The initial version of the Tribes process began to evolve in the early seventies, a time when concerned educators and parents began groping for ways to motivate children’s learning, to manage behavior problems, and to stem the tide upon which many good teachers were leaving the profession. National surveys were alerting the general public and industry leaders that the majority of high school students did not have the knowledge or skills to do well in the world of work and social complexities that they would face in life. Twenty years ago? Or is it today?
Jeanne Gibbs had observed that children’s achievement and behavior in school seemed to be influenced by the quality of the classroom and school environment. Being a student at heart, Jeanne began exploring studies on school climate, human development, and the dynamics of organizational systems. In 1973 she was asked to consult with the Contra Costa County Department of Education towards the prevention of substance abuse related problems. There was little research at that time on prevention other than studies which confirmed that informational curricula alone did not deter problems. The author reasoned that since environment influences human behavior, building positive environments within schools and families not only would be preventive, but could be significant in promoting academic learning and social development.
The concept made enough sense to some other visionaries at the California Department of Education who in 1974 funded a grant that would enable elementary school teachers to pilot a group development process that Jeanne had been using for many years within community settings. As the teachers began to experience the caring environment within their own work groups, they began to use the term, “tribe.” Repeatedly they said, “We feel like a family… we feel like a tribe.”
In 1976, Jeanne published the first instructional manual, titled TRIBES: A Human Development Process for Educational Systems, and then in 1978, Jeanne published the first of many copyrighted Tribes books, titled TRIBES: A Process for Peer Involvement (CenterSource Publications).
From 1975 through 1985 numerous applications of the group development process were made through a non-profit corporation which Jeanne founded. The “people process” proved to be valuable in alcohol recovery centers, juvenile facilities, daycare centers, and recreational programs. California schools began to request training when they learned that the Tribes group process decreased behavior problems, increased self-esteem, improved cooperation and achievement, and improved teachers’ energy and morale.
Based on the extensive research of the cooperative learning field, the book, Tribes, A Process for Social Development and Cooperative Learning, was published in 1987. The demand for training accelerated throughout the country, and in 1991 quality materials incorporating new research, concepts and methods were designed by the author and her colleagues. The more comprehensive version of the Tribes process became known as “Tribes TLC®” and resulted in the writing and publication of Tribes, A New Way of Learning and Being Together (1994), which has been expanded and revised several times.1 The most recent edition is titled Reaching All by Creating Tribes Learning Communities.2
In 1994, the Research Triangle Institute, under a U.S. Department of Education contract, identified Tribes TLC® as an exemplary program to teach social skills to Kindergarten to 12th grade students.3 The Council of the Great City Schools cited Tribes as a model to prevent violence.4
In 2001, the author researched and wrote a middle level book, titled Discovering Gifts in Middle School: Learning in a Caring Culture Called Tribes, which emphasizes the need for schools to become responsive to the contextual basis of adolescent development in order to attain both greater achievement and success for students as well as a new spirit, energy and the discovery of gifts throughout the whole school community.5
In 2003, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identified Tribes TLC an evidenced-based “SELect Program.”6 In 2005, the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) identified Tribes Learning Communities as an evidence-based Promising Program in their Model Programs Guide.7 In 2006, CSAP’s WesternCAPT (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies) recognized Tribes Learning Communities as a Promising Practice that addresses both protective and risk factors for the prevention of substance abuse.
In 2005, CenterSource Systems published an important new book, titled What Is It About Tribes? The Research-Based Components of the Developmental Process of Tribes Learning Communities. This important book by Bonnie Benard of WestEd, is an in-depth response to questions that educators have been asking for many years: “What is it about the process of ‘Tribes’ that makes it work so well in so many schools, cultures and countries?” The author brings hundreds of research studies and literature references into enlightening coherence to discover how and why the student-centered active-learning process transforms people, classrooms, and schools.8
Application of the Tribes process continues to grow with the advent of a new high school level book titled “Engaging All by Creating High School Learning Communities” by Jeanne Gibbs and Dr. Teri Ushijima. This new book is based on current and evolving best practices for the secondary level9. As now defined, the primary mission of Tribes TLC® is “to assure the healthy development of every child in the school community so that each has the knowledge, skills and resiliency to be successful in our rapidly changing world.” Indeed, this can happen when schools engage all teachers, administrators, students and families in working together as a learning community dedicated to caring and support, active participation, and positive expectations for all.
- Gibbs, J. (2001). Tribes: A new way of learning and being together. Windsor, CA: CenterSource Systems.
- Gibbs, J. (2006). Reaching All by Creating Tribes Learning Communities. Windsor, CA: CenterSource Systems.
- Alberg, J., Eller, S., & Petry, C. (1994). A resource guide for social skills instruction. Longmount, CO: Center for Research in Education, Research Triangle Institute, Sopers Publishers.
- Newkumet, M. & Casserly, M. (1994). Urban school safety: Strategies of the great city schools. Washington, DC: Council of the Great City Schools.
- Gibbs, J. (2001). Discovering gifts in middle school: Learning in a caring culture called Tribes. Windsor, CA: CenterSource Systems.
- Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2003). Safe and sound: An education leader’s guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning programs. Chicago, Illinois: CASEL, University of Illinois. www.casel.org
- Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). (2005). Model programs guide. Washington, DC: OJJDP, Department of Justice. www.ojjdp.ncjrs.gov
- Benard, B. (2005). What is it about Tribes? The research-based components of the developmental process of Tribes Learning Communities. Windsor, CA: CenterSource Systems. www.tribes.com
- Gibbs, J. & Ushijima, T. (2008). Engaging All by Creating High School Learning Communities. Windsor, CA: CenterSource Systems.