I had the chance to listen to Seth Godin the other day. You know . . . author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, The Purple Cow and Small is the New Big?


Well . . . he’s not really an education guy. He’s a marketing guy. But he said some things the other day that I think can apply to us.

Like many others before him, Godin compared K-12 education to the traditional factory system. And not in a good way. Not really a novel idea but he went on to suggest what I think is a novel solution.

tribes_seth_godinYou ready?

Create a tribe.

That’s right. A tribe.

In his latest book and during his keynote, Godin suggests that all people want to belong to a special group, that we all want to be “insiders,” that we want to belong to a tribe. It could be the Red Sox Nation, the Red Hat Club, the Red Hot Chili Peppers fan club or the Red Cross 10 Gallon donor group. His point is that  people have been joining tribes forever.

And he suggests that we as educators can use this desire to join tribes to our benefit. If we truly want to change the educational system, it will have to come through the work of a group of dedicated people. And to be successful, this new tribe must be led.

And led not just by any kind of leader. Godin makes a very strong case that:

every successful tribe is led by a heretic.

I love that quote!

Change is hard, especially in education, and it take people who are willing to bend the rules a bit (and maybe break them once in a while) for real change to happen.

And the scary thing is that many of the leaders now in place – principals, superintendents and Boards of Education – are often not heretics. They like things to be stable and comfortable and “manageable.”

(One exception might be Michelle Rhee of the Washington DC school district. Rhe has offered teachers the option of merit pay, closed poor performing schools and fired administrators – all while saying “what happens to kids is what’s most important.” Heresy!)

Godin suggests that it’s up to you, the point of the spear, to make sure that true change occurs. And I see his idea apply both directly in the classroom and in the larger education realm.

How to effect change?

There is no Tribes for Dummies book but . . .

  • Challenge the status quo
  • Create a culture that encourages positive deviancy, a change for the better
  • Develop the idea of “insiders”
  • Create a culture that stands for something
  • Be curious about everything
  • Be charismatic – “Charisma doesn’t make a leader, being a leader makes you charismatic.”
  • Communicate a ton
  • Connect with your insiders

He ended with the phrase:


If you are doing this 2 people, you fail. If you do this 4 people, you succeed.

I’m still working through this in my own head and will be going back to his book to review. But I like Godin’s very positive attitude that we can effect change and that we can improve education.

If nothing else, Godin’s ideas make me feel optimistic about the future of K-12 education. And I like that!