Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trust of the Tribe

The amygdala is the part of our brain responsible for processing emotions such as fear, anger, and pleasure. It determines which memories are saved and where. The amygdala protects you from potential threats. It's your safety net. For example if you burn your finger, the amygdala will try to make sure that it doesn't happen again. When the amygdala senses a threat to safety, fear networks are activated, and a series of stress hormones prepare the body for the "fight, flight, freeze" response.
The amygdala doesn't differentiate between physical threats and perceived threats. Social threats trigger the response in exactly the same way.

Humans have a need to be social, to belong, and to be a part of a group. When we feel like we are rejected, don't belong, and are not valued, we see reality through a fearful state. This state affects our interactions with others. It affects how much we are willing to engage, innovate, share our feelings, reveal our true selves, and trust.

We need trust. We need to surround ourselves with people that believe what we believe and value what we value. As we trust others, and they trust us, a community and culture develops. Being a contributing member of the tribe increases our sense of self-worth and belonging. We are more willing to take risks and fail.  We know that if we fall, that others in the community will be there to protect us. The tribe makes us feel safe. We know that we don't have to survive on our own. Together the tribe can combat any "saber tooth tiger" and survive.

Trust is the glue that holds a classroom, a faculty, or a PLN together. It requires listening, caring, compassion, and understanding. Trust is an appreciation, respect and love for others. It is the willingness to reach out, open your heart, and to be vulnerable. Trust allows us to break down walls, to be present for each other, and to delight in each other’s successes. In a tribe, people have a voice, decisions are made together, and there is fairness and justice. Tribal members have confidence in one another. They are tied together in shared beliefs, values, and respect the contributions of each member.

A tribe also shares traditions, stories, music, symbols, and rituals. These draw people even closer together as a community. Tribal leaders capture the spirit of the tribe through questions such as: Who are we as a people? What are our core values? What will be our legacy? And they instill confidence in every tribal member.

As I reflect on the idea of a tribe, I can't help but reflect on the comments made by former students and their memories of our time together. It's never about the "great lesson". What they remember are the feelings and the experiences that they had in class. Strong emotions and sensory stimuli anchored the learning in their long-term memory. The greatest compliment to me is that they knew I loved them. I always called them "my kiddos" and they believed it. It's always heartwarming this time of year to have students that are graduating come back and visit. It validates the importance of building relationships and creating a safe community of learners. Their reflections also motivate me to build the feeling of belonging to a tribe even more this next school year.

As I think about becoming a possible future school leader, I think about what great leaders do to build a positive culture in their school or district. Although I have no personal experience, I'm led to believe that it's much like my classroom. All of the dynamics of building trust in the tribe still apply. I'm grateful that I've found my tribe with my PLN. They inspire me, challenge me, and accept me for who I am. I trust them and because of that trust, I'm growing. I'm gaining confidence as a leader. I'm starting to feel that I can make a contribution. The layers around me built over time to protect me are wearing down. I feel vulnerable. But I'm encouraged by the fact that my PLN is my safety net. My tribe is my protection. I trust them and that is making all the difference in the world.

Have you found your tribe?


  1. Wonderful post Sandy! You are so right that it's the emotions and experiences that students will remember and will enhance the lessons we teach. Thanks for being such a positive voice in the tribe!!


  2. Thanks Sandy for a great post. I really connected with your comments on vulnerabilty. As we develop trust in our communities we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, thus being open to differing thoughts, perspectives, ideas and ways of doing things. This great strength of "vulnerabilty" only happens when we consistently build on our relationships. The communities we want for our students must also be developed for teachers, school staff, admin and parents. Our tribes become stronger, more resilient and positive as we engage in real dialogue that allows us to imagine and wonder, without fear if judgement. Thanks again