I have had multiple conversations lately about the power of critique in forcing deeper thinking and the lack of critique occurring in many schools. A couple of years ago I wrote about how we might develop a culture of critique within a school. This was focused on actions within the school and looked more at the individual level. I have had great experience of how a Critical Friends set up can help. At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we were all paired up with a critical friend. This worked so well for me that when I left, Claire Amos and I kept up our critical friend relationship going. My recent thoughts have been more around how an external critical friend could help provoke at a school level.
Critique is not something that we do or take particularly well in schools. Often within school we can be threatened by someone asking us why about our actions. Our typical response is to get defensive rather than being open to digging deeper. I have a hunch that external critical friends who are there with that clear purpose may not be so threatening. They aren’t challenging you personally but trying to prompt reflection on why the school has made certain decisions.
I was lucky enough to experience this when Mark Osborne and Julia Atkin worked with us at times throughout our development at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. More recently I have seen the power of this as our Lynfield Kāhui Ako have had Anne Hynds appointed as our expert partner and she is really challenging us on the data we are basing our actions on and getting us to dig deeper in developing a theory of improvement for the next couple of years.
The relationship that these external people build by visiting and working with teams multiple times, means that their fresh eyes are able to challenge and provoke in a way that those with a vested interest may not be allowed to do. I see this as a major opportunity gap across New Zealand schools and a real way to challenge the change fatigue that is setting in.
Having someone able to bring leadership eyes back to how different initiatives are helping reach the school vision can surely only be a good thing. It could help schools prioritise the initiatives they are thinking about or looking to implement. Rather than pet projects getting the go ahead or good ideas being ignored because of a legacy structure, you could be challenged into thinking deeply about which avenue will return the most value to learning in the school.
Schools are incredibly busy places. But I really feel that external critical friends of the school could have a real impact in ensuring that time, energy and other resources are being put into the activities that will have the most benefit for the school.