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Towards A Discussion of SRI Critical Friendship

SRI_rgbOn January 14-17, 2015 hundreds of educators descended upon Tucson, AZ to discuss together student and teacher work – publicly and collaboratively – using SRI Critical Friendship protocols and facilitation.  City High School and Paulo Freire Freedom School (University and Downtown) hosted that year’s ‘Winter Meeting’ of the School Reform Initiative (the premier organization promoting SRI Critical Friendship) and our three Tucson public schools were very excited about bringing this national meeting to Arizona.  NCS_8396CHS, PFFS-U and PFFS-D were all founded on the SRI Critical Friendship model in 2004, 2005 and 2014 (respectively) and it is integral to everything we are about.

We realize that everyone who might be interested in this model are not able to attend SRI Winter Meetings  If you would like to learn more about SRI Critical Friendship – we invite you to contact the national organization for information about trainings near you and, for those in the Tucson area, we invite you to contact CITY Center for Collaborative Learning for additional information about our professional development services and upcoming trainings.  We would also encourage you to read the critical paper Towards a General Theory of SRI’s Intentional Learning Communities (April 2015 – Kevin Fahey and Jacy Ippolito) to understand how different, SRI Critical Friendship is from the usual conception of ‘professional learning community’.

In June of 2014 Jamie Lomax (Director of Title I, Federal Programs & Special Projects, Tulsa Public Schools) and a group of SRI national facilitators, trained 300 TSP teachers in PLC facilitation using the SRI Critical Friendship model.  Leading up to that training, Jamie facilitated an online text conversation with all of us (trainers and participants) using the text Towards a General Theory (pdf) and the Three Levels of Text conversation protocol  within the TPS group at the Teaching Channel.  Below please find Jamie’s three-question prompt and my contribution to that online conversation, provided here to perhaps continue the discussion.

Jamie Lomax:
Good morning! Attached is a great research & theory piece about SRI Critical Friendship. I’d love for us to have a ‘Three Levels of Text’ type conversation here about your thoughts.

1. Which passage from the text resonated most for you?
2. How do you interpret the meaning of the passage or make connections between the passage and your experience?
3. What do you see as the implication of the passage for your work (or our work together for the District)?

I look forward to hearing what you think!

Santo Nicotera:
Thanks Jamie for suggesting this ‘Three Levels of Text’ activity.

1. Which passage from the text resonated most for you?  The part of the text describing ‘Constructive Developmental Theory’ in Framework #1 on pages 4-6 most resonated with me.  “The fundamental constructs of Constructive Developmental Theory are: (1) Adults continually work to make sense of their experiences (constructive); (2) The ways that adults make sense of their world can change and grow more complex over time (developmental); and (3) Three of the most common ways adults understand their worlds can be described as instrumental, socializing, and self-authoring.” page 4

2. How do you interpret the meaning of the passage or make connections between the passage and your experience?  I interpret this passage to mean that all human beings are in the business of ‘making meaning’.  As humans we need to make sense of our world.  The ways we make sense of our world change over time from the most simple in infancy to the increasingly complex as we grow older represented by the three stages of development mentioned in the article.

3. What do you see as the implication of the passage for your work (or our work together for the District)?  In our work as facilitators of adult learners we must keep in mind that the members of our professional learning communities will be in different stages of constructive development when they come to the work and will have different needs from the group.  Also, it is good to remember that each of us, no matter what stage of constructive development we find ourselves operating mostly within, are able to operate within prior stages and understand the needs and priorities of anyone operating within those stages.

It would be great to hear what others are thinking about this, but let me jump in again.   It is our job as facilitators to insure that everyone feels safe in our PLC groups.  That does not mean that members get to stay in their ‘comfort zones’.  On the contrary, it is our job to facilitate a group where everyone feels safe enough to take risks.  I can imagine that ‘instrumental knowers’ feel very uncomfortable participating in a group where ambiguity and collaborative reflection/multiple viewpoints are being presented.  Actually, as a human being who is evolving as a meaning maker/knower I cannot just imagine but can actually ‘feel’ what they are experiencing.  Instrumental knowing is a part of who I am as well.  I do not have to peel back too far the onion of who I am as an evolving knower and maker of meaning to find that part of me that wants to believe there is one right way to understand something.

I guess the point I am trying to make is this: As facilitators of diverse knowers and meaning makers, ‘empathy’ is a very important personal attribute to develop and use as we facilitate critical conversations.  No matter where we are in these meaning making, developmental stages we can empathize with those who are at prior stages of development.  As Kegan points out in his work on this, there is no skipping stages in this evolving, meaning making journey.  Each stage ‘transcends and includes’ prior stages as we create ever more complex ways of making meaning.  The ‘inclusion’ part of his model implies that as facilitators we have all the prerequisites for empathetic facilitation.

Something I learned from Vygotsky’s ideas about the role of ‘play’ in constructive development might be applicable here.  Vygotsky differed with Piaget about the movement from one stage to the next.  Piaget believed humans were locked into a particular cognitive stage until their biological/brain growth made it possible for them to move forward.  Vygotsky believed that if the meaning maker had the opportunity to play with new ways of making meaning they were more likely to move to that next stage. The key for Vygotsky was safety.  The developing meaning maker needs a safe learning environment in which to play with more complex ways of making meaning; more transcendent and inclusive. I guess we could describe SRI protocols as safe structures that we use to facilitate this kind of ‘play’.  It is what you were saying Jamie when you were reflecting on the phrase ‘trying on’ other points of view.

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