Finding a friend is easy but a critical friend can be a lifelong quest! A critical friend is someone who asks you critical questions about your work. Yes, a critical friend is a colleague who you can trust to discuss the success or outcome of your work without inhibitions. The critical friend will have your professional objective as their priority and will guide you accordingly. A critical friend is your own ‘guide on the side’. The term critical friend was first coined in the context of education during the era of critical pedagogy.
A critical friend can also be a mentor who guides you through your professional journey. Therefore finding a critical friend is absolutely necessary. They will help you to critically analyze your work and give you feedback to improve. Does this sound familiar? I am sure it does, it is the role a teacher plays in a student’s learning journey. Hence it is fair to say that teachers are a student’s critical friends.
The easiest way to encourage teachers, school leaders and administrators to find a critical friend is to reform the appraisal system to a culture of coaching and mentoring. This will ensure every professional has a mentor, coach or critical friend. This critical friend does not have to be an expert in the field, they only need to be someone who is honest and can be trusted. They will help you in your self-evaluation, discuss your challenges, and strengths and highlight areas for growth and development. Interestingly this can’t be reciprocated, you cannot be a critical friend of your critical friend!
Let us try to imagine how this would work in a professional setting. As an educator, we always set timely objectives or smart goals for ourselves. At the beginning of the year, we try to plan ahead and create a few success parameters. As time goes by we tend to forget our objectives and sometimes get complacent about our success pathways. This is why we need someone who can keep us focused and committed to our objectives. This is when the critical friend intervenes and helps to stay on track. There are various ways they can help; by reminding us about our objectives; critiquing our approaches; analysing our achievements; encouraging our successes; and simply reminding us about upcoming deadlines. This is a beautiful relationship of trust and commitment where both parties understand their roles and fulfil their responsibilities with due diligence. Hence all of us need a critical friend.
In the quest of finding a critical friend, it is most important to remember what not to do. Do not choose someone who only finds faults; do not choose critical friends who directly report to you, they might not be comfortable criticising their supervisor; do not expect your critical friend to provide solutions to your problems, their role is to motivate you to find solutions to the problems. Choose someone who listens, does not jump to conclusions, and shows empathy and kindness.
It may sound very difficult to get a critical friend, so think of it this way, if you can be a critical friend to a colleague, you can also find one for yourself.
How to identify a critical friend? Think of a social media analogy, when you post a selfie the whole world reacts to it but when you post an achievement none or only a few react. This means there are only a few people who think critically and truly care about what you have to say. So find those few who react to meaningful conversations instead of those who applaud meaningless achievements.
In real life too a true friend is hard to find, a friend whom you can call up anytime for advice or just for no reason. A 2.00 am friend, a non-judgemental friend, an honest and truthful friend. A friend who is critical as well as complimentary. If you have a friend who satisfies all the above requirements you are truly blessed. Similarly, in professional life, you can be truly blessed if you find a critical friend.