Tribes Trail: Building Community In Our Classroom

A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.

Rudolf Steiner

Three weeks into our school year and I am experiencing some of the most beautiful and memorable moments as an educator for nearly 24 years. As my curiosity and love of learning is want, I have also settled on a few BIG questions to explore this fall:

What does a healthy learning community truly look like in a middle years classroom?

What does true inclusion and honouring the contributions of others truly look like?

How do I transition responsibility for maintain and growing this with adolescents?

Courtesy of Jeanne Gibbs

For the past two weeks, our class has been exploring the process of what it takes to become a true learning community. We have been using the Tribes Trail as our collective guide to inform how our journey is progressing. It all starts off with setting the stage by invoking and adopting the four group agreements: attentive listening, appreciations; no put downs, mutual respect, and the right to pass. These simple ‘ground rules’ quickly resonated with the students.

The large front-loading, the time, and patience that have been our guide thus far are having immediate and positive impacts on the culture in our classroom. They are helping to define our culture. Our daily opening and closing circles have become tighter, there is no need for a talking stick. Students new to the school are being readily accepted without prejudice. The class is buying into the notion that for everyone to feel safe, and take the necessary risks that are associated with learning, everyone has a role to play. Everyone.

Another important factor in the success of the Tribes Learning Community is the teacher. Well, duh. The elemental role is as facilitator; to ease the transition of responsibility of the group from themselves to the group. By priming a culture of inclusion, fostering a space for positive influence and, finally, guiding it (with kids gloves) towards a true community of learners, the teacher holds the space to do so. We also have take for granted recognize that any true learning community is both emergent and co-created. It is also ever evolving; it can (and will) shift on any given day.

The beauty of this shared sojourn is that all conflict within and among the various relationships (i.e. teacher-student, student-student, student-their learning) are appreciated as opportunities to revisit our collective roots in inclusion and in influence. We are ripe for discussion, exploration, and ‘digging into’ what is really up. Putting in the centre that which is ‘true’ as that moment. Kids get truth. And they get why it’s important for learning to occur.

I am forever indebted to my dear colleague and amazing educator, Barbara Hargreaves, for turning me onto Jeanne Gibbs’ Tribes Learning Communities work.

And the journey continues…


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