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Critical Friends in Action. Dr. Allison K. Harley, Principal Mr. James B. DeWitt, Assistant Principal Ms. Gladys M. Jones, Teacher Leader Ms. Cecilia Hunter, Professional Partner Robert Renick Educational Center Superintendent’s Urban Principal Initiative August, 2007-June 2008. Abstract .

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Critical Friends in Action


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    1. Critical Friends in Action Dr. Allison K. Harley, Principal Mr. James B. DeWitt, Assistant Principal Ms. Gladys M. Jones, Teacher Leader Ms. Cecilia Hunter, Professional Partner Robert Renick Educational Center Superintendent’s Urban Principal Initiative August, 2007-June 2008

    2. Abstract Robert Renick Educational Center is a special education center providing academics and therapy for students who are labeled Emotionally Behaviorally Disturbed (EBD) in grades K through 12. An area that was identified as needing improvement was in instructional strategies. Professional development in instructional strategies was delivered through peer coaching and Critical Friend Groups comprised of teachers, paraprofessionals and student service personnel.

    3. Introduction Education is the only profession in which the professional is required to implement, analyze, research and test the results on a continuous basis. Many teachers spend large portions of their summers attending workshops and conferences to hone their skills (Bambino, 2002). Minimal credit is given to valuing teacher knowledge, what teachers have to offer, what teachers can teach other and dedication not only to the profession but to their students as well.

    4. Introduction (continued) Critical friends is a strategy that can be used to alleviate teacher isolation, building collegiality through positive feedback and assistance, boosting professionalism and skills, helping teachers to feel better about the service they provide, assists in the transference of skills acquired from meaningful staff development to classroom use and can raise student achievement level through improved teaching (NWREL, 2005). Peer coaching is a way to encourage teachers to observe each other in a non-judgmental, non-threatening setting. Peer coaching is a process through which trust among colleagues is nurtured and collaboration and communication key (Bambino, 2002).

    5. Background/Context • Robert Renick Educational Center is a self contained center which serves students who are Emotional Behavioral Disturbed from grades Kindergarten through twelfth grade. The ethnical/racial make-up of the student population is 60 percent African American, 32 percent Hispanic American and 18 percent Anglo American. • The school employs a total of 112 full time faculty members. Eighty-five faculty members participated in the project. Sixty percent have Masters degrees and 8 percent have Doctoral degrees.

    6. Research Questions • How will collegial coaching between special education educators (teachers, paraprofessionals, and student services) impact their attitudes towards teamwork? • What affect will collegial coaching have on teacher efficacy?

    7. Literature Review • Martimore and Sammons (1987) found that teaching had 6 to 10 times as much impact on achievement as all other factors combined. • Robert Marzano (2003) points to numerous studies demonstrating that two teachers working with the same socioeconomic population can achieve starkly different results on the same test. • William Sanders, known for his “value added” studies, found that just three years of effective teaching accounts on average for an improvement of 35 to 50 percentile points.

    8. Literature Review (Continued) • Erick Hanushek has found that five years of instruction from an above-average teacher could eliminate the achievement gap on some state assessments (Haycock, 2005). • One recent study shows that the best teachers in a school have six times as much impact as the bottom third of teachers (Haycock & Huang, 2001). • Allen Odden and his colleague conclude that “improved classroom instruction is the prime factor to produce student achievement gains” (Odden & Wallace, 2003, p. 64).

    9. Methodology/Intervention • Faculty members comprised of teachers, paraprofessionals and student service personnel were divided into groups of eight. • Groups met monthly for professional development delivered by the principal and teacher leader. • Professional development focused on Critical Friends Groups as a means for each group of individuals to learn from each other.

    10. Methodology (continued) • Meetings were monthly lasting from 45 minutes to 2 hours, including one whole day of activity. • Each month a different best practice strategy was featured. • Team building activities were included in every meeting. • Data was collected by means of surveys and observation.

    11. Methodology (continued) • The culminating activity was a Teacher Share Fair. • Team members observed one another teaching a lesson using a best practice that had been previously covered in the professional development. • Groups were given a protocol to use for the observation. • Groups debriefed afterwards with one another.

    12. Data Collection • Data collection was obtained through a teacher attitude survey as it references teaching a subject area and comfort level with their own performance as a teacher. • The teachers met within their Critical Friends Group to discuss the process and anecdotal information was obtained from each group member using a four question quadrant titled “What Are You Thinking?” • The researchers also used their own on-going observations as data. • A final ten question survey of the participants attitudes towards the Critical Friends Groups process was collected.

    13. Data Analysis • What Are You Thinking Responses: • “It is important for us to work together and agree to disagree.” • “I would definitely like to visit more of colleagues rooms to further enhance my skills and teaching strategies with regard to behavioral and instructional components.” • “I appreciate these workshops because they bring the staff to a new level of cooperation in an exciting way.” • “I felt a little out of place in the beginning being in groups but that all changed as the time continued.” • “I learned the significance of empowering the students.”

    14. Data Analysis

    15. Data Analysis

    16. Data Analysis

    17. Findings/Results • Survey results indicated teachers were more willing to share with each other but did not know how. • Student service personnel were less willing to share due to minimal knowledge in content area. • Paraprofessionals wanted to participate and share but felt that opportunities to share were not available.

    18. Findings/Results (Continued) • We learned a great deal about our staff and educators in general. The results of the “What Are You Thinking Survey?” indicated that initially the participants felt intimidated to work in groups but slowly embraced the process over time. • The final Critical Friends survey indicated that by the end most participants really found working with others and participating in reflective practices was beneficial and most likely will have a lasting affect on their teaching practices.

    19. Implications/ Recommendations • Collaborative teams will be maintained for professional development activities for the following school year. • Needs assessment of professional development will be administered. • Each team will be assigned a professional development topic to present utilizing high yield instructional strategies.

    20. References • Bambino, D. (2002). Critical Friends. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. • National Regional Educational Laboratory. (2005). Teachers Working Together. Retrieved from http://www.nwrel.org/nwedu/11-01/cfg/. • National School Reform Faculty. (2006). Critical Friends Groups – Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.nsrfharmony.org/faq.html. • Schmoker, M. (2006). Results Now. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. • Zemelman, S., Daniels, H. & Hyde, A. (2005) Best Practice Today’s Standards for teaching & Learning in America’s Schools. Heinemann Publishing.