Our Report From The School Reform Initiative’s Winter Meeting

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In mid-January, some of our faculty and staff traveled across the country to attend the School Reform Initiative’s (SRI) Winter Meeting held in Cambridge, Mass. If you’re unfamiliar with it, SRI is an organization that helps people and organizations create “transformational learning communities that are fiercely committed to educational equity and excellence.”

SRI14_ERSDuring this annual winter event, participants from all over the nation gathered to explore SRI’s core practices:

  • Critical Friends Groups (CFG’s)
  • Facilitative Leadership
  • Collaborative Learning

After a brief opening ceremony, participants split into small groups and immediately began to explore shared professional dilemmas, student work, and lesson plans. Each group featured six to eight participants, which gave each educator the opportunity to receive feedback on his or her own work as well as facilitate another person’s presentation. As an aside, the purpose of a CFG is to use “protocols” — structured conversations — as a means for educators to support each other and gain diverse perspectives on their work. Each protocol is tailored to produce different results, with some participants examining and modifying work while others presented questions or created action steps.

This CFG work is at the heart of the meeting and is a primary reason why so many educators return to SRI year after year. That’s because the principles of Critical Friends Groups and the support of protocols contribute to effective team learning. There’s no other design we know of that so reliably produces such learning, and SRI’s Winter Meeting is the only event of its kind that immerses us and improves our practice with CFG’s and protocols.

For example, our own Cindy Elkins, visual arts instructional specialist, attends the Winter Meeting not only to strengthen her instructional strategies but also to gain tools to bring back to the CFG. Here’s what Cindy has to say about it, in her own words:

“I will use the information [from my small group] to strengthen my exit tickets. I also wanted more training from people outside of Eagle Rock on facilitation and presentation of my work. I think we need outside eyes to look at what we are doing. I believe this fresh approach is supported by having people with little to no preconceived attachments to the person presenting.”

On the second day, meeting participants reconvened into different groups for a “Learning Experience”. Topics varied from performance-based assessment and picking the right protocol, to exploring the research behind CFG’s. The meeting wrapped up with a closing speech from Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Ala.

Looking forward, our own Berta Guillen, societies and cultures instructional specialist, is organizing an Eagle Rock Winter Meeting to be held Feb. 25-27. Instructors and staff will bring “work” that fits into one of four categories:

  • Descriptive: You will describe either student or your own work.
  • Dilemma Management: You want to be prompted more to think more deeply or expansively about the question, but not necessarily give an answer.
  • Generative: You want others to generate ideas, understandings, questions and possibilities for consideration on your dilemma.
  • Refining: You want to gain feedback on a something specific and on a specific goal or target.

Just like at SRI’s recent Winter Meeting, our faculty and staff will gather in small groups, and each will present and facilitate. In this way, those who participated in the Cambridge event will bring their learning and skills to help others within the Eagle Rock community.

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