Critical Friends

When artists and artist co-ordinators begin to work within school communities, they are in an “outsider” role. Understanding this role through the lens of the Critical Friend Facilitation Framework can help to navigate relational obstacles and milestones including: making initial contact, building relationships, negotiating the partnerships, finding points of synergy, establishing teams and nurturing relationships.

The Critical Friend Facilitation Framework, along with a description of the role and a range of activities to use with school communities, is available in Butler, H., Krelle, A., Seal, I., Trafford, L., Drew, S., Hargreaves, J., Walter, R. & Bond. L. (In press) The Critical Friend: Facilitating positive change in school communities. Camberwell: ACER Press (available May 2011).

What is a Critical Friend?

The role of Critical Friend as a facilitator of change has become an important component of a range of school improvement, health promotion and professional learning initiatives in school communities. The role of the Critical Friend is a dynamic one, requiring a high level of skill, flexibility, and professional judgment. Rather than following a checklist of scripted “technical assistance”, it is about developing a repertoire of strategies and skills, and learning when and how to use them, taking account of the particular context.

The Facilitation Framework (developed from reviewing almost a decade of work across three projects), is how the Critical Friend does the work. Far from being a neatly sequenced approach, the facilitation processes are often much messier, overlapping simultaneously and being revisited at different times during different phases of the change cycle. The Facilitation Framework seeks to illustrate these overlapping activities, organised both by time (Getting In, Getting On With It, Getting Out) and by the nature of the activity (Clarifying Concepts, Nurturing Relationships and Facilitating Processes).

Critical Friends Facilitation Framework

Effective Critical Friends draw on a repertoire of actions, depending on the context, participants and phase in the change process at any particular point in time. This framework helps identify what type of action might be required by the Critical Friend and those with whom they are working at a particular point in a project. Importantly, particular actions may be appropriate at multiple points in the process, as indicated by the multidirectional arrows.

Clarifying CONCEPTS


Facilitating PROCESSES


(introducing, establishing)

(activating, planning, implementing)

(embedding, sustaining)

Arrow Up Down

Identifying goals & clarifying expectations

Examining the conceptual framework

Clarifying the aims & objectives of the project

Acknowledging the complexity of school settings

Developing shared beliefs & understandings

Promoting flexibility & adaptability

Understanding competing demands & modelling collaboration

Reiterating goals & expectations

Exploring evidence-based practice

Using local data for insight into local issues

Challenging assumptions & orthodoxies

Advocating active reflective practice

Promoting change as a dynamic process

Planning for transition & building sustainability

Identifying unexpected learnings

Celebrating achievements & milestones

Building relationships with & amongst leadership & project teams

Building relationships with & amongst school community

Identifying & meeting other potential stakeholders

Building trust & establishing credibility across the school community

Demonstrating respect for school culture & ethos

Cultivating & nurturing a supportive environment

Building & supporting project teams

Paying attention to staff wellbeing & morale

Consulting with the broader community

Encouraging, enabling & supporting project team

Acknowledging the interests &  recognising the strengths of different staff

Facilitating deep conversations

Planning for & negotiating departure

Openly honouring & appreciating relationships amongst the team

Recognising contribution of individuals & collective effort

Negotiating roles & boundaries of responsibility

Observing school culture & identifying strengths and opportunities

Building capacity within school community

Clarifying & negotiating a local agreement or memorandum of understanding

Reviewing school policies, structures, practices & processes

Gathering, interpreting & reflecting on local data

Sharing knowledge & expertise

Fostering critical inquiry

Developing a strategic plan with targets & timelines

Building expertise through professional learning

Identifying barriers & enablers to progress

Resourcing through information, ideas & insights

Monitoring the progress of strategies & any other changes

Developing ways for maintaining momentum

Reviewing processes & evaluating strategies

Embedding changes into policies, structures, practices & processes

© Copyright Butler, H., Krelle, A., Seal, I., Trafford, L., Drew, S., Hargreaves, J., Walter, R. & Bond. L. (2009) Available in Butler, H., Krelle, A., Seal, I., Trafford, L., Drew, S., Hargreaves, J., Walter, R. & Bond. L. (In Press) The Critical Friend: Facilitating positive change in school communities. Camberwell: ACER Press (available May 2011).