The Critical Friends Review (CFR) is a constructed to help a school focus on teaching and learning. For us, school change and improvement are based on understanding and application of its Design Principles, Beliefs, and Best Practices. The CFR process develops a culture of review, redesign and renewal, and directs a school to its own internal ‘models’ as resources for change.
The process includes ongoing self-review and periodic external review. The interaction of these components creates an “inside/outside” dialectic about the quality of teaching, the quality of student support and the level of learning.
The intensive external review brings a diverse national team, all of them trained by the Consortium. Using the school’s self-determined goals, the team reviews teaching, learning, student support and instruction and guidance supports. The team members are critical friends, supporting the school’s efforts in the local context, yet unafraid to ask difficult questions based on what members observe and the evidence they collect by observing classes, attending faculty meetings, looking at student work, examining documents, shadowing students, and interviewing key constituents, including high school and college staff, parents and students.
The review is intended to motivate self-generated change as the school community recognizes what needs to be changed, continued or strengthened.
CFRs can serve many purposes. In mature Consortium schools, a four-day CFR occurs every five years. The school identifies three or four areas for team consideration. The team’s Senior Reviewer, a sitting or retired principal, gives a written report of the findings for the school to use in reflection and reassessment, and perhaps adjustment.
As the Consortium developed, it was found that a shorter, more targeted CFR was needed earlier in the school’s development phase. These Mini-CFRs follow the general format of the full CFR but usually last 2-3 days. Mini CFRs have focused on literacy plans, best practices in academic achievement, student support, and high school-college collaboration.
Participation in CFRs, whether as part of the visiting team or a part of the school being reviewed, provide other benefits, as they can:
- Improve principal’s and staff’s ability to analyze data and other evaluation tools.
- Show participants successful practices at other schools.
- Improve principals’ skills as documenters and as mentors.
- Let each school to host a CFR and collect and document best practices.
- Let principals experience the role of Senior Reviewer, lead a CFR team, confer with principal and staff, and write a review.
- Give college partners the opportunity to strengthen collaboration with the high school and work toward “blended institutions”
- Give college partners an expanded platform for insights into high school-college alignment and college readiness
- Give the school a public relations tool to share with its district, its college, and its community
Since 1996, MCNC has conducted 18 CFRs for its Middle Colleges and, since 2006, it has done 15 mini-CFRs for its early colleges.
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“I think because the review team members are educators, they are able to pick up things fast.”
“The best thing was it gave staff validation for the hard work they are doing.”
“More than anything, it affirmed our need to continue with our school’s goals in curriculum and instruction.”
“Just sharing was the biggest thing. Just coming in and giving us help; we don’t feel alone.”
“A fresh set of eyes brings new perspectives.”
“The questions for consideration gave us a reason to focus on certain things. We will use it as a basis for planning for next year.”
“The CFR process is a group of our own peers. There’s a clear understanding of our mission and goals. Another MCNC early college principal was part of our visiting team and that helped. Accreditation visitors just want to know the test scores.” NCREST (2006)