Around this point in the year, I like to do something a little bit different with my classroom organization. This is more than putting students in groups. Physically, we move our desks around, and we also lightly restructure a few of the ways I interact with the students in my class. In our room, we are now divided into five tribes. (Loosely based off of this book) The point of these groupings is not to pit one tribe against the other in a reality-show-style standoff, but rather to build a tight-knit mini-community within our already close classroom community. Let me explain…
By now, we have spent a good portion of the fall learning how to be bucket fillers, and what it means to show expected behavior. Students know my expectations to be kind, gentle, put others first, and follow the rules of the classroom. We have done this in the context of the whole classroom where each child has been asked to generically look out for everyone else, and the teachers are the ‘overall’ support system if something goes wrong. We are now switching up the model
With the introduction of ‘tribe’ groups, I’ve explained that, within the classroom, each tribe is like a family. (Of course, if “family” is not a safe word, you may want to use something different). A tribe works together to do their best, to work hard and most importantly, to take care of each other. If one tribe member is upset, or frustrated, or confused, it is first up to the rest of the tribe to try and help them before they go to a teacher or someone outside of their tribe.
At the beginning, we use a points system. This is not intended to be used as a competition, but to encourage tribes to work together in a kind, respectful, and cohesive manner. As a tribe, they are supposed to show expected behavior, and be bucket fillers. When I notice a tribe is encouraging each other, speaking kindly, helping a friend who is not understanding an assignment, all on-task, gently reminder a member to focus, etc. they receive a point for their tribe. (I also make a big deal that bragging, especially in the context of points, is not okay). Then, on Friday, we have a points ceremony, and it is a big deal. We have envelopes, and prizes, and everyone wins something. And then it re-starts for the next week.
Gradually, the points system is phased out, and just the tribes remain. But every year, my hope is that the cohesion and community will remain. Some years it does, other years it takes more work, but overall, I have found that working in tribes tends to yield incredibly positive results.
Other things that we do to build community within tribes:
- Group journals: each tribe member writes an encouragement sentence in every other group members journal (more on this later!)
- Tribe leaders, one person per week is the tribe leader
- Play time in tribe groups – either ‘free time’ or structured play with specific outcomes, a chance to have fun is a great bonding experience