Rationale for choice of topic

Background to the Case

Cultural Stereotypes

Research about cross-cultural communication

Personal observations

The Case


Revelant ideas in the case


Group discussion

Conclusion to the case

















































































































































































































































































































































































































































Assignment Paper-Case Study: Communication-Potential Dropout and Principal


Rationale for choice of topic:

Throughout the course of completing my M.Ed., I have focused my topics and assignments on the current state of affairs regarding Inuit dropout. In choosing a topic for this case study, I wanted to be passionate about it and have it relative to my teaching practice.

I currently teach and I am a vice-principal in a small, isolated Inuit community in the central Arctic. The population of Taloyoak is just under 700 people, one-third of which is school-aged children. In the past, students would travel outside of the community to get their high school education. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many would drop out only to return to low paying jobs or social assistance. Ninety percent of Inuit students in Canada leave before high school graduation (Hagstrom, Kleinfeld & McDiarmid 1989). The Nunavut government is also very concerned about the education of the youth because the government depends on Inuit to make the new territory of Nunavut work successfully.

Within the last decade, there has been a push for the development of community high schools in these isolated student populations. Taloyoak had its first graduating class of twelve students three years ago. There was much celebration about the success of these students. However, the rate of dropout is still very high. Poor attendance and high truancy leads to students leaving school early. More is needed to the solve the dropout problem than simply adding a high school to the community.

My research has uncovered a myriad of factors contributing to dropout. Much research deals with factors associated to the student: their home life, education of parents, social economic status, pregnancy, personal problems, attitude toward college education, attitude toward professors, feelings of isolation, perception of campus hostility, family mobility, tribal affiliation, gender, family constellation, student motivation, parental involvement or concern, innate ability, language, learning style, and academic level. Other research looked closely at factors linked to school: school climate or environment, teacher background or experience, cultural discontinuity, teaching methodology, teacher interaction, classroom organization, teacher’s enthusiasm for students and, roles assumed by the teacher.

To date, I have not read any material that investigates the actual communication that takes place between teachers and potential dropout Inuit students. It is in this vein that I wish to probe further. Perhaps teachers and principals can learn ways to effectively communicate with potential dropouts to help them make wise choices for their futures.


Background to the Case

When Taloyoak first opened its community high school (as an addition to the elementary school), there were a number of older students who enrolled. This occurred because many of the students had previously dropped out of schools outside of the community. Having the opportunity to graduate from a community high school was something that many of the students had been waiting for. Many had tried to attend school outside of the community but for a number of reasons (homesickness, family responsibilities, drug or alcohol abuse etc); they had not been able to complete the program.

On the surface, a community high school appears to be an ideal solution to the problem. Unfortunately, however, being back into the community does not necessarily mean that students will attend school regularly. Many of the older students were faced with home responsibilities (like looking after elderly parents or babysitting children). At the residential schools, students were carefully watched by house parents who enforced a certain number of rules or duties on the students in their care; in the home community, many parents do not have the same attitude to school study. As a result, many students do little homework and hold irregular sleeping hours. High dropout rates and poor attendance rates are still very evident in Taloyoak.

On the bright side, students who manage to pass Alberta Departmental exams have many opportunities available to them. A graduation diploma is like a brick of gold; Nunavut government jobs and many training programs are coming available. These jobs are high paying and offer many opportunities for future success.

Cultural Stereotypes:

Ninety-five percent of the population of Taloyoak is of Inuit ancestry. The other five percent of the population are what is commonly termed "Qallunaaq" or southerners. As a new comer myself, I have know just how much a blond or brown headed person sticks out in a group anywhere in Taloyoak. Even though there are many cultures from the south, everyone who is non-Native tends to be grouped together as "Qallunaaq." Qallunaaq actually refers to the language spoken by most southerners that come north. English is the most prevalent language spoken by white people (although French is common in the Baffin region). Qallunatitut is the Inuit word for English so Qallunaaq actually refers to anyone who speaks English. However, Qallunaaq is often used to describe any non-Native. It becomes very easy for people to create categories and stereotypes for the Inuit and non-Native populations.

Because the two people involved in the case come from two different cultural backgrounds, it maybe useful and interesting to look at the stereotypes of these two cultures. Keep in mind that many of the terms listed in the following discussion are not solidly ingrained in every individual of that culture. Especially nowadays, there are many influences (like TV, cable, Internet, movies, magazines, and music) that work to create changes in the ways Inuit are viewing themselves and the world. Similarly, many Non-Native people who come north are making more of an effort to adapt to the culture and language of the Inuit and are thus making more of a long-term commitment to working in the north. Nevertheless, there are characteristics of each culture that come into play whenever communication occurs between people.

What the research says about cross-cultural communication: Inuit and Southern Cultures

Inuit and many Southern (Qallunaaq) cultures vary in some critical ways; according to Gudykunst (1998) these differences can be at the root of ineffective communication between two cultures. In Bridging Differences, Gudykunst (1998) believes that the major dimension of cultural variability used to explain cross - cultural differences in behaviour is individualism-collectivism. Using the criteria set out by Gudykunst (1998), the Inuit culture is collectivistic. These collectivistic characteristics are shown in the emphasis on ‘we’ identity; traditionally, Inuit people worked very much as a team where survival depended upon all working together.

In communication, Inuit use high-context messages where "most of the information is either in the physical context or internalised in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message" (Gudykunst, 1998). An example of this is in the non-verbal, indirect, body language used to express ‘yes’ and ‘no’ feelings; eyebrows raised means ‘yes’ and nose scrunching means ‘no’. The Inuit also have a traditional ‘watch and learn’ method of teaching where the youth children learn primarily by observation instead of through verbal instructions. Inuit are also collectivisitic in that they value rituals and attempt to recreate traditional life as much as possible.

On the other hand, many of the southerners that travel to the north come from individualistic cultures. These Qallunaaq show individualistic tendencies that place value on self-realization; "each person is viewed as having an unique set of talents and potentials" (Gudykunst, 1998, p. 46) and each person is supposed to "look after themselves and their immediate family only" (Gudykunst, 1998, p. 47). This can be seen in the individualists’ living arrangements where once the young people become a certain age, they are encouraged to move out and start their own family keeping it separate and distinct from the original family home. This is seen by some Native peoples as a very cold and insensitive way for parents to be because to Native people, extended family is very important for group survival.

In communication, Qallunaaq show low-context tendencies; the mass of information is within the code or language and very little of the message is found in the physical context or internalised in the person (Gudykunst, 1998). Generally, southerners do a great deal of direct talking and verbal explanation to transmit messages. To teach youth, southerners set up large schools where teachers transmit a wealth of information primarily through lecture format giving explicit instructions verbally to others.

Gudykunst (1998) also links cultural differences in language use; when, where and how often to use talk differs in cultures like the Inuit and Qallunaaq. Gudykunst (1998) states that "one belief about talk that we can hold is that silence is an important part of communication" (p. 173). Like the Japanese, Inuit also value silence; silence shows many things in Inuit culture: understanding, respect, listening, embarrassment, defiance, truthfulness and more. Individualistic cultures like many Qallunaaq cultures often see silence and something that needs to be filled with conversation and thus it hold no value on its own (Gudykunst, 1998). Gudykunst (1998) writes that "for Native Americans, silence is used to protect themselves from people they do not know. Talk, in contrast, is used in intimate relationships" (p. 174). This observation can be also made for Inuit cultures in northern Canada.

Even the sound of the language is different between the cultures. Inuktitut has many guttural or throat sounds and is generally lower in pitch and volume than English. The English language has more open sounds and is generally spoken louder, faster and at a higher pitch then Inuktitut. Many Inuit are bilingual and most young people have lost their ability to speak Inuktitut and are speaking only English in the home. Almost all the southerners who come to the central arctic are unilingual in English although there are French speakers in the Baffin region and long time northerners do pick up Inuktitut over the years. Most elders in Taloyoak are unilingual Inuktitut speakers who need most of the school communications translated verbally because they do not read Inuktitut syllabics.

Eye contact is another element of difference between individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Gudykunst (1998) reports that in individualistic cultures people tend to engage in direct eye contact to indicate that they are listening and paying attention in conversation. Collectivistic cultures, like Inuit, tend to look down more often when listening "especially when the person speaking is of higher status than the person listening" (Gudykunst, 1998, p. 189). When Qallunaaq teachers witness this avoidance of eye contact by Inuit students, they often misinterpret this action as disrespectful and a result of inattentiveness. It becomes very important to understand these differences when trying to communication as a southern teacher with Inuit student in the classroom.

Differences can also be found in the way touch or contact is used between these two cultures. Gudykunst (1998) differentiates contact and noncontact cultures with regard to the comfortable distance people hold between themselves in conversation. In high contact cultures, like the Inuit culture, people tend to stand very close to one another, less than an arm’s length away and "in some cases almost nose to nose" (Gudykunst, 1998, p. 187). As a newcomer to the Inuit society, I was almost shocked with what I felt as ‘familiarity’ around my person by children in the classroom; my students were preteen and their size and proximity to my personal space made me feel very awkward in their company. Perhaps this tendency comes out of the Inuit tight winter iglus where everyone was together in a small space in their daily living. Other southerners, like myself, complain about this because they, too, come from low contact culture where "people tend to stand an arm’s length away from each other" (Gudykunst, 1998, p. 187). Understanding their tendencies and my own helped me to accept their efforts to have close proximity to me in the classroom.

Gudykunst (1998) discusses differences in cultures with respect to masculine and feminine tendencies. He describes masculine cultures as those in which there are differentiated gender-roles; power, assertiveness and performance are valued; and there are defined masculine and feminine sex-roles (Gudykunst, 1998). Traditionally, the Inuit culture tend to lean towards the masculine characteristics because they have strong male/female sex role responsibilities and these sex-role differences are still prevalent in many Inuit communities and homes today. Feminine cultures have more overlapping gender-roles with value on quality of life and nurturance (Gudykunst, 1998). One can argue that many of the southern cultures can be seen as feminine in that they are beginning to accept females and males into less traditional job areas.

This masculine/feminine element of cultural difference might also help to understand confusion Inuit people may have when they see females in leadership roles in which males would traditionally hold. In the past, Inuit men made most of the public, large group types of decisions (when to travel, what to hunt, etc.) and Inuit women were allowed to make more private, personal decisions (what to sew, what to cook, and the raising of the children). When Qallunaaq women show public displays of decision making as typical of the duties found in principal roles, Inuit males may negatively misinterpret these actions.

Gudykunst (1998) describes another important form of nonverbal communication which may be at play in the following case study, chronemics or the use of time. Gudykunst (1998) states that there are two patterns of time: monochronic time schedule and polychronic time schedule. According to the descriptions, most southern cultures would fit in the monochronic time schedule because they tend to compartmentalize time and will separate tasks accordingly; the typical high school schedule is one fine example of this use of time.

Most Inuit would use time differently, polychronic time schedule, because they tend to value connection between people, fluidity and flexibility. Unfortunately, Gudykunst (1998) writes that "M-time and P-time patterns are different, ‘like oil and water’ they ‘don’t mix’" (p.190). Forcing Inuit students into inflexible time schedules while in school is a giant leap in expectation and can be a source of problems when punctuality and regular attendance is evaluative. Inuit tend to be seasonally affected and often hold irregular hours for eating and sleeping whereas most southern cultures follow the clock and will eat and sleep according to hourly schedules. This incompatible use of time results in teachers and administration struggling to keep students and regularly attending and awake in order to fulfil the time allotted for each subject of study.

Also, Gudykunst (1998) uses the element of power distance to differentiate cultures; power distance may be an element to help decipher the communication that occurs in the following case study. Power distance is useful in understanding behaviours in role relationships especially when there are differences in power or authority (Gudykunst, 1998). According to Gudykunst (1998), many Southern cultures would fall into the category of low power distance culture because there is an emphasis on equality and legitimate power where superiors and subordinates are interdependent. It could be argued that the Inuit culture is a high power distance culture individuals, like females and elders, are viewed as unequal and subordinates are dependent on superiors; traditionally females had very little status within the clan and their power was superseded by males and elders. This type of mindset is still prevalent in some arctic homes today.

The power distance may also be considered an element in the school situation where the principal has power over students. Consider also that a Qallunaaq principal from a low power distance culture may not even realize the effect of their authority on an Inuit student coming from a high power distance culture. Communication and the understanding of behaviours becomes very confusing for both parties unless the realisation of differences in power distance is acknowledged.

Finally, there are possible differences in the aspect of self-disclosure between cultures (Gudykunst, 1998). According to Gudykunst (1998), self-disclosure is related to direct communication and is commonly prevalent within individualistic cultures like those found amongst Southerners. Although Inuit may commonly self-disclose amongst themselves they probably would not amongst strangers. Unfortunately, teachers from the south find it difficult to help students when they do not know what out of school problems exist; Inuit students have a tendency not to self-disclose personal information so counselling when difficulties arise is challenging.

Thus, research shows that there are many elements of cultural differences to consider when trying to understand behaviours of strangers during communication. What is important is that we take the time to reflect on cultural differences and understand the effects of various tendencies when trying to communicate, predict and interpret each other’s messages. These differences will be important when interpreting the following case study.


Personal observations: Cultural differences and stereotypes

There are also some cultural differences that lead to stereotypes that I have observed while living in the community over the last seven years. With regards to general characteristics, the Inuit are friendly, generous, and humorous and they value sharing amongst family and friends. Qallunaaq are generally seen as more serious, possessive, bossy, humorous, and rich; they are seen as rich because any southerners who come north usually come to work and thus have good paying jobs which shows when they buy expensive items like snow machines or nice clothes.

It is hard for those southerners who have traveled to the far north for work to understand why so many of the Inuit people have difficulty moving of the community for work training or jobs. Inuit generally are very unwilling to travel for any length of time out of their home community; even mining jobs which offer schedules to allow one week visits home for every three weeks of work at the mine have troubles hiring long term Inuit or Native employees. For southerners like myself, I see this as a real waste of potential but it appears that the Inuit ties to family are just too strong to allow separation for even a short while.

Another stereotype of Inuit is their lack of stick-with-it-ness; even amongst adults I have heard the words, "It’s too hard. I quit." Unfortunately this mindset is prevalent unless the job at hand deals directly with human survival; when survival is at risk, the people are far more willing to take risks to save all. Southerners tend to value the ‘never give in’ mentality; even for the most trivial of activities, southerners will fight frustration to win. Tannen (1990) describes the male attitude to competition, the instinct to fight to win; this instinct or tendency seems to be in line with the attitude of some southern cultures whereas Inuit seem to reflect more of a cooperative structure where group success more important than the individual success. When individual Inuit strike out on their own (job training, move away from family), the success of the group is at stake so it may be easier to say that the job is "too hard" rather than risk the chance of hurting the family. This cultural difference relates to the collectivistic nature that Gudykunst (1998) describes.

There are also obvious differences in respect to attitudes to planning. Inuit are generally very short term planners; there are many reports of extended feasting and parties that go on for days until absolutely everything is eaten and gone without considering what will be left for tomorrow’s meal. Inuit are also very new to the idea of saving money or investing. Southern cultures have generally been more responsive to long term planning. Perhaps it is due to effects from the Depression but many southerners tend to hoard or save up supplies, dreaming of tomorrow and investing in long term financial plans.

Granted, many of these stereotypes are just that, stereotypes. Also, these are written from the perspective of a Qallunaaq (originally from Ontario with no strong immigrant cultural aspects obvious) so there is that element to consider in the discussion of the following case.


The Case

As mentioned earlier, despite the many opportunities available for high school graduates, many students are still choosing to dropout of school. This case study looks at the communication between two individuals discussing the option of dropping out of school.

Principal Louise: A long time northerner (14 + years), female, middle aged, originally from southern Ontario, Qallunaaq, English speaker

Other stereotypical tendencies and information (Gudykunst, 1998) as discussed earlier:

individualistic culture - value on self-realization

low power distance culture

low context messages - direct statements - silence to be filled-high self-disclosure

language - open, loud, expressive

direct eye contact

low contact culture

feminine culture tendencies

monochronic time use

Student Tom: mature student (24 years), Grade 12, male, Inuit, bilingual, resident of Taloyoak, high interest in community politics and citizenship activities

Other stereotypical tendencies and information (Gudykunst, 1998) as discussed earlier:

collectivistic - value group goals

high power distance

high context messages - indirect messages - nonverbal messages important - low self-disclosure

language - guttural, deep sounds

indirect eye contact

high contact culture

masculine cultural tendencies

polychronic use of time


Over recent weeks, Student Tom’s attendance has become inconsistent. His homeroom teacher has spoken to him about this as well his concerned over the lack of homework being done and the level of motivation of Student Tom in class. The homeroom teacher requests the principal to speak to Student Tom about these issues. (It should also be mentioned that Principal Louise also teaches Student Tom and she is a member of the Junior High/ Senior High staff team. A request to speak to a student is not unusual as it is common practice for teachers to share the responsibilities of both counselling and discipline. Unlike other larger southern schools, Netsilik school works more as a web of shared responsibilities and information as opposed to a hierarchy in which the principal wields all of the decision making power and authority.)

Principal Louise takes heightened awareness of Student Tom over the next few days. She learns that Student Tom’s mother is not well and that both the father and mother require much help at home. She also discovers that Student Tom has taken on two part time jobs in the community (working at the Northern store and at the local Boothia Hotel). Although Student Tom is older, the principal knows that he currently lives with his parents along with an older brother and teenaged sister. She knows that Student Tom has high demands at home and takes on a lot of the responsibilities of keeping the home running.

It is obvious to Principal Louise that Student Tom is over loaded with family responsibilities and this is the reason that his schoolwork is suffering. She feels that Student Tom may feel guilty when he takes time to do other things than look after his parents and their needs. However, from Student Tom’s conversations with his homeroom teacher, it appears that Student Tom is looking elsewhere to place blame. His homeroom teacher feels that Student Tom is irrational and gets angry easily when approached about homework and attendance. From the perspective of Principal Louise, Student Tom does not seem to realize that it is not the homeroom teacher’s fault that Student Tom’s marks are low; Student Tom’s attitude to the homeroom teacher and his classes is very negative. Principal Louise drops hints to Student Tom after class about needing to meet with him at a later time.

When the meeting does take place, it is Student Tom who comes to request time with Principal Louise. They meet during school hours in Principal Louise’s office. The office circular shaped with chairs set in a semi circle; the structure of the seating gives opportunity for eye contact and direct visual communication. It is a private office, which is very bright with light blue shadings. From the perspective of Principal Louise, both Student Tom and herself are very comfortable in this space for the meeting.

Dilemma and Action:

Principal Louise is faced with a dilemma. She would like to have Student Tom complete school successfully, however she understands that he has many home responsibilities. Ultimately, she would like Student Tom to be able to balance his work load and remain in school.

Considering what she knows about Inuit culture and the value placed on family as well as her own feelings toward the importance of education, what should Principal Louise say to help Student Tom solve his dropout dilemma?

Relevant ideas in the case

(as discussed in M.Ed. class groups- July 15, 1999)

To understand the case, one must examine the perspectives of both Principal Louise and Student Tom. Principal Louise wants Student Tom to graduate. Because her individualistic culture values self-realization, she wants Student Tom to make the most of his potential and interest in politics, get a good education and job in this field. Her culture allows her to be direct in her statements (low context messages), have direct eye contact, and relatively loud, expressive language (Gudykunst, 1998). She also comes from a low power distance culture so she sees less of a degree of difference between her status and Student Tom’s which is accepted because he is a mature male student (Tannen, 1990).

Also, Principal Louise is a female so her primary goal is to make connections with Student Tom’s situation by building a caring relationship with him through creating rapport-talk (Tannen, 1990). Principal Louise may choose to start the conversation by expressing her hope for Student Tom yet show her understanding about the difficult home situation in which he is involved. Her knowledge about his family, their past, and his out of schoolwork helps her to maintain her connection with Student Tom despite her goal to encourage him to change his attitude and effort in school.

Principal Louise should also expect Student Tom to have low eye contact with her during the discussion and that this action is not inattentiveness or uncaring on behalf of Student Tom. Student Tom will probably not self-disclose nor talk about his home life with her and may tend to use silence more frequently to express himself; this may confuse Principal Louise unless she is mindful of his cultural tendencies. She should also be aware of Student Tom’s cultural tendencies to use indirect statements and nonverbal communication to express himself.

Principal Louise would also do well to speak slightly slower and lower pitch than what she is used to when speaking within her own in-groups. Depending on Student Tom’s ability to understand English, she may choose to use a translator so that all of her communication is fully understandable by Student Tom.

Although Principal Louise is female, her fourteen-year commitment to the community and the school will hopefully rise her status amongst the Inuit male's population and Student Tom, although an older male, will seriously consider her suggestions. According to Tannen (1990), Principal Louise may be more effective in communicating across genders if she takes a one-down or asymmetrical approach in this conversation. By coming forth as a helper to Student Tom, Student Tom maintains his male goal of status and may be more open to her help; if she comes forth as a heavy-hand, Student Tom loses his status may react negatively to the conversation.

From his conversations with his homeroom teacher and now with Principal Louise, Student Tom has a tendency to blame others around him for his difficulties. As in Tannen (1990), Student Tom is typical of males who attribute negative instances (poor marks, bad grades, failure etc) to external elements (bad teacher, too much homework, too strict, incomprehensible teaching style, too difficult work etc). It really isn’t until Principal Louise begins connecting his out of school life to his efforts within school that Student Tom begins to realize where the attribution of poor marks needs to be set.

Student Tom’s culture is one in which uses polychronic time scheduling (Gudykunst, 1998) so it is probable that Student Tom does not value the time he loses by not coming punctual to class; he views time far more flexible than what is allotted for in the six day cycle of the school schedule. Student Tom also comes from a culture which values collectivism; he family and his people are far more important than his personal goals of completing his education even though in the long term a good job could provide better housing and more money for food.

Student Tom’s homeroom teacher complains of vague responses when Student Tom is approached for reasons for his lack of effort; this might be attributed to Student Tom’s culture and the use high context messages, indirect messages, indirect eye contact and nonverbal behaviour (Gudykunst, 1998). At this point, Student Tom sees his only option as dropping out because ‘it’s too hard’. This is another element of the cultural stereotype of Inuit, a lack of stick-with-it-ness and an unwillingness to finish a task unless it deals directly with human survival.

Although, Principal Louise has been in the community for an extensive length of time (over fourteen years), Student Tom may negatively view Principal Louise’s power as authority because it is in contrary with Student Tom’s masculine culture (Gudykunst, 1998) which holds strong gender roles in society. Student Tom also comes from a high power distance culture which may help to explain his tendency to avoid meeting with Principal Louise earlier.


Alternatives (as discussed in M.Ed. class groups - July 15, 1999)

There are a number of alternatives for this case that Principal Louise can take. Ultimately, Principal Louise wants Student Tom to graduate. She should provide Student Tom with these alternatives in order that he sees himself in control of his situation and will thus take ownership in the decisions made. Tannen (1990) suggests that males need to preserve independence in order to achieve status, so by having Student Tom be involved with the choices about his future, he will feel that it is his decision instead of simply being told what to do.

One of the alternatives is for Student Tom to become a part-time student. Principal Louise would help him set up deadlines and a time line for completion of his courses. The good thing about this plan would be that he would still be able to maintain his work situation and be available to his family. Unfortunately, this plan would extend his time in school and delay his graduation and ultimately prolong his chances of getting a good job.

Another alternative would be for Student Tom to take a year off from school. This way he would be able to devote his time and energy to helping his family which is important in the Inuit culture. He would not be strapped with poor marks on his school record due to his struggle between family and school. Unfortunately, the odds are against him with regards to actually returning to school; many students find it very difficult to return to school once they have left and found work however low paying it may be. Also, this plan does not get Student Tom any closer to completing his high school diploma.

A third alternative is for Student Tom to realize that he has taken on too much out-of-school responsibilities. Student Tom should be encouraged to reduce his working hours by either quitting one of his after school jobs or restricting the number of hours he allows himself to be labouring. Principal Louise may also encourage Student Tom to find a respite worker who would be willing to come into the family home and help with cooking and cleaning activities. Student Tom’s siblings may also need to understand that they must help out as much as possible to allow Student Tom time to complete homework assignments. Principal Louise may also provide a tutor for Student Tom and could permit modifications to assignments, which emphasize Student Tom’s natural interest in civics and local politics. In this way, Student Tom is recognised for the work he has done and is able to continue helping his family at the same time furthering his education. Unfortunately, for this plan to work, Student Tom needs to acknowledge that he has taken on too much and that it is not the fault of others for his poor marks and inconsistent behaviour in class.

It is believed that the third alternative would be best because it acknowledges there is a problem in balancing work and school. This plan allows for the opportunity for Student Tom to complete his educational goals by giving him support and resources for success. By providing Student Tom with alternatives, it allows him to take ownership in his educational path. He is still able to help at home and maintain his cultural beliefs by being a good son to his Inuit parents.



Group discussion note (July 15, 1999):

It should be mentioned that in our group discussions, many of the members were strongly pitted against the homeroom teacher. It is for this reason that I mention the fact that the Principal Louise also teaches Student Tom as part of the Senior High Team. In our school there is not so much of a hierarchy involved between the teachers and administration; we feel we are all part of the chemistry that goes into making the school a successful place of work.

Members of the group felt that the homeroom teacher made Student Tom completely defensive in his actions and the homeroom teacher should have been able to adjust all of Student Tom’s assignments so that he could graduate. I disagree because although the homeroom teacher may have known quite a bit about Student Tom’s situation, it is not up to the homeroom teacher to completely alter course requirements without first discussing all other courses of action with the principal. Student Tom would also have to sit for Alberta Diploma Departmental examinations to completely graduate so lowering the standard for inclass work would not help prepare Student Tom for his final tests.

I believe the opinions expressed by the group came out of their own experiences with the hierarchical structure where the principal holds complete power. They thought it was quite wrong for the homeroom teacher to suggest that Principal Louise speak to Student Tom at this point in the case. I see their interpretation valid only if speaking to the principal is seen as a disciplinary action instead of a preventative or counselling action. Only once I was able to explain this misinterpretation openly to the group, did the other members finally get involved in the actual dilemma, which was what Principal Louise should say to Student Tom.

Also, the group members did not consider alternative two to be a valid option. Again, I continue to include this as an alternative because of the importance and value placed on the family in Inuit culture. When considering Inuit collectivism culture (Gudykunst, 1998) the welfare of the family outweighs the welfare of the individual which includes any education intended to better just one of the group. I believe the other members of the group had difficulties understanding this point of view for a number of possible reasons: they are teachers who value education over family connections, they may want to promote Native educational success at all costs, or they are so focused on education and its importance in Southern individualistic culture (Gudykunst, 1998) that they forget to consider the collectivist point of view.

Conclusion to Case Study

In conclusion to this case study, I would like to reiterate the importance of being mindful of one’s tendencies when trying to understand others (Gudykunst, 1998). Gudykunst (1998) states it well when he says, "the important thing to keep in mind is that your tendencies affect your communication with people who have different tendencies" (p. 68). In order to have effective communication with Student Tom, Principal Louise needs to consider her own ways of communication as both a female and a Qallunaaq or southerner. She must also reflect on the tendencies that are present in Student Tom’s ways of communicating. By considering the cultural stereotypes and checking perceptions fully during conversation, Principal Louise will be more able to attribute appropriate meaning to Student Tom’s words and actions during their interaction (Gudykunst, 1998). Her understanding of Student Tom’s family and out of school activity is also another valuable way that Principal Louise can help provide alternatives to dropping out of school for Student Tom.

Instead of getting continuously frustrated with students who do poorly in school, teachers need to become more aware of the cultural and gender aspects of the students they teach. Being able to adjust our communication patterns is one way that we can ensure effective communication with others who differ from ourselves (Tannen, 1990). Teachers should also be willing to used resources such as other teachers and principals when dealing with difficulties in schools. I believe that the feminine tendency towards connections and webs (Tannen, 1990) is more useful in dealing with relationships between students and teachers than the masculine tendency of status and hierarchy. Perhaps, by taking the time to analyze our own personal tendencies as teachers and administration, we will be better able to help students make wise choices in their educational path.


Gudykunst, W. (1998). Bridging Differences: Effective intergroup communication. 3rd Ed. California: Sage Publications.

Hagstrom, D., Kleinfeld, J., & McDiarmid, G.W. (1989). Small local high schools decrease Alaska Native drop-out rates. Journal of American Indian Education, 28, 24 - 29.

Tannen, D. (1990). You Just Don’t Understand: Men and women in conversation. New York: Ballentine Books.