Wednesday, October 21, 2009


After three long Saturdays spent in a freezing elementary school library, I've decided that Tribes Learning Communities have been taking place in my classroom long before I took the course. Now I have a certificate to prove it, but it's reassuring to know that I've been doing things right for a while. Even after eight years of teaching, it's good to know I'm on track. However, why the need to have teachers trained if they already do what Tribes suggest? Don't you teach to a variety of needs? Don't all teachers encourage inclusion and positive language in the class and school? Am I wrong to assume yes?

Tribes is a process that encourages collaborative learning and was established back in the 1970s. Recently, this movement seemed to gain more followers and supporters and has spread like wildfire in Canada. It's composed of four main tenets: mutual respect, attentive listening, appreciation/no put downs, and the right to pass. By having a Tribes classroom, its creator Jeanne Gibbs believes that more work can be done and the teacher spends less time on discipline. Students work together in tribes helping each other succeed thereby eliminating the need of a "teacher-centred" attitude.

Although the Tribes process is ideal, a lot of my colleagues at the course discussed the reality of our classrooms. In a class of twenty students, you'll have a quarter who are English as a Second Language learners. Another two to three will have a learning challenge while another two or so have behavioural issues. Working in groups and assigning roles such as a "Recorder", "Task Master", "Editor", etc. will work only if the kids aren't bound by some of these restrictions. Can you imagine a Grade One class doing this on their own? Not too least not in the first five months of the year. What about maturity level? Does Gibbs realize most teenage students don't act the way they do in a Tribes video?

Although I love the idea of Tribes, I think it can only work in an ideal world. Unfortunately, many of us don't teach in an ideal classroom. So like with each day, you do your best and hope some of it gets through to your students.

I'd love to hear if you use TRIBES in your classroom and how has it worked so far. Please drop me a line at

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