Tribes: A Way to Improve School Climate and Reduce Bullying?

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

Many teachers and school administrators acknowledge that they would like to reduce bullying at their school but do not have the time or resources to properly implement an anti-bullying program. Others have tried to implement anti-bullying programs but they don’t seem to have an impact or have lasting effects. If this sounds familiar, the Tribes process might be of interest to you.

Why Anti-Bullying Programs Don’t Always Work

One reason anti-bullying initiatives sometimes fail could be that teachers are unable to invest the time and effort necessary to implement a program that focuses on only one problem, such as bullying, when there are so many other daily concerns such as classroom management and student motivation (1).

  • Time and scheduling constraints, as well as pressures to cover materials from the core academic curriculum can sometimes impinge on teachers’ ability to provide sufficient lessons in social and emotional learning.
  • Anti-bullying programs are sometimes seen as an “extra” that is difficult to fit into a teaching schedule.

Prevention programs that fit into the normal activities of a school day are more likely to be better implemented (2).

Other researchers (3) argue that aspects of the school climate must be healthy in order for anti-bullying programs to succeed. Bullying is more likely to occur in schools where teachers have poor classroom management skills and students are disrespectful towards staff. On the other hand, schools that provide students with a structured, supportive learning environment tend to have less bullying.

An Indirect Approach to Reducing Bullying

It has been suggested that a general program aimed at improving school climate may have a wider impact on a variety of undesirable student behaviours, including bullying, and this approach may be easier for teachers to adopt and maintain compared to a program that focuses only on bullying (1).

Lower rates of bullying are associated with the following teacher behaviours:

  • Caring for students
  • Using effective teaching practices
  • Monitoring student behaviour
  • Appropriately intervening in cases of student misbehaviour.

Although there are many ways available to improve school climate, a recent study (4) suggests that the Tribes program provides principles and strategies that teachers find easy to integrate into their daily lessons and can lead to a more positive school climate and less bullying.

What is Tribes?

Tribes is a “way of learning and being together” (5). It is a process that uses a learning-community, whole-school model to create a positive school climate through improved teaching and classroom management, positive interpersonal relations, and opportunities for student participation. The Tribes process consists of four key agreements that staff, students and parents are expected to abide by:

  1. Attentive listening
  2. Appreciation/no put-downs
  3. Mutual respect
  4. Participation/right to pass.

These serve as a stable foundation for building positive interpersonal relations throughout the school community.

In Tribes classrooms, students participate in daily community circles where there is an opportunity to share ideas, thoughts, and feelings. This can be a time where problems encountered on the schoolyard can be discussed and worked through together; or, it can be a time to celebrate successes or get to know your classmates better. Students also work together in long-term, small heterogeneous groups, called tribes, where social skills, such as active listening, problem solving, and conflict resolution are fostered. In addition, a series of fun activities (i.e. energizers) are interspersed throughout the day to help students develop feelings of inclusion and a sense of community.

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