Inclusivity in the Classroom



  • The presence of a wide range of human qualities and attributes within a group, organization, or society. The dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited to, ancestry, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language, physical and intellectual ability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.


  • A condition or state of fair, inclusive, and respectful treatment of all people. Equity does not mean treating people the same without regard for individual differences.

Inclusive Education:

  • Education that is based on the principles of acceptance and inclusion of all students. Students see themselves reflected in their curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, in which diversity is honoured and all individuals are respected.

“Inclusive education is central to the achievement of high-quality education for all learners and the development of more inclusive societies. Inclusion is still thought of in some countries as an approach to serving children with disabilities within general educational settings. Internationally, however, it is increasingly seen more broadly as a reform that supports and welcomes diversity amongst all learners” (UNESCO, 2008).

Ontario’s equity and inclusive educational strategy is designed to promote fundamental human rights as described in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with which school boards must continue to uphold the standards set out in the provincial Code of Conduct, in which respect for all is the overarching principle (Ministry of Education, 2009).

Guiding Principles of the Ontario Equity and Inclusive Educational Strategy
  • Equity and inclusive education:
    • is a foundation of excellence
    • meets individual needs
    • identifies and eliminates barriers
    • promotes a sense of belonging
    • involves the broad community
    • builds on and enhances previous and existing initiatives
    • is demonstrated throughout the system

In order to achieve equity and inclusive education in Ontario schools, we must pursue the following three goals, which are rooted in our three core education priorities:

  1. Shared and committed leadership by the ministry, boards, and schools will play a critical role in eliminating the discrimination through the identification and removal of bias and barriers. Achieving equity is a shared responsibility; establishing an equitable and inclusive education system requires commitment from all education partners.
  2. Equity and inclusive education policies and practices will support positive learning environments so that all students can feel engaged in and empowered by what they are learning, supported by the teachers and staff from whom they are learning, and welcome in the environment in which they are learning. Students, teachers, and staff learn and work in an environment that is respectful, supportive, and welcoming to all.
  3. Accountability and transparency will be demonstrated through the use of clear measures of success (based on established indicators) and through communication to the public of our progress towards achieving equity for all students. Accountability is necessary to maintain and enhance public confidence in the education system.

Ontario Ministry of Education. 2009. Realizing the Promise of Diversity: Ontario's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy. Queen's Printer for Ontario.

Tribes Learning Communities

What is Tribes?

  • Tribes is a democratic group process, not just a curriculum or set of cooperative activities. A "process" is a sequence of events that lead to the achievement of an outcome. The outcome of the Tribes process is to develop a positive learning environment that promoted human growth and learning.
  • Throughout the process people learn to use specific collaborative skills and to reflect both on the interaction and the learning that is taking place.
  • The Tribes process not only establishes a caring environment for cooperative learning, bu provides structure for positive interaction and continuity for working groups whether in the classroom, the faculty, the administration or the parent community.

Tribes in the Classroom

  • Tribes are formed sociometrically to distribute boys and girls, students of high and low peer acceptance, and people of heterogeneous abilities.
  • Although students have the opportunity to name others whom they would like to have in their tribe, the teacher determines who will be in each group. People are seated together in a small circle or square of desks, or at the same table. Unlike many cooperative learning approaches being used in schools today, Tribes stay together over a long period of time.
  • A tribe can consist of three to six students who work together each day throughout the school year. The size of the tribe varies depending upon the age of its members and its purpose.
  • The power of being included and valued by peers motivates students to actively participate in their own learning. Positive expectations and support from an ongoing group of peers is the reason that students in Tribes Learning Communities become excited about learning.

How the Tribes Process Changes the Pattern

The process changes the traditional pattern in classrooms because

  • The classroom is student-centred (people no longer relate primarily to the teacher, but work with peers)
  • The teacher becomes a facilitator, using the proven group development process
  • Everyone belongs to a long-term membership group and feels included and valued for their unique contribution
  • Students themselves are involved in classroom management (defining agreements, problem-solving, choosing tasks, and sustaining the positive learning environment)
  • Teachers use multiple strategies to reach and teach students of multiple cultures, intelligences, and abilities
  • Students learn both critical thinking and collaborative social skills along with academic content
  • Individual and group accountability is assessed jointly by students and teacher
  • Inherent in the Tribes process are the protective factors that foster resiliency caring/sharing, active participation, and positive expectations.

Questions to Consider With Your Own Faculty

  1. How can we help students formulate their own learning goals?
  2. How will students take part in defining rules and agreements?
  3. How can students help teachers design stimulating learning experiences?
  4. How can students help to assess progress toward learning objectives?

The Tribes Agreements

Building a positive environment for a Tribes Learning Community begins by replacing unspoken norms of the school with explicit positive agreements. All groups and organizations have tacit norms that affect behaviour by conveying "this is how we do things around here". In a dispassionate impersonal school the norms may be:
  • Nobody listens anyway
  • No one respects me or my things
  • Never let on how you feel
  • The more put-downs, the more fun
  • Don't ask for help
  • Appreciation - what's that?

Inherent in our goal of adolescent development is the encouragement of self-responsibility and the internalization of ethical social principles. It begins by transferring the responsibility of students to help each other live caring social agreements. It becomes intrinsic in behaviour when kids' hearts as well as heads come to appreciate and commit to a better way of being with peers and others.

The four agreements are:

four agreements.gif

  • 1) Mutual Respect

    • To affirm the value and uniqueness of each person; to recognize and appreciate individual and cultural differences; and offer feedback that encourages growth.
  • 2) Attentive Listening:

    • To pay close attention to one another's expression of ideas, opinions and feelings; to check for understanding; and to let others know that they have been heard.
  • 3) Appreciation/No Put-Downs

    • To treat others kindly; to state appreciation for unique qualities, gifts, skills and contributions; to avoid negative remarks, name-calling, hurtful gestures and behaviours.
  • 4) Right to Pass and Right to Participate

    • To have the right to choose when and to what extent one will participate in a group activity; to observe quietly if not participating actively; and to choose whether to offer observations later to a group when asked to do so.

Some classrooms other than Mrs. Brown's may want to add additional agreements beyond the four. For example, schools concerned with student violence have elaborated on the second and fourth agreements. Treat people as you want to be treated/no hitting or violence. It is important that the list isn't longer than five agreements or students will be more likely to forget or overlook them and not reinforce them with each other. Tribes agreements are important and need to be posted in prominent places in the classroom and throughout the school.

The Tribes Trail


The Tribes Trail Map illustrates the sequential stages of group development that the teacher-facilitator (Mrs. Brown), will lead their flock through. Notice the bottom line. It shows a gradual shift in Mrs. Brown's role from being directive, providing much structure, to becoming less directive and transferring leadership to tribes within the community. After initial activities that develop inclusion for everyone in classroom tribes, she will be encouraging students to assume leadership in their tribes and within the classroom. The net effect of this subtle process is that responsibility is transferred to students themselves.

Each person entering the group is unique in his/her life experience and perceives the new classroom situation or meeting out of a personal complex of diverse needs and expectations. All newcomers to any group feel an initial anxiety and have many unspoken questions:
  • I wonder if I'll like this classroom.
  • Will the teacher and other kids like me?
  • How will they get to know me? I feel scared.
  • Why am I nervous?
  • What will we be doing?
  • I wish this were the end of the day, not the beginning.

In order to have inclusion, three opportunities must be provided:
  1. Each person needs to be able to introduce him/herself, not just by stating a name but offering a short description of her feelings, interests, resources, talents, or special qualities.
  2. Each person needs to be able to express his/her hopes or expectations for what will happen during the group's time together.
  3. Each person needs to be acknowledged by the group as having been heard, appreciated, and welcomed.

Gibbs, Jeanne. (2006). Reaching All by Creating Tribes Learning Communities. Windsor, California: Creel

Tribes Learning Communities. 2012. Tribes Learning Community: A New Way of Learning and Being Together. Retrieved from: