A different sort of tribe visits Park City
July 15, 2008
Any student that’s ever mistakenly wandered into a lunch room at school knows how social teachers can be. But, this week at the Colby School, school administrators and staff from all over the world engaged their minds to improve the student experience.
Beginning Monday and wrapping this Thursday, the Colby School will play host to a convention of the Tribes Learning Community, a group of educators who subscribe to a system of learning that is not a curriculum or program, but a "process." While at the conference, 94 teachers from at least four countries will meet in sessions to discuss the application of this process.
The Tribes Learning Community is mostly the brain child of Jeanne Gibbs who launched the method some 30 years ago using research on both child development and learning behaviors. The seminal idea came to Gibbs in the 1970s when she was asked to consult with a Northern California school district about drug abuses within their school. Her conclusion, in essence, stated that a student’s environment heavily influenced their behavior.
A few years later, Gibbs took ideas from that study and integrated them with the results of published studies to create the Tribes Learning Community. The name, she said, came from onlookers who thought that the children interacted more like tribes than anything else. All the same, Gibbs applied that moniker to the book she wrote in 1976. Her book led to the popularization of the educational process across the world.
Gibbs still refuses to issue a point-blank description of her process saying that "everybody has a different definition of education" and that the Tribes process changes over time. She finds the method particularly important and moldable today as it is the "first time in the history of the world that students are able to access more knowledge than their teachers will ever have." To that end, she said that small groups and increased student participation can help students learn in the modern world. She also claimed that her process should make the classroom a more democratic place, therefore training students as responsible citizens.
In the decades since the release of her book, educators subscribing to her theory have met every two years to discuss their efforts. This year marks the first that The Colby School has hosted the event.
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Betsy Bacon, one of the founders of the Colby School, said that the process allows students to develop resiliency and also acts as the malleable system that could help lead students into jobs that have not even been invented yet. "When kids feel safe, they are willing to take risks," she said. She helped bring the process to the Colby School as a means of differentiating the Colby School from other institutions that cling to an educational model that is 150 years old.
Throughout the week educators will gather at keynote lectures and breakaway sessions, but they do so in small circles as groups rather than simply as large passive audiences. In a sense, they practice what they preach as they discuss collegial groups, international communities and change in education.