategies that are working for challenging students. The teacher with a burning question is attempting to gain insight here. Ideas to deal with the issue in their own classroom.

Another protocol is the peer coaching, or observer as coach protocol. And this is when two different teachers agree to work together in a peer coaching partnership. These teachers meet before the observation and a short list of things to look for is given to the teacher who is observing. The observation is conducted and the coach and teacher meet. This feedback regarding the observation is meant to be objective. Only facts are given, what was observed. Then the ideas on how to improve and make changes are given.

Critical friends protocols such as these we discussed in this lesson for observation and more can be excellent tools in providing and receiving peer feedback. This feedback includes reviewing student work and examining for instructional practices. In some education settings, this type of team may not be available for whatever reason. If this is the case, it's important for teachers in the school to find another approach, possibly one less formal, to have access to needed support from peers. Maybe they use peer relationships to observe each other, review student data, and provide feedback. This relationship would be mutual and each pair would do these things for the other. Feedback is still extremely important here. The teacher observing would need to give the observed teacher feedback, and the teacher observed would need to develop goals and action plans from this.

The focus area is important to consider when meeting in this type of partnership as well. Two peers must still go through the teacher standards and evaluation rubrics that are used by their school and district. Leaders in the school should be considering this type of support and these types of opportunities for teachers. It's important for school leaders to share and encourage peer-to-peer learning and critical friends groups. They can also share information about collaborative teams or other information for peer groups as well.

Let's talk about what we learned today. We looked at the question, how can peer feedback and critical friends protocols help in improving teaching practices? In this lesson, we discuss professional learning communities, and in particular, we focused on the critical friends group. I walked you through some various protocol that can be used when observing in critical friends groups.

Now that you're more familiar with these ideas, let's reflect. How do you think a critical friends group and the protocols used will benefit you as a teacher? What might the challenges be for you in this type of partnership or group setting?

Thanks for joining me today and discussing the lesson Critical Friends as Best Practices in Peer-to-Peer Feedback. I hope you found value in this video lesson, and you are able to apply these ideas and resources to your own teaching. For more information on how to apply what you've learned in this video, please see the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of course material, including a brief description of each resource.

Notes on “Critical Friends as a Best Practice in Peer to Peer Feedback"


(00:00- 00:23) Introduction/Objectives

(00:24- 01:07) Critical Friends and Teacher Evaluation

(01:08- 01:49) Critical Friends Groups

(01:50- 03:09) Critical Friends Groups: Distinguishing Characteristics

(03:10- 05:52) Critical Friends Groups: Protocols

(05:53- 07:11) Informal Peer-to-Peer Relationships

(07:12- 07:31) Recap

(07:32- 08:14) Reflection 

Additional Resources

School Reform Initiative: Protocols

The School Reform Initiative has developed a comprehensive array of protocols designed to improve teaching and learning, including the critical friends protocol. This site provides access to all of the protocols and team templates to guide peer to peer coaching and feedback.

Taking Peer Feedback to Heart

In this article, Terry Bramschreiber demonstrates how one school campus works as a Professional Learning Community to provide feedback for the purpose of reflection and instructional improvement.