The School Reform Initiative supports educators as they learn from and with each other to build schools that are committed to educational equity and excellence. Our core approaches — including intentional learning communities, facilitative leadership, and a variety of collaborative learning frameworks — are based on important research that connects schoolwide professional communities to improvements in pedagogy to gains in student learning. For example, Kruse and Louis (1993) studied six urban schools and found that how adults worked and learned together was an important driver of improvements in teacher practice and student learning. Similarly, researchers overseeing the School Restructuring Study of 24 elementary, middle, and high schools nationwide found that schoolwide professional community correlated both with authentic pedagogy and student performance (Newmann & Wehlage, 1995). Furthermore, Newmann (1994) demonstrated how teacher collaboration, reflection, and a willingness to deprivatize practice were able to improve teacher practice and student learning, while, Bryk and Schneider (2002) found an important connection between the levels of trust in schools and teacher capacity to enact pedagogical reforms and increase student learning. A six-year longitudinal study of the Chicago Public Schools established that school-based professional community and teachers’ capacity for professional learning were highly associated with improvements in classroom instruction and student learning (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010).

Overall, such research suggests that improvements in teaching practice that leverage increased student learning are connected to teacher communities that are collaborative, reflective, and focused on teacher practice and student learning (Bryk, Harding, & Greenberg, 2012; Carroll, Fulton, & Doerr, 2010; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2006; Mindich & Lieberman, 2012; Stoll & Louis, 2007).

SRI promotes the establishment and improvement of collaborative, reflective adult learning in many forms and contexts, including existing learning groups such as grade level or content area teams, professional learning communities, action research groups or school leadership teams, as well as in highly articulated approaches such as transformational learning communities. In all these contexts, structured conversations or protocols and skilled facilitation play essential roles in building and sustaining adult learning within reflective, collaborative, learning-focused school communities (Breidenstein, Fahey, Glickman, & Hensley, 2012). A robust literature supports the power of protocols to guide discussion in schools and the importance of skilled facilitation in maximizing the learning from those discussions (Allen & Blythe, 2004; Blythe, Allen, & Powell, 2007; Colton & Langer, 2005; Easton, 2009; Hatch & Seidel, 1997; J.  Hudson, 2003; Ippolito, 2013; McDonald, Mohr, Dichter, & McDonald, 2007).

Specifically, the power of the conception of intentional learning communities has been documented in a number of studies, the first of which were conducted by Naves, Dunne, Honts and Lewis (Faith Dunne & Honts, 1998; F. Dunne, Nave, & Lewis, 2000). Building on these foundational studies, various scholars have the work of intentional learning communities at the classroom, school, and district levels (Baskerville & Goldblatt, 2009; Cox, 2010; Curry, 2008; Gibbs & Angelides, 2008; J. Hudson, 2005; Law, 2005; Nave, 2000; Silva, 2005; Vo & Nguyen, 2010). Others have shown how these approaches have been used in teacher preparation programs (Franzak, 2002; Norman, Golian, & Hooker, 2005; Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2011), in professional development settings (Ippolito, 2013; Ippolito & Pomerantz, 2013), with university faculty (Ballock, 2009; Bernacchio, Ross, Washburn, Whitney, & Wood, 2007; Bisplinghoff, 2005), and with school leaders (Fahey, 2011, 2012).

While there is still much work to be done documenting and designing powerful adult collaborative learning communities focused on improving teaching and learning, SRI is forming a compendium of research and resources, guided by a general theory, to support educators as they study and enact these collaborative structures.


Allen, D., & Blythe, T. (2004). The facilitator’s book of questions: Tools for looking together at student and teacher work. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ballock, E. (2009). What makes some learning communities so effective? And how can I support my own? . In C. J. Craig & F. Deretchin (Eds.), ATE yearbook:Teacher learning in small group settings (Vol. XVII, pp. 40-53). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Bambino, D. (2002). Critical Friends. Educational Leadership, 59(6), 3.

Baskerville, D., & Goldblatt, H. (2009). Learning to Be a Critical Friend: From Professional Indifference through Challenge to Unguarded Conversations. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39(2), 205-221.

Bernacchio, C., Ross, F., Washburn, K. R., Whitney, J., & Wood, D. R. (2007). Faculty Collaboration to Improve Equity, Access, and Inclusion in Higher Education. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40(1), 56-66.

Bisplinghoff, B. (2005). Taking Time to Tend to the “Good”. Educational Horizons, 84(1), 35-38.

Blythe, T., Allen, D., & Powell, B. S. (2007). Looking Together at Student Work (2 ed.). New Yotk: Teachers College Press.

Breidenstein, A., Fahey, K., Glickman, C., & Hensley, F. (2012). Leading for Powerful Learning: A Guide for Instructional Leaders. New York: Teachers College Press.

Bryk, A. S., Harding, H., & Greenberg, S. (2012). Contextual Influences on Inquiries into Effective Teaching and Their Implications for Improving Student Learning. Harvard Educational Review, 82(1), 83-106.

Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S., & Easton, J. Q. (2010). Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Carroll, T. G., Fulton, K., & Doerr, H. (2010). Team Up for 21st Century Teaching and Learning: What Research and Practice Reveal about Professional Learning. Washington DC: National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

Colton, A. B., & Langer, G. M. (2005). Looking at Student Work. Educational Leadership, 62(5), 22.

Cox, E. (2010). Critical Friends Groups: Learning Experiences for Teachers. School Library Monthly, 27(1), 32-34.

Curry, M. W. (2008). Critical Friends Groups: The Possibilities and Limitations Embedded in Teacher Professional Communities Aimed at Instructional Improvement and School Reform. Teachers College Record, 110(4), 733-774.

Dunne, F., Nave, B., & Lewis, A. (2000). Critical friends: Teachers helping to improve student learning. Phi Delta Kappa International Research Bulletin (CEDR), 28, 9-12.

Easton, L. B. (2009). Protocols for Professional Learning. Alexandria VA: ASCD.

Fahey, K. (2011). Still Learning about Leading: A Leadership Critical Friends Group. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 6(1), 1-35.

Fahey, K. (2012). Where Principals Dare to Dream: Critical Friends Group Narrows the Gap between Vision and Reality. Journal of Staff Development, 33(3), 28-30.

Franzak, J. K. (2002). Developing a Teacher Identity: The Impact of Critical Friends Practice on the Student Teacher. English Education, 34(4), 258-280.

Gibbs, P., & Angelides, P. (2008). Understanding Friendship between Critical Friends. Improving Schools, 11(3), 213-225.

Hatch, T., & Seidel, S. (1997). Putting Student Work on the Table. National Forum, 77(1), 18-21.

Hudson, J. (2005). Collaboration, Inquiry, and Reflection: A Principal Creates a CFG-Inspired Learning Environment. Educational Horizons, 84(1), 58-59.

Ippolito, J. (2013). Professional learning as the key to linking content and literacy instruction. In J. Ippolito, J. F. Lawrence & C. Zaller (Eds.), Adolescent literacy in the era of the common core: From research into practice (pp. 235-249). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Ippolito, J., & Pomerantz, F. (2013). Protocols as essential tools for literacy professional learning communities in the common core era. Massachusetts Reading Association Primer, 42(2).

Kruse, S. D., & Louis, K. S. (1993). An Emerging Framework for Analyzing School-Based Professional Community.

Law, B. (2005). Creating Moral Schools: The Enabling Potential of Critical Friends Groups. Educational Horizons, 84(1), 53-57.

McDonald, J. P., Mohr, N., Dichter, A., & McDonald, E. C. (2013). The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice (3 ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

McLaughlin, M., & Talbert, J. (2006). Building school-based teacher learning communities: Strategies to improve student achievement. New York: Teachers College Press.

Mindich, D., & Lieberman, A. (2012). Building a Learning Community: A Tale of Two Schools: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

Nave, B. (2000). Among critical friends: A study of critical friends groups in three Maine schools. (Ed.D), Harvard University, Cambridge MA.

Newmann, F. (1994). School-wide Professional Community. Issues in Restructuring Schools(6).

Newmann, F., & Whelage, G. (1995). Successful School Restructuring. Madison: Wisconsin Center for Education Research, Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools.

Norman, P. J., Golian, K., & Hooker, H. (2005). Professional Development Schools and Critical Friends Groups: Supporting Student, Novice and Teacher Learning. New Educator, 1(4), 273-286.

Silva, P. (2005). A Day in the Life of Schoolwide CFGs. Educational Horizons, 84(1), 29-34.

Stoll, L., & Louis, K. S. (2007). Professional Learning Communities: Divergence, Depth and Dilemmas. Professional Learning: Open University Press.

Vo, L. T., & Nguyen, H. T. M. (2010). Critical Friends Group for EFL Teacher Professional Development. ELT Journal, 64(2), 205-213.

Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2011). Ambitious Pedagogy by Novice Teachers: Who Benefits from Tool-Supported Collaborative Inquiry into Practice and Why? Teachers College Record, 113(7), 1311-1360.


* Included in these materials are various articles that cite historical literature concerning critical friends groups, critical friendship, and or critical friends. CRITICAL FRIENDS GROUP ® is a registered trademark of Harmony School Corporation.