My big project for the year was to start a Critical Friends Group for small school Social Studies teachers in NYC. The Critical Friends Group has had three formal meetings at this point, and has taken on a powerful life of its own. Of the 12 members initially recruited, seven have been at all three sessions; where a very strong supportive, yet critical, community is developing. Our last two meetings have included outstanding work from members of the group. At the first, my co-organizer and myself presented, and last Monday, two of the other members of the group shared. Two presenters brought their curriculum maps: one looking for general feedback, the other looking for ideas on how to serve the top third and bottom third of his students better (in a classroom of two teachers with 50 students, adding the opportunity for creative solutions). Another ran a PD session that he is considering doing for wider audiences, and I brought in student work to get suggestions on helping my students move to deeper levels of understanding.
It’s been inspiring to see the work that other great teachers are doing, and it’s pushed me to think deeper about a lot of things, particularly the essential questions I use for historical inquiry. At the same time, our group has not been shy about offering critical feedback, and it seems that all four presenters have left with strong suggestions for improving their work. It’s the latter that has excited me the most, and seemingly other members as well.
The past meeting added a new level to the group that I had not thought of, but bodes well for its future. Both presenters brought collaborators with them. For the group to be sustainable, I think it will be imperative to organically bring in fresh blood in this manner. One of the guests is teaching at the iSchool, which is doing some really innovative things (here is the class she talked about), and I hope she will join the group permanently to add a very different perspective into the group.
The one area where the group is not developing as I hoped in its writing component. I had a vague idea of reflective writing being a part of it that never really crystalized. Given the value of teacher’s time, I am wondering if it might be worth scrapping that component, or if its worth further research to make it more valuable. It is also worth noting that we write for the first 30 minutes of our meetings, which a significant number of participants miss because of their travel time to our meetings.