4) Creating opportunities for teacher learning and professional development,
In order to make positive change occur, all leaders and teachers must be on board. School leaders must create and promote teacher professional development and learning experiences. Teachers need to feel that "they belong to a common community within which they have a sense of ownership, efficacy, and power leading to real commitment and responsibility" (Graves, 1992, p. 63). Teachers need to have a sense if ownership in and commitment to resolving issues related to practices that impact student dropout. School leaders must be committed to all learning as a clearly set goal for the vision and mission of the school; teacher learning is valuable in increasing educational success for students. Students who are successful in school with be less likely to choose to dropout prior to the completion of their studies.
In her study, Tompkins (1998) describes how her school was able to increase attendance of her students once those working in the school had decided that it was both necessary and possible to tackle this problem. To build this type of community, leaders must provide opportunities for teachers to interact with others under circumstances that maximises enjoyment and allows for information exchange and joint problem solving (Graves, 1992) The professional development that Tompkins (1998) talks of was connected to the teachers' everyday work and became meaningful instead of fragmented from reality. Ongoing professional development that is interwoven into daily teaching is very important when teachers want to transfer their knowledge from the seminar to the classroom.
Within learning communities, teachers can work together to find ways to decrease instances of dropout. Pierce (1994) writes that teachers can decrease the risk factors involved in learning and increase students level of academic achievement by creating practices and structures in the classroom more conducive to success. According to Backes (1993) there is a mismatch between learning styles and teaching methods that may influence the dropout rate among American Indians; if this is the case, teachers of Inuit students should examine how their current teaching strategies and classroom structures are affecting dropout rates. Teachers need to be willing to work together to solve these difficult problems.
Teachers must learn to communicate effectively with one another: "Developing a staffs capacities for talking together professionally is not magic bullet. But it may be the single most significant investment faculties can make for student learning" (Garmston & Wellman, 1998, p. 30). Garmston & Wellman (1998) state that teachers must learn and practice two different ways of talking, dialogue and discussion, to make critical decisions that affect student learning. Leaders can encourage positive communication providing opportunities for these skills to be learned and by allowing time for them to be practised. Garmston & Wellman (1994) give suggestions for leaders on how to get this type of dialogue started in the schools.
Darling-Hammond (1998) echoes the importance of teacher learning that supports student learning. Her article suggests that students will benefit when teachers understand the material deeply and flexibly so that they can help students see connections across fields and into everyday life: "Teaching in ways that connect with students also requires an understanding of differences that may arise from culture, family experiences, developed intelligences and approaches to learning" (Darling-Hammond, 1998, p. 7). To motivate students to come to school and work hard when in school, requires that teachers know their students well. Teachers must have an understanding of what individual students think about themselves, what they care about and what activities and learning experiences will give them success to work hard to learn (Darling-Hammond, 1998). Leaders can foster this understanding of Inuit students in remote communities by allowing teachers to learn from each other and discuss all influences on student development including cultural aspects and learning needs.
Tompkins (1998) talks about this need for teachers to understand culture and the unique learning styles of Inuit students. She states that teachers need to understand how to individualise instruction. Teachers need the opportunity to learn and discuss strategies to help all children learn in ways that best suit them (Tompkins, 1998). As a leader, Tompkins (1998) provided opportunities for dialogue by creating weekly in-service forum. These lunch meetings allowed the staff to keep updated on recent educational practices, share with one another and develop school wide themes to best involve all students in learning more about their culture and language: "These sessions created a sense that we were all still learning and still discovering new things in education" (Tompkins, 1998, p. 97).
Another program is called linguistic coaching which is described in an article by Caccia (1996) entitled "Improving Professional Performance Linguistic Coaching: Helping Beginning Teachers Defeat Discouragement." It is very relevant to the experiences of beginning teachers in the North. Smaller, isolated Inuit schools are known for high teacher turnover; many teachers originally from the south do not envision themselves as staying in the North more than two or three years. Many teachers hired are at the beginning of their teaching career and may have never taught in an Aboriginal or remote community. Caccia (1996) suggests that linguistic coaching is one way that veteran teachers can help these beginning or new teachers defeat discouragement during these starting years. Again, with daily interaction and learning connected to daily teaching practice, teachers can develop skills that can make immediate improvements in the classroom for student success.
Many teachers who come to the North have never held a permanent teaching position, let alone lived in a completely different culture. The approaches to communicating with Inuit students and parents varied greatly from the ways that are experienced in the south. As Caccia (1996) states, that the main problem teachers face is "an inability to cope with challenges to authority." Power struggles and communication problems benefit from linguistic coaching; linguistic coaching helps to cope with stress, establish authority in teaching roles and improve performance and attitude (Caccia, 1996).
Caccia (1996) describes linguistic coaching as a comprehensive approach to effective communication. The author describes that the premise underlying linguistic coaching is that "all speaking and listening can be categorized into some kind of action . . . in which the speaker makes a commitment with the listener" (Caccia, 1996, online). Teachers can learn to work more effectively once they investigate how they are communicating with one another. Caccia (1996) describes the fundamental elements of linguistic coaching to improve communication performance. Meetings are broken into three sections: 1) stating the relevant facts of the communication conflict; 2) describing the reaction of the teacher; and 3) the actions taken in the exchange. The resulting comments are used to develop new interpretations which leads to effective actions. The fundamental elements of coaching for improved communication performance: identify the performance to be improved, investigate interpretations behind the performance, and make changes by coaching for new interpretations and actions (Caccia, 1996).
Caccia (1996) believes that "all speaking and listening arise from a preexisting background of beliefs, attitudes, experiences and emotions. . . [A] host of personal and cultural interpretations influence teachers frames of reference for understanding and reacting to each teaching situation" (online). According to Caccia (1996), some of these interpretations are not valid, and invalid interpretations impede the ability of teachers to adapt and perform effectively in their work. For example, a negative stereotype of Native students is that they are lazy; this interpretation is incorrect but if left unchecked, this interpretation can negatively effect the performance of a teacher and the approach taken to teaching Native students. Correcting negative stereotypes at an early stage may help to reduce the number of students who dropout due to feelings of hostility from their teachers.
When teachers initiate restructuring to make positive changes in school, it is important to realize the amount of time that is needed. Foster (1991) writes that "creating a climate for change takes as much time and effort as implementing change" (p. 242). Teachers must be given enough time to feel comfortable taking risks, building trust and reflecting throughout the process of creating a shared vision and implementing changes. Leaders can nurture teacher involvement in making positive changes for the betterment of student success by: providing appropriate learning situations for teacher, allowing opportunities for teacher discussion and reflection, and giving long term support for changes over time.
School leaders must also encourage teachers to gain ownership of their own learning to better their performance and thus better the performance of their students. Darling-Hammond (1998) advocates learning situations like mentoring programs, extended graduate programs, supervised internship programs, peer observations and coaching, study groups, ongoing seminars, courses of study linked to practice, and school-university partnerships. These new programs are intended to create a "professional teacher as one who learns from teaching rather than as one who has finished learning how to teach" (Darling-Hammond, 1998, p. 9). It is in this ongoing learning that creates a teacher image that is professional, one that emulates the internship of a doctor. Teachers must embody professionalism in order for the role of teacher to be valued by the public.
In many schools, professional development is seen as something that is done to teachers rather than something that is done with teachers. Teachers need to get more involved in their learning. Darling-Hammond (1998) encourages teachers to take ownership of their learning by participating in groups that discuss, review and evaluate educational research. Too often, teachers place the blame inappropriately on students when students are unable to achieve to the desired level; Darling-Hammond (1998) gives the ownership of improved learning back to the teachers. Darling-Hammond (1998) states:
Teachers learn best by studying, doing, and reflecting; by collaborating with other teachers; by looking closely at students and their work; and by sharing what they see. This kind of learning cannot be divorced from practice or in school classrooms divorced from knowledge about how to interpret practice (p. 8).
Much of what is seen in schools is fragmented learning; connections are not made from the inservice learning to real classroom circumstances. Darling-Hammond (1998) presents teachers with a path to professionalism. The author encourages teachers to practice what they preach: Never stop learning. Students will benefit by having teachers who are willing to become better professionals and by seeing role models who are committed to learning.
School leaders can encourage a sense of ownership by teachers, students and parents by implementing a site-based management (SBM) model. The intention of SBM is to improve student and teacher learning. SBM is a wonderful learning experience for teachers because they get to be involved in the decisions of the school. The model of SBM gives teachers, parents and administrators ownership of the school and their personal learning. Professional development, staff training and shared knowledge become very important in this issue; this takes time, money and hard work on behalf of all those involved. SBM gives a process to express thoughts and feelings. It limits what can be "done to" these important stakeholders and allow opportunities for what can be "done with" them.
Due to size, distance from Board contact and removal of some major constraints found in other regions, many Northern schools work on the principles involved in SBM. Schools which work on a consensus model for staff decisions allow teachers, parents and students to get involved in decisions which affect them. Teacher teams are involved in planning the annual budget and ordering supplies to make the delivery of their programs relevant to the students. Teachers are encouraged to go beyond the recommended texts for the course and find other resources to supplement our lessons. 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. School leaders encourage teachers to be involved in committees which write curriculum and develop educational resources. Teachers are invited to have a voice in decision-making and many of these decisions are made with student achievement in mind. There are many ways that school leaders can promote professional development and teaching learning.
Summary: link to Factors Leading to Dropout for Inuit Students
Critical factors associated with higher dropout rates include "large schools, uncaring and untrained teachers, passive teaching methods, inappropriate curriculum and inappropriate testing/student retention, tracked classes, and lack of parent involvement" Reyhner (1992, 44). Reyhner (1992) cites an enthographic study of Navajo and Ute dropouts by Dehyle (1989): students who experienced minimal individual attention or personal contact with teachers felt neglected and believed that teachers dislike and reject them. This attitude and lack of respect for students transfers into a dissatisfaction for school and may result in dropping out. Teacher must be given the opportunity to improved their skills so that can help students improve their learning. Teacher development must be connected to daily practice for maximum benefits for student learning. Successful students are less likely to dropout due to negative feelings and experiences at school. School leaders can promote professional development for teachers as an effort to decrease the the rate of dropout in Inuit schools.