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.

How Tribes Changes the School Climate

  • Teachers in Tribes classrooms model respectful behaviour and encourage respectful interactions among students; they aim to use the most effective teaching methods and meet the learning needs of all students.
  • Ideally, all members of a school staff are trained in the Tribes process and agree to follow the principles, and parents are informed about the Tribes agreements and encouraged to model them at home.
  • With consistent positive behavioural expectations in the classroom, on the school yard, and at home, a true learning community with a positive, nurturing school climate is fostered.

Research Results

The following outcomes of the Tribes program have been reported (6):

  • Students from Tribes classrooms are less likely than students from non-Tribes classrooms to be referred to the principal or school counselor for disciplinary problems.
  • Teachers report that Tribes has a positive impact on their classroom environment, and that they spend less time managing student behavior because of the Tribes program.

In addition, Gibbs (7) has cited the following study results:

  • Tribes teachers report that their classrooms are more settled, respectful, comfortable and productive.

A recent qualitative study (4) of a Tribes school in their fourth year of implementation suggests that:

  • Tribes teachers like the simplicity of the four agreements, and how these shared principles make it easier to have consistent behavioural standards throughout a school.
  • Students like the fun built into Tribes activities and enjoy school more.
  • Both students and staff report that there is less fighting and bullying occurring since their school became a Tribes school. · Parents benefit from Tribes information sent home in new school newsletters.

Importance for Teachers and Parents

If you’re a teacher having a hard time fitting an anti-bullying program into your schedule, but still want to do something to try to improve your school’s climate and reduce bullying, why not consider Tribes? The basic course involves 24-hours of training which usually takes place over two week-ends. The training itself is a lot of fun and gives you a chance to experience what it’s like to be part of a Tribes community. For more information about the Tribes process, visit Pass the word along to your principal and teaching colleagues as the Tribes process works better if all school staff are involved.

Parents, if you would like to see a more positive school climate with less bullying at your child’s school, let your school council representative know about the potential benefits of the Tribes program.

Wendy Ryan is a former teacher and M.Ed. (Counselling) graduate, currently working on a PhD in Education at the University of Ottawa. Her doctoral research explores the links between school climate and bullying. She can be contacted at:


  1. Galloway, D., & Roland, E. (2004). Is the direct approach to reducing bullying always the best? In P. K. Smith, D. Pepler, & K. Rigby (Eds.), Bullying in schools: How successful can interventions be? (pp. 37-53). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Gottfredson, D. C., & Gottfredson, G. D. (2002). Quality of school-based prevention programs: Results from a national survey. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 39, 3-36.
  3. Kasen, S., Berenson, K., Cohen, P., & Johnson, J. G. (2004). The effects of school climate on changes in aggressive and other behaviors related to bullying. In D. L. Espelage & S. M. Swearer (Eds.), Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perspective on prevention and intervention (pp.187-210). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  4. Ryan, W. (2008). Links between school climate and bullying. Manuscript in preparation.
  5. Gibbs, J. (2001). Tribes: A new way of learning and being together. Windsor, CA: Center Source Systems.
  6. OJJDP. (n.d.). Model Programs Guide. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from
  7. Gibbs, J. (n.d.). Preventing the underlying causes of school violence. Retrieved August 10, 2008, from