On Friday, October 21, the Champlain faculty participated in multiple activities utilizing Critical Friends Group (CFG) protocols. Each protocol lays out specific steps to encourage focused discussion on an educational topic, ensuring equal "airtime" for everyone to present ideas and analyze information. For several years the Burlington School District has utilized protocols during Professional Learning Community sessions on Wednesdays, during which grade-level and unified arts teachers meet. Last summer, the BSD offered a four-day training on the Critical Friends Group model to interested faculty from every school, which six CES teachers attended. They played a leading role in Friday's inservice.
To begin, I presented a concise history of the similarities and differences between the National School Reform Faculty Critical Friends Group model with the more widely practiced Professional Learning Community (PLC) model promoted by educational leader Rick DuFour. Here is the diagram I drew on the board:
Teachers throughout the country meet in small CFG or PLC groups and utilize protocols in the pursuit of improving student learning. The major difference between the two approaches lies in the belief on what actually improves teaching. In 2000, the Annenberg Institute of Brown University had launched the National School Reform Faculty after arriving at their major research finding: teachers improve their practice through meaningful reflection on their practice in dialogue with colleagues. Conscience-raising among educators improves student achievement and school climate. Since then, thousands of teachers across the world have been trained in CFG protocols, and at one time, Vermont had its own CFG organizational chapter.
About the same time, the company Solution Tree began promoting PLC groups in order to show teachers how to analyze the big data coming out of newly-adopted standardized assessments. Only by understanding the relationship between specific standards and individual students' performance could teachers redesign their instruction and target gaps in understanding and skill. Thus the driver of improving student learning was acting upon quantitative data. Rick DuFour and his associates have presented the PLC model worldwide and authored many books for teachers, adding data analysis to their repertoire.
Our inservice combined aspects of both CFG and PLC. Using the protocol, "Save the Last Word for Me," they acquainted three drafted procedures affecting our school and provided valuable feedback before the final version. With four per group from different grade-levels and subjects, they shared highlights and discussed possible implications on their classroom and the whole school. The silent protocol, "Chalk Talk," gave teachers a large blank paper to respond to questions about student behavior and developmentally-appropriate consequences. Then teachers seamlessly responded to each other's comments and drew connections between themes. This data provides the groundwork of an ad-hoc committee to formalize CES's behavioral consequences with a consistent, student-centered approach.
The last protocol was "Atlas - Looking at Data." Small groups combined into larger think tanks reviewing and analyzing the most recent (spring 2016) student performance outcomes. On all exams, the New England Comprehensive Assessment Program (NECAP - gr. 4) science exam and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC - gr. 3-5) in literacy and mathematics, more CES students who are not eligible for free meals demonstrated proficiency (3) or proficiency with distinction (4) than their Vermont counterparts. The results of students who are eligible for free meals were either just above, the same, or below the state average on the seven exams. Since the performance of students who are not low-income was very high, the income gap overall was greater than the state average. More information on the scores of individual students and CES overall will be forthcoming.