Maintaining, Reframing, and Disrupting Traditional Expectations and Outcomes for Professional Development with Critical Friends Groups

Mar. 31, 2010

Source: The Teacher Educator, Volume 46, Issue 1, 2010, p. 32–52.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This research report shares interim findings from an ongoing longitudinal study conducted to evaluate the impact of a district-wide initiative in its 2nd year of the implementation of building-level CFGs, a specific version of professional learning communities (PLCs).

This study addresses to the following research questions:
1. What are the challenges involved in implementing CFGs as a district-wide initiative to improve student achievement and learning?
2. What is the espoused theory of action for improving student achievement and learning?
3. How does this initiative impact teachers’ instructional practice?

Theories of Action

For this research the authors use a theoretical framework that draws upon Argyris and Schön’s (1974) conceptualization of ‘‘theories of action.’’ According to Argyris and Schön, individuals develop mental models regarding how to act in various social settings, and they posit that it is these tacit models that determine how people behave rather than the theories of action they explicitly espouse.

Data sources for this study include artifacts (e.g., handouts from meetings, e-mail correspondence, training materials, the district school improvement agenda); 3 years of field notes and documents generated through participant-observation in meetings with the assistant superintendent, district level meetings for principals, and CFG training programs; informal dialogue about the history and current concerns of the district; and transcripts of 14 formal interviews conducted with building principals and teacher coaches.


The authors argue that CFGs provide a generic delivery system for professional development intended to support existing or emerging programs of reform. However, CFG activity in New Haven appears only loosely connected to the work of school improvement and participants are challenged to recognize that integration is intended. CFGs were originally designed as a professional development delivery system at sites voluntarily participating in Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) projects.

CFG implementation in New Haven applied a form of the third CSR design strategy, ‘‘cultural control,’’ as the means to bring about instructional improvement. This approach promotes a normative commitment among principals, coaches, and teachers to an abstract vision of increased student achievement. No particular area of the curriculum is targeted for change and desired changes in teaching practices are unspecified, so each CFG group, and each teacher within the group, is required to select a content area and then determine the change in instruction that is most appropriate and likely to increase student formance. Implementation fidelity is concerned with the CFG process rather than any particular curricular or instructional innovation.

Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Updated: Sep. 14, 2011