This past Monday at our Professional Growth and Development Day, our Critical Friends Group presented the tuning protocol to about 25 colleagues. We ran it as a fishbowl in order to model what the protocol actually looks like in real time.
I’ve bolded items that I said or facilitated and then give my reflections at the end.
Call to order.
Each person introduces themselves.
Inoculations. These were done to address what we saw as some of the potential objections to our presentation. Each person took one.
- Thank you for being here and appreciation to Faculty Learning Group leaders for the opportunity – sometimes we feel like these days should be for personal preparation time, but this protocol is a great tool for helping guide conversations that make meetings more productive.
- Please don’t use technology during the presentation. We understand that everyone has other things on their mind or to do today, but we ask you to be present and actively engaged. This will take about 60 minutes and there will be a break afterwards to check email.
- Sometimes the structure can feel awkward or restrictive. We chose a protocol that really works to get to the hear of an issue or dilemma and provides the presenter with an opportunity to take a step back and look at it through other perspectives. And it really is about the presenter learning to work through her own dilemma, not for us to solve it for her.
- This protocol is also helpful for educators who are not classroom teachers. This can be an opportunity for you to present a dilemma or tension that you feel you need support with.
Why are we presenting this to you today?
- Share what has worked for us – after running the protocol, we feel inspired, supported, understood, and heard.
- The tuning protocol itself helps us have focused, productive, and reflective conversations.
- We’ve done this for 3 years and it has been invaluable in sharing cross-divisional perspectives. We hope that it will be as helpful for Faculty Learning Groups in building trust and developing practice.
- This opportunity also improves our understanding of the process itself and continues our growth as a collaborative group.
Introduction of the protocol.
- One person brings work that they are struggling with or want to improve. They start with a focusing question.
- The objective of tuning is to design and refine systems to support higher quality student performance.
- The protocol also builds group trust, collaborative skills, and knowledge of what other group members do and teach.
Introduction of the fishbowl.
- Goal is for you to see the process – the presenter has brought a real dilemma that she is sharing with us for the first time.
- Julie is going to be the meta-facilitator, not directly in the protocol.
- We will stop once in the middle for questions and then have time again at the end.
- We ran it pretty much as usual, though made extra efforts to clarify roles, what each section was for, the definitions of clarifying and probing questions. We planted a couple “mistakes” – addressing the presenter during warm/cool feedback, proposing solutions during probing questions, presenter rebutting a couple points of feedback. We wanted to show what it looks like for the facilitator to step in.
- During the silent examination of the artifact, I facilitated questions from the audience.
- We shortened some of the times, but held some the same in order to have periods of silence. These were awkward and I could tell the audience was a little unnerved by watching them sit in silence, but we felt it was important to model that piece.
- Final questions.
- Further resources: Google folder (link on folder), ask one of us to help your group prepare or to come facilitate, National School Reform Faculty.
My personal thoughts on the presentation
I’ve been wanting to share this with the larger faculty for a long time. It is one of the best parts of my professional development that I have participated in over the last 3 years, and I see the potential for it to build community, professionalism, and practice, ultimately resulting in a better educational experience for students.
Several people were surprised that these types of groups existed at the school, and wondered why they didn’t know or hadn’t been told about them.(There is another group that runs regularly in the lower school.)
I saw all levels of engagement in the audience, but I think overall people appreciated learning about this, though I don’t have a sense of how many groups will use the protocol or adopt it as a regular thing. I did get positive feedback from a few people afterwards.
One of the best comment of the day from one of my fellow CFGers in response to a question about whether it works only because we know each other: “For our group, because we know each other so well and could probably talk for 7 hours together, the protocol helps us have structured conversations with a focus and direction. For groups that don’t know each other very well who are coming together around a topic, it provides a structure for conversations that brings everyone together.”
We had two different people ask why we are an all female group. To be honest, it didn’t start out that way, but we ended up keeping it. When I returned from the Klingenstein Summer Institute in 2011, I asked a female colleague, who also happened to be a good friend, if she would be a critical friend. We each asked another colleague/friend, and the group sort of formed from there. I met with two division heads that summer to express my interest in forming a CFG and they were both supportive of subs and funds, so we started scheduling Friday afternoon meetings. As the group continued, we were primarily focused on keeping it cross-divisional. I think came down to personal relationships, professional drive, and willingness to make the commitment. One of my fellow CFGers added what I thought was a key point, which is that it is not so much about the fact that we are all female but the different personalities and identities that we bring.
I will admit that I enjoy that it is all women and feel like it affords a different space to discuss issues related to being a woman/teacher/mom, whether these issues are personal or professional. I agree that our conversations look different than they would if both genders were equally represented, but I do not think that that means that they are not valid or reasonable. Affinity groups are important and meaningful for a reason.
Relatedly, someone asked whether we use the protocol to bring up personal issues, not just professional. I was surprised by it at first, and, as I thought about it, no, we have only brought professional dilemmas related to teaching. We’ve never used it for interpersonal conflicts or community issues. I still wonder whether that question would have been asked of an all male group or would the assumption be that men would only use it professionally but women are more likely to be concerned about personal issues (i.e. gossipy)?
Unsurprisingly, we also had several questions about the rigidity of the structure. I tried to reiterate trusting and following the structure. Several teachers wondered why there wasn’t explicit time for giving suggestions. What I said to them, and what I believe, is that this is because the protocol is not about solving the dilemma for the presenter; it’s about helping her figure out her solution. We have plenty of conversations with colleagues that devolve into a series of suggestions you’ve already tried, so having a group help you think it through is what the tuning protocol allows. That said, using the tuning protocol doesn’t mean you can’t ever offer someone a suggestion; you just wouldn’t do it during this protocol. We were not trying to give the impression that this is the only way that we talk to each other!
One of my colleagues afterwards shared this article called “Tyranny of Structurelessness.” I am intrigued by the idea that “unstructured” meetings are actually just structured in a way that leads to power imbalances, elitism, and a lack of accountability to the group. The protocol makes the structure clear so that all members are able to participate. By designating roles that rotate, it is more democratic than a group that just “gets together.” It makes it clearer for me why unstructured meetings have felt more uncomfortable for me – I like agendas, goals, objectives. (This probably also comes with being a direct communicator and pragmatic person.)
I hope this reflection helps someone else looking to bring Critical Friends Group protocols to their school. I think the fishbowl presentation was an effective way to give people the idea of what we do and has helped me better articulate and understand the rationale for the protocol. I am so thankful for this group of professional, creative, articulate, and thoughtful friends I get to work with.