3) Communicating with students
Communication is the key when dealing with serious problems like school dropout. Communication is the exchange of ideas, thoughts and feelings between people which requires active listening and clarity of expression. School leaders must be able to communicate effectively with teachers and students in their school especially when dealing with serious problems like student dropout.
Many schools in the North have increased challenges with respect to communication because of the prevalence of non-Native leaders and teachers in Native schools. Ninety-five percent of the population of Taloyoak is of Inuit ancestry; the other five percent of the population are what is commonly termed as "Qallunaaq" or southerners. Originally, the word "Qallunaaq" was translated to mean people with big eyebrows or people who are not Inuit. Sometimes the word refers to a legend which reveals that these outsiders are dog-people, derived from a union between dog and human. Today, the term "Qallunaaq" refers all people who are not Inuit even though there are many cultures now represented in the North. English is the most prevalent language spoken by nonnative people (although French is common in the Baffin region) so "Qallunatitut" is the Inuit word for English. It becomes very easy for people to create categories and stereotypes for the Inuit and nonnative populations.
Oftentimes it is a southern school leader who is communicating with an Inuit student who is experiencing difficulty. The two people involved come from two different cultural backgrounds and it may be useful to look at the stereotypes of these two cultures. It is important to keep in mind that many of the terms listed in the following discussion are not solidly ingrained in every individual of that culture. Especially today, 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. It is my observations that many Nonnative people who come to the 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.
Inuit and many southern (Qallunaaq) cultures vary in 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 nonverbal, indirect, body language used to express yes and no feelings; eyebrows raised means yes and nose crunching means no. The Inuit also have a traditional watch and learn method of teaching where the youth learn primarily by observation instead of through verbal instructions. Inuit are also collectivistic in that they value rituals and attempt to recreate traditional life as much as possible.
On the other hand, many of the southerners who 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" (p. 47). This can be seen in the individualists living arrangements; 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 as something that needs to be filled with conversation and thus it holds 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; many 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 English only speakers 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 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 to conversation. Collectivistic cultures, like Inuit, tend to look down 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 students 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 non-contact 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 arms length away and "in some cases almost nose to nose" (Gudykunst, 1998, p. 187). Newcomers to the Inuit society are often shocked with what is felt as familiarity around their person by children in the classroom. Perhaps this tendency comes out of the Inuit tight winter iglus where everyone was together in a small space in their daily living. Most southerners come from low contact culture where "people tend to stand an arms length away from each other" (Gudykunst, 1998, p. 187). Understanding cultural tendencies helps to accept Inuit childrens efforts to have close proximity 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 nurturing one another (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 called chronemics or the use of time which may be at play in communications between cultures. 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 compartmentalise 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, a 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 dont 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 influenced 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 regularly attending and awake in order to fulfill 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 where 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 most 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 realization 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 counseling 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 others messages. In communicating with people from other cultures, it is important to be 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). This state of mindfulness means that knowledge of oneself is just as important as knowledge of others.
There are also some cultural differences that lead to stereotypes. With regards to general characteristics, the Inuit are friendly, generous, humourous and they value sharing amongst family and friends. Generally, Qallunaaq are seen as more serious, possessive, bossy, humorous, and rich; they are seen as rich because any southerners who come to the 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 from the community for work training or jobs. Generally, Inuit 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 and community 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 it is common to hear the words, "Its 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 is more important than 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. Generally, Inuit are 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 tomorrows meal. Inuit are also very new to the idea of saving money or investing. In general, Southern cultures have 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.
There is a great importance of being mindful of ones tendencies when trying to understand others (Gudykunst, 1998). Again as Gudykunst (1998) states one needs to be knowledgeable about one's own tendencies and understand that these tendencies influence those of the others with which one is communicating. 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 use resources such as other teachers and principals when dealing with difficulties in schools. 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 administrators, we will be able to help students make wise choices in their educational paths better.
School leaders need to use their understanding of cultural differences to listen actively and become more aware of the student voice when designing reforms to schools. Lincoln (1995) states:
[Students] are, in a very real sense, the primary stakeholders in their own learning processes. Not only are students stakeholders in their learning but teachers can be too. Adults often underestimate the ability of children to be shrewd observers, to possess insight and wisdom about what they see and hear, and to possess internal resources we routinely underestimate. (p. 89)
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. Again, Inuit students are used to a great deal of autonomy (Condon,1988) and they are used to having a voice in decisions made about their actions and deeds.
According to Astuto & Clark (1994), past reforms have failed because of basic assumptions about people in the school community including teachers and students. Two theories are at the bottom of these assumptions: Theory X asserts that people inherently dislike work and must be directed and coerced to put forth effort and Theory Y puts forth that people will work hard in the service of goals to which they feel committed (Astuto & Clark, 1994). Unfortunately, Theory X assumptions imply that students must be ordered, rewarded and coerced to come to school. Instead, students should be involved in goal setting and school reforms so that they will gain ownership to their educational path. Once this ownership and trust in the school system becomes ingrained, students will work harder to come to school and complete their goals.
Day, Rudduck & Wallace (1997) reiterate this point. The authors believe that "if educators are ultimately concerned about our students achievements and opportunities, we must take at least part of the agenda for school improvement from their accounts of their school experience" (Day, Rudduck & Wallace, 1997, p.73). According to Day, Rudduck & Wallace (1997) most schools wish to make improvements to raise student attainment, raise expectations and enhance students self-esteem and morale. Although these projects stress whole school planning, collegiality and working partnerships, rarely do they consider the opinions and experiences of the students (Day, Rudduck & Wallace, 1997).
Instead of planning programs to decrease the rate of student dropout for the Inuit youth from our places of hierarchy, leaders should be asking Inuit youth for their input and allowing them to express their learning needs. Leaders must begin working with Inuit youth to design programs that will make their learning more effective for them:
Young people are observant, are often capable of analytic and constructive comment, and usually respond well to the serious responsibility of helping identify aspects of schooling that strengthen or get in the way of their learning. (Day, Rudduck & Wallace, 1997, p. 76)
Astuto & Clark (1994) conclude by stating that the metaphor for schools of the future should be the successful home which is guided by caring and mature adults. With respect to student dropout, such a school must "believe in the efficacy of individuals during periods of failure as well as success [and]. . . make time every day for the personal, interactive relationships needed to support learning" (Astuto & Clark, 1994, p. 520). Making this paradigm shift to valuing student voices is important if educators are going to succeed in making reforms to decrease dropout.
Summary: link to Factors Leading to Dropout for Inuit Students
Communication is the key when trying to solve difficult problems like Inuit dropout; school leaders must be mindful of their communication tendencies Gudykunst (1998) and become active listeners when dealing with students. To combat feelings of cultural insensitivity, prejudice and racism, and cultural discontinuity, leaders must improve the quality of communication. Teachers and school leaders must take a closer look at their own communication patterns and consider how culture and gender affect their communication with their students. They should evaluate their own cultural background as well and the implications of gender on communication. School leaders must give more time for reflection, mediation, and the building of authentic relationships with their students. By the terms outlined by Gudykunst (1998), the Inuit culture is collectivistic and as such, it is very important that education takes on the 'we' identity where all are working together for the betterment of the society. Leaders in Inuit schools have unique situations and have a special responsibility to communicate effectively when working to reduce dropout.
Case Study Assignment: Case Study Potential Dropout - Principal - Principal