“It’s Important to Be a Critical Friend” #Blog365 Day 92

Today I assisted New York State ASCD with facilitation during its annual symposium. The topic was mental health, and the design of the symposium was such that participants were engaged in working with teams from their schools or districts to generate a plan of action, using a logic model developed by the United States Department of Education.

The logic model, like any good model, was designed to help participants see both the big picture and the small, and was chunked in such a way that it allowed those using it the opportunity to work through key steps so that the focus was always on outcomes and results for learners..

Along with being a nicely designed model, the format used in the Teach to Lead process includes both follow-up through a positive accountability “sign-off” towards the end, and the inclusion of a critical friend (or friends) working with each team.

The role of the critical friend is to be just that. It is someone who is there to help, but not there to simply say “yes.” It is someone who is there to push, but not there to push buttons. It is someone who is there to inquire, but not serve up an inquisition.

Being in a role like this is one I relish as I would rather ask questions than supply answers, and I enjoy helping others find their own way, rather than having me directly lead them or point out the direction to go.

Here are three things I learned about myself, and being a “critical friend” through this experience:

1.      It is much easier to be critical as an “outsider.” Since I knew nothing about my group’s initial problem, and since I needed to build context from the ground up, it made asking tough questions very easy. And, since the group didn’t know me, it made it harder for them to be “put off” by questions I asked that might have seemed pushy or rude had they come from someone “within the system.”


2.      It requires restraint (at least for me) to not move into “leading” mode. This was such a worthwhile experience for me (and one I need to take on more regularly), as I was forced to not take a leadership role. It wasn’t my problem. They weren’t my solutions. I didn’t know enough about the system to make any real decisions. And that meant I had to be a listener first (something I can struggle with) and be comfortable “going along for the ride.”


3.      The “why” is key. Through a simple “Multiple Why” protocol, we were able to drill down past the surface problem to what a real underlying issue at hand was. This is important because we can easily generate problems, not all of which are solvable. The real challenges, the ones we have a chance of addressing, require much work get to. Peel that onion!