Journal Entries for Winter 2000:
Journal Of Understanding the Inuit Dropout Phenomena: My Growth Through the M.Ed. Program
The fall of 1997 was my first initiation into the world of graduate studies. I had decided to enter the M.Ed. program for one reason - to learn more. Gaining a M.Ed. degree was not going to get me a higher paying job or a promotion, nor was I trying to change careers; I simply wanted to increase my learning. When the opportunity arose that I could study how to be a better teacher while still teaching in my northern community, I jumped at the chance.
I had been teaching in Taloyoak for five years before I took my first course. Without knowing why or how to change things, I knew that schools in the north were struggling to reach the expectations of a society which expects all students graduate from high school. Dropout was a real problem and poor attendance rates created difficulties for learning. Even now our staff is frustrated and at a loss for why attendance is a problem. We cannot understand why high school students are not attracted to our community high school which was recently expanded to grade twelve.
Until the creation of a community high school, all students who wished to complete their education were forced to travel to residential schools in larger centres. Understandably, many students could not handle being away from home and thus decided to drop out of school. The new high school expansion offers many elective courses like band and string music, art, Inuit language, physical education, career and technology studies along with the core courses. We see these additions to the program as positive and should encourage students to come. Students seem to enjoy coming to school but before we know it, they gradually become more truant and eventually dropout.
I decided at an early stage of graduate studies that I wanted to concentrate my efforts on the study of Inuit Dropout. Everything I learned from that point onward was made very relevant through my connections to my personal teaching situation in the arctic. The M.Ed. program allowed me to spend time investigating Inuit Youth Dropout. Through my course work, I tried to slant my studies to explore this issue. In each of the ten courses, there was an opportunity to discuss its impact making it relevant to my personal teaching experience. This section of the capstone project allows me to demonstrate my learning over time regarding the Inuit Dropout phenomena.
Research in Classroom Teaching, Fall 1997 was my first graduate course and time was spent looking at the situational effectiveness of quantitative and qualitative research. At this point, I was still trying to figure out how I wanted to approach a capstone project, and qualitative research seemed the best way to go because of the complexities of the dropout issue and the individual diversity of those impacted by the problem. Unfortunately, quantitative research was more in line with the research I had been reading up to this point, so qualitative research methods was really a new focus. Qualitative research provides a picture of the who, what and why of Inuit dropout.
I had been trying to increase my core knowledge by reading as many articles as possible and in keeping with my commitment, I spent my summer reading a collection of papers about education of First Nations people in Canada (Battiste & Barman, 1995). I realize that the Inuit are not the same as the First Nations people but I believe they have some similarity and much can be learned by sharing respective experiences. I concentrated my reading on educational issues because I consider dropout to be one of the more difficult problems for Inuit. Ever since the beginning I kept an eye out for articles dealing specifically with this issue. I have found that there is not much literature published directly dealing with educational issues of the Inuit. This has made me really think hard about the situation in the north and how it connects to others across North America.
One article I reviewed in the course impacted my early thinking on the dropout topic. The article entitled "A major challenge for the educational system: Aboriginal retention and dropout" (Mackay & Myles, 1989) explores the tendency of educators to blame the dropout situation on parents: their social economic status, parental level of educational attainment, parenting skills etc. By reading this article, I realized that I also had this tendency to shift the responsible away from the school onto external factors. Although I feel that parents are one of the factors related to the dropout issue, many parents have been unfairly judged by some educators. Parents have to be given opportunities to become involved in the school and a conscious effort has to be made to encourage parents and elders to join the partnership of education. I think that when parents see the value of schools and education, they will encourage their children to stay in school. In a sense, educators must be willing to put forth the effort to sell the idea of school to parents who have seen schools as a negative institution in the past.
As noted by Mackay & Myles (1989), some parents only receive communication from the school when there are problems at school with their children; thus schools must be sure to make positive communication a priority to ensure positive experience between parents and educators. The research revealed that there was a lack of willingness on behalf of both the school and home to rectify this issue (Mackay & Myles, 1989). In my community, the teachers live right alongside the local people. Even with this close proximity, I have seen a distrust of the school from the community. As a staff, we are forever thinking of ways to involve the parents and elders in the school and have money available to pay for their participation. Even so parents often indicate to us that they do not understand the system and that their ways are foreign to ours. Clearly, successful school-community communication is the basis for forming positive support for the school by parents and students.
When reading the study by Mackay & Myles (1989), I realized the importance to have the willingness of all parties to work together, sharing power and making commitments for the betterment of the students. All parties must meet the challenges. Parents, schools, school boards and communities have to understand each other in order to solve the difficult problems of dropout.
With all of the possible reasons students have for leaving school, a one step solution for the dropout problem is not going to work. Even at this early point in my M.Ed. journey I knew that I wanted to focus my capstone project on the complexities of dropout and try to come up with some strategies to improve the situation for Inuit. I had just begun to realize the importance of looking at all perspectives of the dropout situation. The Research in Classroom Teaching course opened my eyes to the various facets of the dropout issue and how it is important to consider how one studies the phenomena. To do a good job of researching the Inuit dropout issue, one must value both quantitative and qualitative research.
My second course was Learning Theory in Winter 1998. This course explored knowledge and learning, how learning takes place, how learning needs change, and contemporary learning models. I was particularly interested in learning more about Multiple Intelligences and the impact of learning styles on the success of student learning. At this point in my teaching, I had been introduced to Multiple Intelligences and was just beginning to try some new things in my teaching with respect to this contemporary learning model.
Over the years I had observed that most of my Inuit students really learned well when given activities that required their Kinesthetic, Musical and Visual Intelligence strengths to be utilised. Unfortunately, so much of our teaching is limited to Linguistic Intelligence and Logical-Mathematical Intelligence areas. Although I had nothing but personal observation, I had the feeling that Inuit children really need the opportunity to use their learning strengths in these other areas. The Learning Theory course confirmed my belief that students need to explore personal learning styles beyond what is traditionally emphasised in classrooms.
The article reviews I completed in this Learning Theory course also reinforced the need for schools to be a learning community. The article, "The Learning Community" (Costa,1992) forced me to look at the responsibilities of all stakeholders in a common vision of learning. The goal is to promote intellectual growth of all members of the school community. This article sparked the idea to look at the impact of all stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, administration, and community) on Inuit dropout in my capstone project. The visual I created for this article assignment represented how the relationship between all parties is really very important and necessary for learning.
The Learning Theory course also encouraged me to look at how the current structure of schools can influence learning success. The article by Harris (1992) entitled "Restructuring for Learning" explores three areas that need to be reconceptualised and restructured in education. Firstly, education must become a community responsibility by rethinking the role of the community and the role of the institution. Secondly, a purpose for education must be created that is strongly supported at all levels; thus we must rethink the curriculum goals and accountability. Thirdly, we must look again at what it means to be an educated person of the future. Harris (1992) encourages educators in Nunavut to consider the three areas when trying to implement programs to reduce dropout and increase student success.
This course helped me analyse how my teaching and the school system impact Inuit dropout. It is very comforting for me to read articles in If Mind Matters (Bellanca, Costa, & Fogarty, 1992) that confirm my own beliefs about learning and the education system. Some of the articles strike very close to my personal beliefs and are relevant to my teaching situation. For example, I was struck with the truth of the analogy in the opening illustrating how far behind education is changing to meet the needs of todays student. The image of a nineteenth century teacher walking into my class and not being lost is really humorous yet true. Why is it that when all of society (industry, communications . . .) has changed and advanced, our ways of teaching are still primarily standing up at the board and lecturing to students? The traditional ways of teaching may no longer stack up to the needs of the new requirements of learning. I question whether the traditional stand and deliver model of education was ever appropriate to the learning needs and styles of Inuit, now or in the past. It makes one think about how the traditional ways of teaching of Inuit are culturally different from the traditional ways of teaching for most other non-Native cultures.
The Learning Theory course certainly gave me a great deal to think about. It forced me to rethink my teaching methods and consider how they impact Inuit students. Before this course, I was like many other educators that tend to want to shift responsibility for dropout exclusively on society and lack of parental support. The Learning Theory course started me contemplating further impacts on the Inuit dropout phenomena.
My third and fourth courses were taken on campus during the summer of 1998. The Interpreting Educational Research course gave me the opportunity to critique real research that looks at the factors of dropout. We explored the various types of quantitative and qualitative research and the importance of selecting an appropriate research method. My major assignment was an annotated bibliography of research on the topic of dropout. Unfortunately, little research is written about Inuit in Canada so I was forced to look at the Native population as a whole in Canada and primarily the United States. Luckily, I discovered that the research I used was quite relevant to the situation in the Canadian Arctic and I was able to make connections.
I found that Native dropout is a particularly complex issue. There are as many factors to dropout as there are individuals who dropout. However, given the cultural and historical influences on Natives, including Inuit, factors leading to dropout become increasingly complicated. For example, it is often thought that students choose to leave school because they do not like learning; Dehyle (1992) found that many Indian students left school due to being "pulled out" because of family and community pressure or through being "pushed out" by a disapproving Anglo society. Indian students who are faced with the pressure of being "Indian" and doing well in a nonnative school system looks bad on their sense of family. Dehyle (1992) reported that in the Navajo culture teasing is used as a means to maintain a position of cultural solidarity and social control; students who did well in school were the objects of jealously instead of pride. Many felt that institutional racism imposed a job ceiling in their community whether or not they completed high school (Dehyle, 1992). Rosalie H. Wax (quoted in Swisher & Hoisch, 1992) stated:
Many state explicitly that they do not wish to leave school and see themselves as "pushouts" or "kickouts" rather than "dropouts." As a Sioux youth in the sample put it, "I quit, but I never did want to quit." (p. 23)
This concept was particularly interesting for me. I have heard students report that if they go on to post-secondary training, they will lose their skills in hunting; these students think that the decision is an either/or situation instead of seeing that a balance can be achieved. Native students have a lot of factors to contend with when they make choices about their education. The Interpreting Educational Research course demonstrates how to evaluate research in order to locate research that is valid and reliable. This is important when researching a complex phenomenon like Inuit dropout.
A second course taken the summer of 1998 was a course on Site-Based Management (SBM) or Site-Based Decision-Making (SBDM). Although the course focused on issues in Alberta education, many of the discussions were relevant to situations in the north and were pertinent to the dropout phenomena. I learned that many schools in the north have been practising SBM more out of necessity than through orders from government officials. Because of the size of the schools and the isolation from authority, northern schools have used SBM and SBDM to get things done. SBM and SBDM are ideal ways to make inroads to improve the dropout situation in the north. For one, SBM and SBDM encourage all stakeholders to participate in the school system and to give input on issues like dropout. Unfortunately, I do not see this opportunity working to its full potential.
My school works primarily on a consensus model for staff decisions although the principal is often bound by external factors from the Education Act. As a teacher in this school, I am encouraged and able to make many decisions concerning how the school is operated. These decisions effect not only my practice as a teacher, but also the school culture, the students and the community. With SBM and SBDM, positive changes can be made to make schools more conducive to learning and less likely to create tensions with students encouraging them to leave school.
There are a number of SBM and Site-Based Budget (SBB) strategies which I can identify. For one, we are given a school budget at the end of each year from which to plan for the next year. This budget is brought to the staff and we decide as a team how we wish to use the money. As teachers in this staff decision making process, our voice will be heard and funding will be made available for helping us teach in ways that increase student success in school.
We also order our own resources; the curriculum is very flexible when it comes to the resources by which to teach the content or skills required. We are encouraged to go beyond the recommended texts for courses and find other resources to supplement our lessons. In Language Arts, I can choose the novels, plays, stories. . ., to achieve the curriculum requirements. In this way, I can make the learning relevant to the north and my students will directly benefit. Although other subject areas have a bit less freedom, teachers can buy resources to make the curriculum real for Inuit students. These decisions are not handed down by the administration but are those decisions that create a sense of ownership with the teachers.
Teachers also get a voice when deciding the length of school year, school timetables, course offerings, teaching assignments, staffing needs, attendance policies and discipline policies. This type of flexibility helps teachers integrate Inuit cultural learning to the school. We are encouraged to be involved in committees which write curriculum and develop educational resources. From my perspective, teachers at my school get much of what SBM was envisioned to be. We get a voice in decision-making and many of our decisions are made with student achievement in mind.
Teachers are also encouraged to participate in the District Education Authority (DEA) meetings. The DEA is made up of elected people from the community who are interested in education. Some are parents and others are simply those people wanting to get involved in the school. The DEA acts much like a parent advisory committee or community action team except that the DEA has statutory powers provided in the Education Art which allows them to function as a Board of Trustees. The DEA has a budget and is able to support school events, cultural inclusion funding, breakfast programs etc. A DEA member also participates in the hiring of new staff members. They have power to set policy as outlined in the Education Act. They are advisors and give input on issues like the Discipline Policy and School Policy Handbook while also acting as a liaison between parents and the school. In this way, parents and the community are given a voice by which to express their opinions and suggestions. The DEA is to work for the benefit of the student which is in line with the SBDM philosophy. If the DEA were to see a need to reduce Inuit dropout, the power and money is available to make positive changes occur.
SBM and SBDM are a great opportunity for schools to get input from all stakeholders on important issues like dropout. Once all parties start to see this issue as critical, decisions and changes can be made to help alleviate the situation. In my opinion, SBM is not yet focusing on this issue and partnerships have not been made to ensure that all students stay in school.
The fifth course in my M.Ed. journey was Critical Approaches to Curriculum. The content of this course really helped to shape my teaching in ways to foster student learning in the attempt to increase student success. The course explored brain based learning strategies and other ways that teachers can approach their given curriculums. I began to develop a theory that ran like this: if teachers can learn to deliver curriculum in ways that students learn best, students will be more likely to succeed in their learning and will be less likely to have negative feelings about learning and thus, will be less likely to dropout. Teachers need to teach in ways that increase learning and reduce the threat of failure.
Caine & Caine (1997) argue that teachers really have to consider their own teaching practices and how these perceptual orientations and instructional approaches influence student success in school. I believe that teachers need to actively consider their teaching and try to adapt to benefit the child. Hopefully, students who are successful in school will decide to stick it through. Caine & Caine (1997) give me a lot to think about and the term brain-based learning was new to me; I did not realize that my personal philosophy about learning could be termed as brain based. I had never totally felt I was a whole language teacher, although I did believe, as I still do, in the theory behind whole language. I did not fall into the explicit teaching camp either, although I believe that explicit teaching is valuable as well. I believe in the Multiple Intelligences theory, but I do not teach everything using Multiple Intelligences. I simply believe that every child should have the right to learn in ways that best suit them, that builds their self esteem and teaches them how to learn. Their new skills will then allow them to access the information and knowledge that the world provides, to do so throughout their lives. I want my students to get hooked onto learning. I am hoping that if they get hooked onto learning they will decide to stay in school. Fortunately, I think this is the objective that Caine & Caine (1997) hold to as well.
Caine & Caine (1997) make observations about teaching that echoes my own feelings:
At the other end of the continuum is the type of teaching we had envisioned as brain based. . . . more fluid and open. . . included elements of self-organizational . . . gathered individually or as a unit around critical ideas, meaningful questions and purposeful projects. Instructional Approach 3 is much more learner centred because genuine student interest is at its core. . . . experiences that approach the complexity of real life. . . often felt to be suspect and nontraditional by others. . . students as active meaning makers who are trying to make sense of their world. (p.219)
I believe all students need to be active learners, especially students from cultures who are new to the mainstream educational system. Until 40 years ago, Inuit children learned by observation and by doing. They were not put into classes to learn; they learned on site by people that understood them and knew them well: elders, parents and relatives. Instructional Approach 3 creates this atmosphere of student centred learning. I think considering my own Instructional Approach is an important step in making sure my students get involved in their learning and stay in school.
Caine & Caine (1997) categorises teachers according to their perception orientations and instructional approaches; I could easily identify with the teachers they described. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud over the close resemblance that Caine & Caine (1997) make to those teachers I deal with. Unfortunately, I have had what the authors called "clash(es) of perception orientation and instructional approaches" with other teachers over the years. I was enlightened to realise what was actually at the core of the problem; sometimes I take these debates as a personal attack whereas it is more of a problem in communicating and respecting each others mental models. Their definition of dialogue identified one element that seems to be missing from much of the discussion found in our meetings with staff.
I have a feeling that northern schools have a mix of teachers with various Perceptional Orientations or Instructional Approaches. Part of this is because southern hired teachers seem to come from all over the country, from different educational backgrounds and different cultural expectations. Like Caine & Caine (1997), I believe that positive changes are more likely to occur when teachers are all like-minded in their approaches. Even if teachers were not completely alike in their philosophies, it would be greatly beneficial if teachers were flexible and accommodating for the greater good of the students. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most northern schools where the turnover is high and the consistency is lacking. Students are constantly required to adjust to different instructional approaches of teachers when it should be the other way around.
Caine & Caine (1997) value teachers as learners. I really believe that we have to be learners ourselves and keep our learning skills tuned. My students know that I am completing an M.Ed. degree and they see the importance of continuing to learn even after graduation. They can see a role model who is taking responsibility for her learning. Hopefully, they will start to see how their learning can take them into the future and help them reach their goals. Caine & Caine (1997) go as far as to say that all people in the school (including the custodian) can model learning by participating in process groups. This echoes much reading I have done about the learning community and the value of learning beyond the field of education. Caine & Caine (1997) open up the creativity of teaching for me; I feel that I am no longer forced to teach in the same way as I was taught years ago. I wish that I were introduced to this way of thinking in teachers college.
After taking the Critical Approaches to Learning, I wanted to expand my teaching to more global themes (Instructional Approach 3). I am already encouraging my students to make many connections to the information discussed and I am teaching using themes and Multiple Intelligences but I think I can do more to integrate subjects beyond my English class at the secondary level. I think that this will be a challenge because it involves getting other teachers thinking on a similar line but I know that it will be worth it for student learning. I would like to shift more of the control of learning from the teacher to the student. I liked the quote by Caine & Caine (1997): "Brain based teachers use anything and everything to help a child learn" (p. 238). I think we can do more to help students see the orderliness or patterns between the subject areas. I would like to explore more of how to facilitate the layers of experiences. Teachers are very encouraged to use northern and Inuit themes in their teaching. I try to make my themes relate very closely to what the teens are being faced with outside of the school and within their culture.
It is not uncommon that students who dropout have had previous discipline problems in school and Caine & Caine (1997) make the connection between Instructional Approach and discipline. I have had very little classroom discipline problems over the last two years since I have starting using more learning theory ideas and concepts in my teaching. I remember when I first started teaching, I was mainly a Perception Orientation 1 teacher and I had many behavioural problems. I think I was trying to control the learning far too much instead of giving up the responsibility to the students. I see this in other teachers as well. Perhaps, there are changes that happen just through experience. A lot has to do with self-reflection and active processing of my own teaching and learning.
Students may also choose to leave school if they feel threatened by the school experience. Caine and Caine (1997) discuss how important this need is for teachers to counter the downshifting and stress involved. Downshifting also is an issue for students. Students who feel that they are not succeeding will often shut down and give up. Giving up leads ultimately to dropping out. More creative teaching practices that involve students positively in the classroom work to remove the threat of downshifting.
Brain-based learning has a lot to offer in the struggle to understand student dropout in the north. The Critical Approaches to Curriculum course gave me insight into how the brain works and how teachers can use the natural tendencies of the brain to increase learning and success. Since taking this course, I have attended two major conferences on the same type of teaching strategies with speakers such as: Renate and Geoffrey Caine, Howard Gardner, Arthur Costa, Grant Wiggins, Barry Bennett, David Lazear, Jonathan Cohen, Martha Kaufeldt and Anne Udall. This is a great interest for me and I hope that my understanding and my approach to curriculum are now encouraging students to stay in school.
My sixth and most formidable course was Leadership in Learning taken during the winter semester of 1999. Although my study focus is Teaching and Learning, this leadership course forced me to examine my role as vice principal at my school. The course readings discussed a number of ways that leadership can influence student success. I feel that if students are successful in school, they will be more likely to stay in school. Thus, leaders really can make positive changes to reduce student dropout in Canadian Inuit school. Writers and researchers such as Terrence Deal and Peterson, Ron Renchler, Levin, Linda Darling-Hammond, Alfie Kohn and Thomas Sergiovanni all agree. I wrote nine article reviews for this course and in each I tried to make my comments relevant by taking the authors recommendations and comments applicable to Inuit dropout.
My major paper analyzed how leaders impact dropout. I discovered that the development of school as a learning community with a positive school climate is very important. Northern schools need to emulate the traditional life of Inuit clans where each member was learning together how to survive. Students need to feel that they are part of a learning community and that their learning is valued and respected. School leaders can do a lot in creating a school with a positive climate.
Leaders can work to increase student motivation for learning. Students who are motivated to learn will be more likely to want to continue learning and will stay in school. Leaders should examine how the school uses external rewards and begin to work towards intrinsic motivation which has more long lasting effects on learning. I had not really considered how my personal motivation could impact student motivation. The article by Renchler (1992) is a good summary of quality research in the field of leadership and motivation. It forces leaders to reflect on personal motivation and analyze how their motivational levels can affect students. It was interesting to see connections between restructuring and motivation. Often low student motivation is considered the students problem and detached from the school and the school administration; Renchler (1992) expands this perspective to include other factors normally overlooked.
School Leaders need to be listening for student voice in school reform. Students need to feel that their thoughts, ideas, and feelings are valued in the school. Students who are allowed to get involved in the decision making process will gain a sense of ownership in their school experience. In the past, students have been given the chance to voice their opinions on serious issues like school improvement initials, extracurricular activities, school-remodelling etc. Teachers and administrators must be willing to hear and honour student voices as well as know how to elicit these voices (Lincoln, 1995). Rarely does any reform work without the support of the whole network, including students; teachers must be willing to share power within the classroom (Lincoln, 1995). Inuit youth who see their opinions and thoughts respected will be more likely to participate in an educational program.
School leaders should work to create opportunities for teacher learning and professional development. Northern teachers need the opportunity to work with each other and to learn new skills that will help them deal with problems that lead to dropout. For one, the high rate of teacher turnover demands that new teachers be allowed time to learn strategies for teaching Inuit students in traditional communities like Taloyoak. I believe that leaders can nurture teacher involvement in making positive changes for the betterment of student success by: providing appropriate learning situations for teachers, allowing opportunities for teacher discussion and reflection, and giving long term support for changes over time.
Finally, leaders need to examine their individual leadership style. It is particularly interesting to note that the way a leader leads is a factor in student achievement (Brandt, 1987) which can be extrapolated to student dropout. Brandts (1987) interview with Richard Andrews reveals that "where teachers have very positive perceptions of the quality of their workplace, they are more productive, so we see incremental growth in student achievement" (p. 10). This really inspired me to look at ways that the characteristics of leadership affects student performance. I liked the quote by Murphy (1998) who states that the former image of leader as lion must be balanced with that of leader as lamb:
Perhaps it feels less than heroic to help develop a shared vision, to ask questions, to acknowledge weakness, to listen carefully, to depend on others, and to let go. Yet, where heroism is concerned, less can be more. To be a lamb is really to be a lion. (p. 659)
I am the type of person who is not afraid to ask questions and I sometimes feel that this may result in others thinking that I am inadequate and incompetent. According to Murphy (1998), I should not be afraid to let go. Especially in Inuit communities, a leader who is outside of the local culture must be willing to learn from those within. Acceptance is very important; if the community does not respect the teachers or the principal, parents will not support the school. Consequently, they will not send their children to school.
Tompkins (1998) writes that it was important that she become a learner as well as a leader: "As a principal I think the fact that I was a learner along with the teachers helped to communicate the fact that I believed we were all in this together.. . Because I was in classes so much I could see the needs of the whole school" (p. 97). Not only do teachers notice this aspect of leadership but students as well notice leaders who are lifelong learners. To decrease the rate of dropout, students must see learning as a valuable activity that occurs throughout their lives.
The Leadership in Learning course was an ideal way to get inside the perspective of the school leader in the fight to reduce dropout. The articles and research we discussed in class provided a wealth of input on the subject of leadership and student success. Through my investigation of leadership with respect to reductions in dropout, recommendations for improved leadership can be made which may result in lower Inuit dropout rates in the future.
My seventh course was taken during the hot summer of 1999. Communications in Educational Administration was a great follow up to my study of leadership in the previous semester. This course emphasised the need of leaders to examine the ways that they communicate with others. The two texts, You just dont understand: Men and women in conversation by Deborah Tannen (1990), and Bridging Differences: Effective intergroup communication by W. Gudykunst (1998), were both very relevant to the issue of dropout. Nothing that I had read to that point had investigated the actual communication that takes place between teachers and potential dropout Inuit students. Communications in Educational Administration gave me an opportunity to probe further into this side of the argument. Perhaps teachers and principals can learn ways to effectively communicate with potential dropouts to help them make wise choices for their futures.
There are communication issues that arise because many teachers and leaders of Inuit schools are nonnative There is an element of cultural difference at work when people from different cultures try to communicate. Gudykunst (1998) provides a great framework from which to analyze how these cultural differences work when Inuit students communicate with nonnative teachers and administrations. Gudykunst (1998) really emphasizes the need to be mindful of personal cultural tendencies when communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds. Knowing my own tendencies helps me to realize what goes on when I talk to my Inuit students. Also, I have to understand and accept the variances in communication patterns of Inuit students so that I can pick up on the nuances of communication. There are many differences between my southern nonnative ways of communicating and the ways that are displayed by Inuit people.
Tannen (1990) was a great resource that not only helped me understand my male Inuit students but it helped to bridge communication differences with my husband. When you live and work with another person in an isolated community for a long period of time, it is important to understand as much as possible how to get along. Reflecting on my own female communication patterns helped me to realize how my voice, body language, inflect and tonal patterns can be interpreted by those of the opposite sex. It was a real eye-opener.
With respect to the issue of dropout, I was able to use research by Tannen (1990) and Gudykunst (1998) to analyze a case study between a potential Inuit male dropout and a nonnative female principal. I used cultural stereotypes to outline basic patterns and observations about communication. It is important to recognize stereotypes as they are - stereotype. However, analyzing stereotypes is a good way to get underneath issues of racism and generalisations. Gudykunst (1998) does a good job of breaking down stereotype problems by examining differences in a positive way which does not put any culture in a negative light.
Setting up the case study gave me a chance to discuss the issue of dropout openly with my principal who was very sincere and supportive. She is a long time northerner and her insight into the Inuit culture is fair and equitable. She has a lot at stake in the community of Taloyoak and she tries hard to better the situation in the north. She is respected by many in the community. I valued her insight on the dropout phenomena in Taloyoak.
In the case study, the female principal is faced with a dilemma. She would like to have the male Inuit student complete school successfully, however she understands that he has many home responsibilities. Ultimately, she would like the student to be able to balance his workload 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 Tommy solve his dropout dilemma? An interesting discussion ensued in my group and I realized just how nonnative, southern attitudes prevail in my own mindset. I learned I have to really step back and consider my personal communication tendencies and how they impact those of the Inuit culture.
Preparing the case study gave me a chance to examine all aspects of communication for cross-gender and cross-cultural situations. The Communication in Educational Administration course is a great way to understand how negative communication pattern can negatively influence student dropout in Inuit schools. It is very important to be mindful of ones tendencies when trying to understand others. 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). 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). 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.
In the fall of 1999, I enrolled in the Social Dynamics in Rural Education course. This course looked at community development in rural locations can help improve the effectiveness in rural schools. Although I would not exactly call Taloyoak a rural location, it is an isolated community that faces many of the same situations that can be found in other southern rural communities. The use of the Social Compass outlined by Connor (1987) helped me to investigate the various facets of Inuit dropout in a systematic way. The Social Compass (Connor, 1987) is a set of twelve elements which direct attention to key aspects of the community as a social system. According to Connor (1987), the Social Compass provides a systematic coverage of the community; the points of the Social Compass are interrelated so that a change in one element will cause a shift in all other elements. Because I believe that dropout is a social issue, Connors twelve elements can be used to examine the issue as it relates to community. Connor (1987) encourages readers to think about questions that may need to be asked about the dropout issue before we can totally understand the phenomenon.
The Social Dynamics in Rural Education course provided me with a way to see how the community can get involved in the fight against Inuit dropout through the creations of an Intervention Proposal for the community of Taloyoak. At some later point, I may want to use my Intervention Proposal to increase the awareness of the dropout problem with the community and work to develop a community action program with the stakeholders (parents, teachers, students, principals, community leaders, elders, board members, post-secondary institutions, etc.). My work in this course allowed me to propose a possible plan to reduce the number of Inuit youth who dropout in Taloyoak.
A few years earlier, I had been involved in a similar community development initiative to attack the problem of suicide in northern communities. My participation in this process helped me to visualise how a community development problem would work on the issue of dropout. The Social Dynamics in Rural Education not only worked to create a plan for community development but it also required that I take a close look at my own characteristics with respect to being an effective community development worker. I realized that being a community development worker is a very demanding job that requires a great deal of reflection and understanding.
Within the Intervention Proposal, my goal for community development is to create a program to encourage growth and development of Inuit students in todays world. I would like to encourage a holistic program that considers the cultural, spiritual, social, economical, and political aspects of the community while ensuring that it places no limits on the child. The Inuit student should not find himself or herself limited in their future choices given their educational situation. I hope that sometime in the future, my intervention proposal could be used towards the benefit of Inuit youth.
Overall the Social Dynamics in Rural Education course was a great way for those of us who work in smaller communities to discuss issues that are often overlooked in other forms of professional development. Going through the process of creating an Intervention Proposal was a demanding but worthwhile process. I learned how to be meticulous when considering the various aspects of community development.
My last two courses were taken during the winter of 2000. The ninth course was entitled Principles of Instructional Development which focused on the creation of a Needs Assessment Plan, Constraint Analysis, and Evaluation Plan. To follow through on the topic of Inuit dropout, I chose to focus my work on the betterment of the implementation of Career and Program Plan (CPP). My theory is that if students have a better sense of where their education is leading them and they have a goal to work for, they will be more likely to stay in school in order to complete their goal.
I had a lot of input from my colleagues in the creation of the Needs Assessment Plan and Constraint Analysis. It was a really good chance for us to get together to discuss this important issue and to make plans to better our own situation. I learned that it is important to approach delicate issues in a non-threatening manner so that all members will be willing to share their personal experiences both positive and negative. Moreover, I learned that once people are given a chance to voice their concerns, they are more likely to take ownership in the creation of a solution and the implementation of the solution is more likely to be more successful.
My goal in the study of the CPP was to determine a way that teachers could be more effective in the implementation of the CPP for Inuit students. As a group, the teachers in my school agreed that we do not have the appropriate skills or knowledge to effectively implement the given CPP program. I used a Force Field Analysis format with the staff to brainstorm the enabling and constraining forces which work against the goal of implementing the CPP (Storey, 1997). From this list of forces, thematic categories were created which help to group the ideas into larger workable areas. The thematic categorisation reveals that the highest priorities for constraint removal were Time and Teacher Competency. The next step was to create an outline for a possible three-day teacher workshop which will give teachers a chance to learn strategies to implement CPP for Inuit students.
What was good about this whole process is that I now have a Needs Assessment Plan that can be implemented at any time with a few modifications. I also have a Constraint Analysis that includes genuine input from teachers and administrations at Netsilik School. I have an outline to a feasible three-day CPP implementation workshop for teacher and an Evaluation Plan to assess the effectiveness of such a workshop. It is more or less ready to be started. Even if this were never to occur, I learned the process of creation and the various instructional design models that work well. I feel confident that I could enact the instructional design process again for another focus area.
The study of the CPP implementation fits neatly into my discussion of how curricula can be modified to improve the dropout situation of Inuit schools. What I have learned since the completion of the Principles of Instructional Design course is that the Department of Education in Nunavut has also felt the need to improve the CPP process. In October of 2000, our school received a huge container of CPP resources including a CPP inservice facilitators guide. Obviously, the improvement of CPP program is a critical focus for Nunavut education. I only hope that by improving the effectiveness of the program we can look forward to more students staying in school to complete their CPP goals.
My final course taken alongside the Principles of Instructional Design course was entitled Studying Curriculum. This course dealt with the influences on curriculum design. Up to this point, I had not really considered the drive behind the curriculum I was teaching. Although I had been involved with writing an English Language Arts curriculum for the Kitikmeot region, I am not sure if I really understood all the influences that go into the decisions made about curriculum. With respect to dropout, I discovered that changes in curricula can have an impact on the learning needs, motivation and a will to completes school for Inuit students. Using my work with the CPP program, I saw that curriculum can have the focal point of society needs. I also understood the need for curriculum to reflect the subject matter as well as to have the focal point of the individual needs (Marsh & Willis, 1999).
I studied Freire (1997) and his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed for my major assignment. This book was recommended to me by Dr. Tom Gougeon who felt that a great deal of comparison could be made between the situation in Latin America in the 1970s and the situation in the north today. With the exception of the fact that Freire (1997) insists that education must lead to revolution, the model of Liberatory Education outlined by Freire (1997) has a lot to offer Nunavut schools today.
Latin America is not the only place that deals with the turmoil of cultural, political and economic problems. Freire (1997) explains that oppressors use banking education to perpetuate negative myths and to strengthen oppression. This type of comment reminds me of the situation occurring in United States and Canada most prominently in the assimilation of Native people into mainstream Euro-centric society. When I turn my attention to home, I can see how the goal of residential schooling of Native students really worked to reinforce oppression. These people became objects on which education radically stripped away their cultural identity and self-esteem. The side effects of residential schooling still linger from a generation ago. Dropout rates soar and illiteracy rates are high. All of these factors work to create what Freire (1997) would call an oppressed society needing liberatory education.
Freire (1997) links low literacy to social ills, the general public likes to believe that education is the first step to an improved society and nation. In order to do so, Freire (1997) states that we must not ignore the racism, sexism and exploitation in favour of the neutrality of technology (Heaney, 1984). Schools have slowly turned to focus on more multicultural issues and anti -racism programs to help with the turmoil found in society. Even so, Freire (1997) stresses that there is a need to change the traditional schooling system, which treats students as objects, into a pedagogy that uses the dialogical method to facilitate the growth of humanization and empowerment.
Freire (1997) has much to offer to Nunavut curriculum writers today. Since the Nunavut Department of Education (1999) is implementing Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) and will be rewriting all curriculum, this is their chance to make valuable changes with can work to reduce dropout. The Department of Education needs to take time to do appropriate research of the various ways curriculum can be approached; Freire is one writer whose ideas should be considered. It would be a pity if he were just written off due to the difficulty of his text.
The course, Studying Curriculum required that we write weekly journal entries. I was blessed to have another northern teacher in my course. My friend and I first met while working on the Kitikmeot English Language Arts Committee. It just so happened that we were enrolled in the same course and she agreed to be my journal reflection partner. Each week, we shared our journal entries and would write responses to each others work. We had much dialogue about teaching in the north and the types of challenges that Inuit schools face. I have included our journal entries in this portfolio. Writing the journal entries forced me to clarify my thoughts about dropout over the course of my M.Ed. program.
Overall reflection on my M.Ed. has lead me to believe that my thoughts on dropout had progressed on a sort of spectrum. When I first started this course, I was just getting past the venting stage of problem solving. I was complaining about dropout and I really did not know where to start looking for solutions. I was in the dark about many things and questions arose: Who are the Inuit? Why are there so many who choosing to dropout of school? Can anything be done?
Using the imagery by Rupert Ross (1992) in Dancing with a Ghost: Exploring the Indian Reality, I felt that I was in a:
. . .very large, circular room sitting in complete darkness. That room had hundreds of doors. Opening one door let some light in, but not enough to penetrate more than a few feet without being swallowed up. Opening a second door shed light on its pathway but spilled some over to the first as well. Each time I returned to that room and opened another door, I was better able to see what lay inside. And so the process continued. As I learned new things, more light fell on things Id only partially, or even mistakenly, glimpsed before. (p.xxvi)
Each Masters of Education course that I took was like opening a door and shedding light on the Inuit dropout issue. Slowly, I was able to see the phenomena of Inuit dropout from many sides and from many perspectives. Instead of just grumbling about the problem and condemning the Inuit people for their lack of support for education, I learned to look deep inside the problem to find ways that might give Inuit the chance to succeed. There is not just one solution to the dropout problem in the north. The new government of Nunavut needs to really consider their vision of education and be sure that their schools will be representative of the cultural, spiritual, intellectual, physical and mental needs of their people.
As Ross (1992) infers, the Inuit are not just primitive versions of non-Natives; they do not just need to catch up to escape the poverty and despair. Inuit have started from a different place than the majority of people in the south:
They began their journey to today not where we did with the Mediterranean world-view classically enunciated by Plato and Aristotle. They began it in Asia, then brought that Asian world-view to the reality of a harsh, nomadic existence on this land mass many thousands of years before Plato was born. They developed, refined and sustained it over those centuries, and it sustained them. The paths they followed were completely different from ours as we passed through the rise and fall of Greece and Rome, the Christian Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the development of a wage and money economy, secularisation, and the growth of major cities. For the most Indian of the North, even the Industrial Revolution took place without their knowledge or direct involvement. (pp.xxii - xxiii)
This is so important to remember when we work to create successful schools for Inuit. Placing a nonnative, European educational framework on the Inuit people is certain to fail. The high dropout rate is a symptom of this failure. It will take the efforts of all stakeholders - teachers, parents, students, administration, community leaders, government agencies, private companies, post-secondary institutions and community citizens - to work together to change the education system to become a way to prepare Inuit children for their role in todays world.
My perspective on the issue of Inuit dropout has undergone much change throughout my study and in some ways my views have become less clear and perhaps could be considered less professional. As a teacher, I am expected to strongly support the ideal that all students should achieve one year of education per chronological year; I should support the ideal that all students are to be educated in a formalized school setting. However, these ideals have been swayed through my readings and through my experiences.
I still believe strongly in the public education system and I do believe that many more of our students could be graduating from school now that we have community high schools. What has changed is my idea that all children do best in such a western-based educational system. I understand that Taloyoak is part of the global community and that our students need to learn ways that will help them deal with this extended world but I have come to the realisation that some children will do better given the option of alternative educational programs.
Related Reading (click to view full text)
Journal Writing - Studying Curriculum Journal entries 1 - 4
Journal Writing - Studying Curriculum Journal entries 5 - 8
Journal Writing - Studying Curriculum Journal entries 9- 11