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by Santo Nicotera

It is with great excitement that we anticipate our upcoming SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ facilitator training here in Tucson, June 3-7. We call this annual training the PLC Summer Institute, however, this training experience for prospective facilitators of ‘professional learning communities’ and even our understanding of a PLC itself is very different from what has become common practice across the United States.

The School Reform Initiative (SRI) and the SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ model for professional learning communities has its roots in the groundbreaking work of Ted Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES). In the 1980s and into the 1990s (in response to a report from the US Department of Education called ‘A Nation at Risk’), Ted Sizer conducted a comprehensive study of the American high school, shared his findings and recommendations in three books known as the Horace trilogy (Horace’s CompromiseHorace’s School, and Horace’s Hope) and founded the Coalition of Essential Schools – a network of existing and start-up schools across America that aligned their vision/mission to the CES ‘Common Principles’.

The fictional Horace character in the trilogy was a teacher, and teachers and students were always at the heart of Sizer’s work and the work of CES. From its outset, the Coalition gathered members of CES school communities annually from around the country to a Fall Forum – what Sizer called ‘a conversation among friends’. In 1993 the Annenberg Institute for School Reform was founded at Brown University under Sizer’s leadership and the concept of ‘critical friendship’ was developed there into a model for creating and facilitating transformational learning communities.

“What I came to realize at the training in Providence in 1997 was that the ‘engine’ behind the big changes in the way I made sense of the world were ‘transformational moments’ that occurred when I was able to relinquish my taken-for-granted frame of reference (my way of making sense of the world, my definition of self at that moment) and adopt a new framework, a new paradigm – one that was better able to make sense of my ever-changing world. Moreover, I came to realize through the training that these transformational moments (these personal ‘system updates’) occur more frequently when I am participating with colleagues in collaborative reflection on my own and our own practice.” – Santo Nicotera (co-facilitator of the June 2019 PLC Summer Institute) describing the ‘transformational’ nature of this PLC model.

As an affiliate of the School Reform InitiativeCITY Center for Collaborative Learning provides facilitator training in the SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ model. Our three small demonstration schools use this model to facilitate monthly, 2-hour SRI critical friendship groups and the model informs our entire professional learning process, culminating in teacher ‘demonstrations of learning’ at the end of the school year.

We are ready and very excited to share this powerful model for creating and sustaining transformational learning communities again in June at our Collaborative Learning Center in downtown Tucson. This PLC Summer Institute (on June 3-7) will be co-facilitated by Carman RykenEve Rifkin, Santo Nicotera, Deborah Barca, and Patrick Kelly.

Clockwise from top left: Carman, Eve, Santo, Deborah, and Patrick

Carman has been an SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ trained facilitator since June 2015, co-facilitates one of three PLCs formed out of the combined teaching faculty from our three demonstration schools, and co-facilitated the PLC Summer Institute in Tucson in June 2018.

Eve has been an SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ trained facilitator since 1998, has facilitated several PLCs over those years, is currently the internal SRI ‘Critical Friendship coach for the six PLC facilitators within our three schools’ PLCs, and co-facilitated the PLC Summer Institute in Tucson in June 2018. 

Santo has been an SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ trained facilitator since 1997, has co-designed and facilitated these trainings across the country, and has facilitated/co-facilitated the last three PLC Summer Institutes in Tucson in June 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Deb has been an SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ trained facilitator since June 2017 and co-facilitates one of three PLCs formed out of the combined teaching faculty from our three demonstration schools.

Patrick has been an SRI ‘Critical Friendship’ trained facilitator since June 2016 and co-facilitates one of three PLCs formed out of the combined teaching faculty from our three demonstration schools.

If you have any questions about this training experience, please contact
Timothy Grivois-Shah at tim@CITYccl.org. Register for the PLC Summer Institute at Eventbrite.