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Ages 5-18

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Tribes (also known as Tribes Learning Communities, or Tribes TLC®) is an elementary, middle, and high school program that promotes social and academic development by creating a positive learning environment. The Tribes group development process concentrates on both resiliency and the stages of human development. Teachers organize their students into collaborative learning groups of three to six students, known as “tribes.” Each tribe works together throughout the semester or academic year. To promote a spirit of cooperation and social acceptance, students and teachers also honor four basic agreements while in the classroom: 1) they agree to listen attentively to one another, 2) they promise to show appreciation for one another and avoid “put downs,” 3) they promise to show mutual respect, and 4) they agree that all students have the “right to pass” on peer-led activities in which they would rather not participate. Over the course of the academic year, as students become better at honoring the four agreements and working together, teachers gradually transfer responsibility to the tribe, so its members can set their own goals, monitor progress, and solve problems.

Teachers learn to integrate curricula through active learning strategies to engage students in meaningful learning and peer leadership. There is a clear planning process for implementation throughout the whole school system. Collegial teacher groups and leadership teams are developed to create a professional learning community, and to enhance curriculum planning, problem solving, and authentic assessment.

To participate in the Tribes process, teachers must undergo a formal 24-hour training program led by a certified Tribes TLC® trainer. (The California-based firm CenterSource Systems produces a variety of Tribes training curricula and utilizes an international network of more than 1,300 certified trainers). Ideally, schools are encouraged to have not only teachers but also principals and other school administrators undergo Tribes training. This helps ensure that the entire school or school system reinforces the same basic messages and behaviors among students. The school district of Beloit, Wis., for example, has introduced the Tribes process into all 12 of its elementary schools and both of its middle schools—involving several thousand students in the Tribes process. According to CenterSource Systems, more than 4,500 schools are currently implementing the Tribes process throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries.


At least three different evaluations have examined the impact of the Tribes process on students’ behavior and academic performance:

1. In 1993, Judith Holt conducted an evaluation of the impact of Tribes on discipline referrals at Thomas Edison Preparatory School in Oklahoma. Using an experimental research design, Holt randomly assigned about 280 sixth grade students to either a treatment or a roughly equivalent control group. Students in the treatment group were assigned to Tribes classrooms, where they received at least 4 hours of core instruction each day from a certified Tribes teacher; students in the control group were assigned to classrooms where the Tribes process was not used. Student and teacher records, as well as records from the counseling and principal’s offices, were then used to track the number of disciplinary problems that were formally reported in each group over a 1-semester period.

2. From 1996 through 1999 the Beloit, Wis., school district conducted a comprehensive, mixed-method evaluation of the effectiveness and impact of the Tribes process on more than 3,000 elementary and middle school students in the Beloit system. The program’s impact on classroom environment and academic achievement was assessed, using qualitative information collected in teacher and student surveys and teacher focus groups and through a multivariate statistical analysis of 100 fourth graders’ standardized test scores. To assess the impact of program implementation on student achievement, the statistical analysis compared the test scores of 53 students from “highly effective” Tribes classrooms with those of 47 students from “less effective” Tribes classrooms.

3. WestEd Regional Educational Laboratory conducted a 2-year evaluation of the implementation and impact of the Tribes process in more than 40 schools nationwide. Like the Beloit study, the WestEd evaluation combined qualitative data collected from structured interviews and student, teacher, and principal surveys with a multivariate statistical analysis of students’ standardized test scores. The standardized achievement test scores of students from “high performing” Tribes classrooms were compared with those of two nonequivalent control groups (students from “low performing” Tribes classrooms and students from non-Tribes classrooms), to determine which group showed the greater improvement in reading and math scores over the course of 1 academic year.


Holt’s evaluation of the Tribes program in Oklahoma found that students based in Tribes classrooms were significantly less likely than non-Tribes students to be referred to the principal’s or a counselor’s office for disciplinary problems. Over the course of the study period, the Tribes students were formally referred for disciplinary action 41 times (27 percent of the study total), while non-Tribes students were referred a 113 times (73 percent of the study total). A breakdown of the different types of disciplinary referrals that occurred in both groups indicates that Tribes students were less likely to be referred for disciplinary problems of all types, including disruptive behavior, refusal to work/follow direction, and fighting.

The Beloit study found that the Tribes program was implemented inconsistently throughout the local school system; however, fourth graders from Tribes classrooms where the program was well implemented scored significantly higher on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills than their counterparts from less well-implemented Tribes classrooms. In addition, 59.7 percent of the teachers surveyed for the evaluation reported that they spent less time managing student behavior because of Tribes. These results are echoed in the findings of the WestEd national evaluation, which found that 1) most teachers felt Tribes had a positive impact on their classroom environment and 2) students involved in well-implemented Tribes programs had significantly higher test scores than students from comparison groups.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Life stressors
  • Poor refusal skills


  • Child victimization and maltreatment
  • Family transitions
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding


  • Dropping out of school
  • Frequent school transitions
  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school
  • School suspensions
  • Truancy/Frequent absences


  • Community instability


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers
  • Peer rejection

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • High expectations
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • High expectations
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement


  • Above average academic achievement / Reading and math skills
  • High expectations of students
  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • High expectations
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Rewards for prosocial community involvement


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities




Benard, Bonnie. 2005. What Is It About Tribes? The Research-Based Components of the Developmental Process of Tribes TLC®. Windsor, Calif.: CenterSource Systems.

Cheswass, Roger. 2003. “Evaluation of the Implementation and Impact of Tribes TLC®.” Preliminary Evaluation Report. San Francisco, Calif.: WestEd Regional Educational Laboratory.

———. 2004. “Evaluation of the Implementation of Tribes TLC®: Second Year Study.” Final Evaluation Report. San Francisco, Calif.: WestEd Regional Educational Laboratory.

Gibbs, Jeanne. 2001a. Discovering Gifts in Middle School: Learning in a Caring Culture Called Tribes. Windsor, Calif.: CenterSource Systems.

———. 2001b. Tribes: A New Way of Learning and Being Together. Windsor, Calif.: CenterSource Systems.

Holt, Judith. 2000. “Tribes Training and Experiences Lower the Incidence of Referral Actions for Teachers and Students.” Research Summary. Tulsa, Okla.: Tulsa Public Schools.

Kiger, Derick. 2000. “The Tribes Process: Phase 3 Evaluation.” Executive Summary. Beloit, Wis.: Research and Accountability Department, School District of Beloit.


Jeanne Gibbs
CenterSource Systems, LLC
7975 Cameron Drive, Bldg. 500
Windsor, CA 95492–8567
Phone: (800) 810-1701
Fax: (707) 838-1062
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

Carol Rankin
CenterSource Systems, LLC
7975 Cameron Drive, Bldg. 500
Windsor, CA 95492–8567
Phone: (800) 810-1701
Fax: (707) 838-1062
Web site: