Teaching Tip Tuesday – Tribes

Students need to learn how to work cooperatively, how to treat each other with respect, and how to listen attentively. These are life skills that are absolutely essential to have. Yet these skills are not addressed in the Ministry of Education’s curriculum documents.

As teachers, we are expected to teach a variety of subject areas and ensure that our students have an understanding of the topics specified for their grade. We need to teach math, science, social studies, music, visual arts, dance, drama, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, speaking skills, media skills, health, and physical education. These are the areas that are spelled out in detail for anyone to see.

The rest of the teaching is left up to us as individual teachers. I know that when I first started teaching I dived headlong into the curriculum right away on the first day of school. I assumed that my students could just do what I expected of them if I laid out those expectations on the first day. I gave a lecture of how things would be in this class and then quickly moved on to teaching lessons and giving the students seat work. I knew that I had a lot to cover with them academically and feared that I wouldn’t get through it all unless I cracked the whip, so to speak, and got them working right away.

The problem with this approach was that my students didn’t really know what I expected of them. The stern lecture wasn’t enough. Class would run smooth for a few days, or a week if I was lucky, but that was about it.

I would get upset and yell at my class because I thought they should know how to be good students. After all, I taught Grade 4 and the students had been in school for five years or more already. They should know to be good students, right?

Not exactly.

Fortunately, there is a curriculum that we can follow to teach these essential skills. It is called Tribes. They offer training for teachers and schools, but all you really need to get is this excellent book. Reaching All by Creating Tribes Learning Communities by Jeanne Gibbs. This is the most current and updated version of this book that I mentioned last week.

Here is a brief explanation from their website.

Tribes is a step-by-step process to achieve specific learning goals. Four agreements are honored:
– attentive listening
– appreciation/no put downs
– mutual respect, and
– the right to pass.

Students learn a set of collaborative skills so they can work well together in long-term groups (tribes). The focus is on how to:
– help each other work on tasks
– set goals and solve problems
– monitor and assess progress
– celebrate achievements.

I really like this program. I haven’t had the formal training that they offer but I have utilized this excellent book in shaping my classroom environment.

I realize now that I am going to need another post to share with you the excellent ideas in this book and how I have used them to build an atmosphere in my classroom that is based on respect and cooperation. I adapted the ideas from this program and melded them into my experiences as a Boy Scout to create a program that really works for me and feels natural. The students really seem to respond to it as well. I will share with you the details of how I do this in the next Teaching Tip Tuesday post. See you next week!