New (Critical) Friendships for a New Year of PD

Welcome Guest Bloggers Wayne Malcolm and Dawn Lucovich! For the next few months, I will be inviting voices from a variety of contexts to share their work and thinking on professional development (PD). As we know, the best PD comes from our colleagues!

There is an adage that says, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Through our work together on the board of directors for The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT), and subsequently being invited to coauthor a book chapter, we have gone from being mere professional acquaintances to intentionally building a productive and professionally rewarding critical friendship over the course of two years. Based on our experience, research on critical friendships, and our own forthcoming phenomenological study, we would like to propose a four-step process to find and build your own critical friendships in the new year.

Critical Friendships

We all have a constellation of relationships in our lives: acquaintances, coworkers, lunch buddies, hobby teammates, BFFs. A critical friend is one more category of relationship. It is different from a professional sponsor, mentor, mentee, or “frolleague.” Costa and Kallick describe a critical friend as “a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data through another lens, and offers a critique of a person’s work as a friend” (pp. 49–50). Ultimately, critical friends will hold each other mutually accountable in terms of professional development. We can exchange our ideas, learnings, challenges, and revelations, and through this relationship, can help each other to a higher level of understanding, knowledge, and production in classroom teaching, research, and/or leadership.

4-Step Process

In our forthcoming chapter on the topic of critical friendships, we identified and proposed a four-step process for finding and building stronger mutually supportive relationships.

  1. Go where the people are
  2. Get to know people
  3. Goal alignment
  4. Gain trust through tasks

1. Go Where the People Are

First, identify places to find potential critical friends. Start with your colleagues or close professional acquaintances and explore where they are in their PD journey. Are they available and interested in intentionally focusing on PD right now? If not, think about associations and other groups that engage in the kind of PD you seek. Start locally and expand from there. In our case, the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) has more than 30 chapters all across Japan and more than 30 special interest groups (SIGs), so there is an event happening every week. If there isn’t an event nearby, attend an online event. The main point is to find potential critical friends, wherever they may be, and go there.

2. Get to Know People

After you go to where the people are, get to know them. You may want to have a plan for this:

  • “My focus for being here is to identify people interested in speaking assessment.”
  • “I want to get at least five people’s contact information to start building a network.”
  • “I will approach two new people and introduce myself.”

After the event, think back to the interactions that felt natural, about who you vibed with (or could potentially vibe with in the future), and who you would like to meet again. Being comfortable with your potential critical friend helps build a foundation and trust. Understand that not everyone is keen to just jump in and start sharing socials or to email or message immediately. Set yourself a deadline for contacting or replying to people.

3. Goal Alignment

Once you have found a potential critical friend (and have linked them to this blog post), you should set goals together. What do you want to get out of the critical friendship (short-term, long-term), on what schedule (weekly, monthly) and over what timeline (six months, a year, two years)? Building a critical friendship takes time, and part of that is making sure that you are both aligned towards an agreed-upon cause and moving forward with a shared understanding. In the end, a critical friendship should help you both to a higher level of understanding and performance in your profession.

4. Gain Trust Through Tasks

Schedule a regular time to check in and talk with each other. Treat it as an important standing appointment (because it is). Focused time on task is an essential component of learning. Working together on a shared task builds trust. The tasks can be as simple as:

  • “Let’s build a restaurant menu together to practice ways to teach describing food.”
  • “Let’s mock interview each other for prospective jobs in our teaching areas.”
  • “Let’s find and read three articles about a new research topic, then summarize them for each other.”

Each task will require communication, but communication that will provide knowledge about each other. This knowledge can be further used to not only improve your teaching or research, but also to bring you closer to your colleague, so that you can better support each other in your PD journeys.


Using the above four steps, we are confident you can find and build critical friendships and leverage them into mutually beneficial PD experiences.

Do you have a critical friend or someone who could potentially become a critical friend? Share your critical friendship experience or goals for 2023 in the comments!

About the Authors

Dr. Wayne Malcolm is an assistant professor of the English language at Fukui University of Technology in Fukui City, Japan. His research interests include global competence, speaking assessment, and classroom teaching techniques. He is an active member of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT), serving on the board of directors as the director of program since 2019. Coordinating an international conference is no easy task, and in doing so Wayne is constantly engaging and leading people from various backgrounds and professions. He has given presentations to communities from Nairobi, Kenya, Pakistan, Cambodia, Indonesia, South Korea, the United States, and Japan. Topics range from global competence, internationalization, and classroom-based teaching practices to leadership and research methodologies. Wayne is also an avid, but casual runner.

Dawn Lucovich is immediate past president of The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT), a member of the TESOL International Association Nominating Committee, and an assistant professor at The University of Nagano. She previously served as co-chair-elect for the TESOL Higher Education Interest Section (HEIS), on the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Conference Task Force, as well as president of the JALT Tokyo and Nagano Chapters, coordinator of the JALT Writers’ Peer Support Group (online writing center), and research grants co-chair for the JALT Vocabulary SIG. Her other research interests include discourse communities, linguistic landscapes, and leadership skill formation. She is passionate about ensuring that new leaders are welcomed, oriented, and prepared for their roles in association work.

In addition to this post, the authors recently cowrote a chapter entitled “Getting on Board: A Phenomenological Approach to a Critical Friendship Between Leaders” in Cultivating Professional Development through Critical Friendship and Reflective Practice: Cases from Japan (forthcoming, Candlin & Mynard).

About Laura Baecher

Laura Baecher
Dr. Laura Baecher is professor of TESOL at Hunter College, City University of New York. Her research interests and publications relate to teacher education, including educational technology in teacher learning, observation and coaching for English language teaching, and professional development in TESOL. Her recent books are Reflecting on Problems of Practice in TESOL and Video in Teacher Learning: Through their Own Eyes. She has served as TESOL International Association’s Teacher Education Interest Section chair, as an English language specialist for the U.S. Department of State, and as president of the New York State TESOL affiliate.
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