Critical Friends Groups: Building Teacher Knowledge Through Collaboration and Reflection



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In the state of Texas, mandated testing has often led to mandated professional training for teachers and administrators. This has been particularly true for teachers working in low-income, high minority schools where students have traditionally scored lower on state standardized tests. In the past, urban school reform grants in the Greater Houston area have led to the enactment of an approach to professional development focused on the creation of Critical Friends Groups (CFGs). This approach to professional development supports teachers changing their practice by analyzing student and teacher work in collaboration with colleagues and through reflection on their individual practice. Critical Friends Groups were introduced to the Houston educational landscape in 1998 with almost 80 teachers being trained as CFG coaches. Over the past thirteen years, the number of trained coaches has grown to over 700 teachers, administrators and staff receiving the designation as a Critical Friends Coach as outlined by the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) guidelines and facilitators until 2010. Breakthroughs in thought and practice at the end of Critical Friends Group coaches training have been written in both local reflection sheets and in national publications. As a past NSRF national Critical Friends Group Coach trainer, I am passionate about Critical Friends Group processes as a means to improve teaching and learning and in the investigation of the Critical Friends Group approach working to create a deeper understanding of Critical Friends Groups and their impact on the development of teacher knowledge, collaboration and reflection among its members. The process of making the knowledge their own helps teachers in numerous ways. Craig (2007) states, “The efficacy of individuals, along with the power of small groups to inspire and influence change, becomes readily apparent to others” (p. 8). This dissertation illuminates the concept of Critical Friends Groups, situates Critical Friends Groups in the context of the literature, examines Critical Friends Groups and analyzes collaboration and reflection of a single group through the lens of a knowledge community as defined by Craig (2007), and lays the groundwork for future research agendas in promoting teacher empowerment in professional development.



Critical Friends Group, Teacher knowledge, Teacher collaboration, Reflection