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Critical Friends as a Best Practices in Peer to Peer Feedback

Critical Friends as a Best Practices in Peer to Peer Feedback

Author: Ashley Sweatt

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

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Hi. My name is Ashley, and today's lesson is titled Critical Friends as a Best Practice in Peer-to-Peer Feedback. In today's lesson, we will discuss how critical friends groups are connected to teacher evaluation. We'll define critical friends group and the list of characteristics of these groups. We will define the protocols for critical friends and identify informal peer-to-peer feedback relationships.

How are critical friends groups connected to teacher evaluation? Sometimes teacher evaluation feedback can be hard to decipher alone. Professional learning communities, such as critical friends, support one another and provide feedback and assist with putting it into action. Critical friends groups allow opportunities of reflection during the teacher evaluation process. Critical friends groups are slightly more informal than other professional learning community groups. However, they create more of a personal environment, which helps them provide even more support.

What are critical friends groups? A critical friends group is a type of professional learning community with the purpose of improving teacher practices. It is very similar to other professional learning communities in that the main focus is students. Therefore, student learning goals are established. Teaching practices are reflected on, and teacher and student work are reviewed. Critical friends groups are another benefit to teachers in that they can receive non-evaluative feedback from their peers in order to improve their teaching practices.

What are the characteristics of critical friends groups? Critical friends groups are different from traditional professional learning communities in two main ways. The first way is that the critical friends group members challenge one another by asking the hard questions to create an open and honest dialogue of their teaching practices. This dialogue helps them to think reflectively, and as a result, it improves their instructional practices and how they impact student learning.

Next, meanings are run by protocol. There is a specific format that the meeting must follow in order to create meaningful communication, problem solving, and improve learning. Depending on the specific goals of the group, different protocols may be used. The protocol is most often guided by an instructional coach. The idea of critical friends members challenging each other and following protocol is to ensure that the conversation is ongoing, and each member is able to share his or her own ideas, avoiding group think, where no one really wants to disagree or create conflict. Therefore, many ideas are not shared or explored.

What are critical friends protocols? Earlier, we mentioned that the meetings of critical friends groups are run by protocol. This protocol gives structure so that the focus remains clear. Some protocols may include investigating teaching, learning and assessment, reviewing data, addressing professional challenges, and observing others. Let's look at a few protocols in the category of observing others.

In the Collaborative Ghost Walk, members set a purpose for their walk around the school, like we hope to see examples of critical thinking. Evidence we are looking for is inquiry in the classroom and student dialogue demonstrating problem solving. The group walks through the school, quietly making notes and collecting evidence. They return back to the group and compare their findings and make conclusions.

In the First Classroom Visit protocol, teacher A is having issues with a disruptive student. She seeks assistance from teacher B. Teacher A explains the problem that she's having and asks to observe teacher B to gain insight on managing this behavior. The purpose of this observation is so that teacher A may learn new strategies that can then be implemented in her classroom.

Now let's take a look at the Peer Coaching/Observer as Coach protocol. In this protocol, two teachers have decided to coach one another. Before the observation takes place, the first teacher, who will be coached, gives the other teacher a focus list of areas to pay special attention to. Once the observation has been completed, the two meet again-- this time to discuss what occurred. The observer only provides what was seen, and no opinions are included.

Then the teacher uses this information to reflect on her teaching practices and decides how and what changes need to be made. For more resources for critical friends protocols, visit the site below.

What are informal peer-to-peer feedback relationships? The critical friends groups have a lot of benefits by creating opportunities for reflection and allowing peers to collaborate. However, this type of learning community may not be effective in all educational settings. In this case, a peer-to-peer relationship would be best. Peers can set up goals with one another and make improvements to their teaching practices by collaborating with each other.

Based on feedback, goals are established, action plans are created, and focus areas are revisited with a peer. The peers in the relationship refer to the evaluation rubric to identify teacher standards that must be met. Peer-to-peer relationships should be encouraged by school leaders. It's a collaborative relationship that is beneficial for both people involved. These type of relationships create learning and sharing opportunities for professional growth.

Let's recap what we have discussed in today's lesson. Critical friends groups are connected to teacher evaluation in that it helps teachers reflect on their teaching practices and make improvements. A critical friends group is a type of professional learning community where members ask each other the hard questions to create reflective dialogue, and meetings are run by protocol. In some cases, where critical friends groups are not feasible, peer-to-peer feedback relationships are encouraged.

We discussed a lot of information in this tutorial. As you reflect on this information, consider how critical friends groups or peer relationships can benefit you during the evaluation process. For more information on how to apply what you've learned in this video, please view the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The Additional Resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource.

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


(00:00 - 00:11) Introduction

(00:12 - 00:34) What Will You Learn Today?

(00:35 - 01:12) How are Critical Friends Groups Connected to Teacher Evaluation?

(01:13 - 01:50) What are Critical Friends Groups?

(01:51 - 03:06) What are the Characteristics of Critical Friends Groups?

(03:07 - 05:09) What are Critical Friends Protocols?

(05:10 - 06:10) What are Informal Peer-to-Peer Feedback Relationships?

(06:11 - 06:45) What Did You Learn Today?

(06:46 - 07:19) 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.