Reflections on Seth Godin’s “Tribes”


Dr. Patrick E. Crawford, PLDC Executive Director

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“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.

Occasionally I read a book that keeps humming in my mind like that earworm tune you can’t get out of your head.  Seth Godin’s book Tribes is one of those books.  The Central York School District in Pennsylvania, selected this book to study the leadership required to continue the district’s implementation of Mass Customized Learning.  The book provides a framework for discussions on how “MCL Tribes” leaders can take the vision of MCL and link with other MCL tribes (internally and externally) to create a movement.  With this new definition and a pocket full of quotes from Tribes, the following will affirm the importance of leadership and communication in the transformation to an MCL system.


 Connected to One Another

“A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

 Throughout the Nation, there are “MCL Tribes” emerging.  The people in these tribes share a common passion for creating the “ideal learning experience”!  Regional organizations like the Mass Customized Learning Mid-Atlantic Consortium (PLDC & AIU8), Maine Consortium for Mass Customized Learning, Technology Innovations in Education and the Lindsay Unified School District joined the two original MCL visionary leaders, Chuck Schwahn and Bea McGarvey to form the MCL National Alliance.  One of the primary purposes of the MCL National Alliance is to provide a way to communicate shared learning, successful MCL practices and the latest research related to Customizing Learning.


 Connected to a Leader

 “The very nature of leadership is that you’re not doing what has been done before. 

If you were, you’d be following, not leading.”

 Let’s be clear; leadership is not about a designated position or title.  Leaders can be found throughout the organization.  Successful MCL leaders are generous and authentic.  They understand that leadership is about creating a culture that takes ownership for a change that everyone believes in.   Then these owners of the vision are empowered to take action.


“Heretics are the new leaders.  The ones who challenge status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.”

During my formative years growing up and listening to Sunday sermons I was left with the impression that Heretics only applied to people believing in or practicing religious heresy.  According to Godin, all significant change is created by leaders who can be labeled as heretics.  Consistent among these leaders is their faith in an idea.  It was once comfortable and acceptable to get caught up in the industrial age system of education.   The current educational culture, practices, and symbols have emerged over time based on the premise of doing what is best for children.   When the heretic leader steps back and looks at the current educational system they agree that this system no longer meets the needs of today’s learners and their future.  The forces to keep the industrial age educational system are powerful.  Leading the MCL movement requires courageous leadership.  Heretic leaders should expect to be criticized, challenged, and possibly even excommunicated (fired).  These challenges will be most evident by those who are winning in the current system.  It is the unwavering faith in the new educational vision that will provide leaders with the strength and courage necessary to transform the system.


 Connected to an Idea

 “Do you believe in what you do? Every day?  It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy.”

Chuck Schwahn and Bea McGarvey are often heard saying, “Tinkering” is not enough!”  The MCL movement is not about tinkering with the current educational system; it is about transforming that system.   Educators have been reacting to internal and external forces that guard the status quo without much success for decades.  The MCL movement is committed to disrupting the status quo and leapfrogging all the new initiatives guaranteed to improve test scores.  MCL starts with answering the following question: what do learners need to know, to be able to do, and to be like to be prepared and successful in life?


 Links to MCL in Action in Pennsylvania

 “Great leaders don’t want the attention, but they use it.  They use it to unite the tribe and to reinforce its sense of purpose.”

Armed with answers and the vision to create the “idea learning experience” MCL tribes are accomplishing the heavy lifting of transformation.   The following links provide examples of how three Pennsylvania MCL Tribes (Learning Communities) are implementing Mass Customized Learning.


Central York School District

The Central York School District implement the MCL Vision in the district.   They are exceptional at communicating the change and progress with their learning community.   The leaders of the district are always willing to share their learning with others.  The following are links are of two recent MCL videos showed on Opening Day 2017 and made available to their community.

Mass Customized Learning Grades K to 6

Mass Customized Learning Grades 7 to 12



Dr. Michael Snell, Superintendent

Dr. Robert Grove, Assistant Superintendent


Pequea Valley School District

Pequea Valley School District is a small rural school district located in the heart of Amish County, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.   The folks at Pequea Valley are believers in the MCL vision and have made tremendous progress in the MCL journey.   Adopting the slogan, “Where Each Learner Counts” unifies their thoughts and actions.   Although the PV Learning Community is strong in all the MCL Components, they have great examples and stories in the area of “Motivating Learning Opportunities.”

How PVSD is Using MCL to Show Every Learner Counts



Dr. Erik Orndorf

Rich Eby


Titusville School District – Hydetown Elementary School

Hydetown Elementary School in the Titusville School District has gone entirely Mass Customized Learning.  The small rural school leaders and learning facilitators decided to transform the building after several years of study and preparation.  Now in their second year of an MCL Learning Community, school leader Lisa Royek says it’s been tricky but invigorating.  Hydetown now has the reputation as the place to visit if you want to see what MCL for young learners looks like in practice.   Recently officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Education visited Hydetown to learn about the success of Mass Customized Learning.  You can read about the visit and Hydetown at the link below:

State Officials get to look at Hydetown’s new educational model:  Titusville Herald staff writer- Mary Hill



Dr. Karen Jez, Superintendent

Lisa Royek, Hydetown Principal


In Summary

 We, the educators in the United States can provide a Mass Customized Learning system that meets the personal learning needs of individual learners every hour of every day, while simultaneously meeting the personal learning needs of all other learners every hour of every day.


The following quote from Tribes can be applied to our responsibility as educational leaders.


It’s Not an Opportunity

It’s an Obligation.  Don’t Settle!


“To have all these advantages [relative to other countries],

… all these opportunities and then settle for mediocre

and then defend the status quo and then worry about

Corporate (educational) politics – what a waste of time.

I don’t think we have any choice. I think we have an

obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a

different game, and to play it better than anyone has any

right to believe is possible.” p135