5. Considering aspects of Leadership Style
Finally, the way a leader leads becomes a factor in student achievement (Brandt, 1987) and this can be extrapolated to student dropout. An 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" (Brandt, 1987, p. 10). Although Brandt (1987) focuses primarily on the increase of student achievement, his suggestions for improved leadership can also be used to positively influence the rate of student dropout. He recommends that good leaders be a visible presence in the school, have a solid vision and get resources for teachers (Brandt, 1987). Leaders are those who empower others to take leadership roles and are there to work for their teachers rather than rule over them (Brandt, 1987). When principals support their teachers as instructional leaders, teachers are more able to build positive relationships with their students. This will result in students who find coming to school a valuable, worthwhile and meaningful experience.
Among other characteristics, Andrews & Smith (1989) believe that strong instructional leaders are those who demonstrate a commitment to academic goals. They create a climate of high expectations with a tone of respect for teachers, students, parents and community (Andrews & Smith, 1989). They also place a high priority on curriculum and instructional issues. Murphy (1998) 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).
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 by sending 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; students notice leaders who are role modeling lifelong learning. To decrease the rate of dropout, students must see learning as a valuable activity that occurs throughout their lives.
Principals in Inuit schools have to work hard to make appropriate decisions to support culture in the school. Students who feel that their background and culture are respected are more likely to attend school; curriculum and content needs to be connected to cultural background (Dehyle, 1992). As a principal, Tompkins (1998) was able to strengthen Inuit culture and language by making critical decisions concerning staffing and curriculum:
The more Inuit staff we had teaching in Inuktitut, the more real Inuktitut became and the more the Inuit perspective and belief system was present. We could move Qallunaaq teachers up in the school and make the primary end function totally in Inuktitut. We could bring Inuit staff up into the senior end and have them work with Qallunaaq teachers so that senior students could get more instruction in Inuktitut. We could move our good primary teachers (Inuit and Qallunaaq) into the junior-high area and make that more child-centred. The more Inuit were working in the school, the more that Inuit culture and beliefs would be present in the school. It is almost impossible to say you are running an Inuit school system when the majority of the teaching staff comes from elsewhere and does not speak the local language or understand its culture. (Tompkins, 1998, p. 93 - 94)
By increasing the profile of Inuit culture and language in the school, Tompkins (1998) hopes to make real changes in attitude and achievement of students. Although there is no current data on the effects of the changes made by Tompkins (1998) on the dropout of rate, the decisions that are made to strengthen culture in schools are widely accepted as positive routes to improving schools by local and board administrators in the North.
In a 1992 study by Wax (quoted in Swisher & Hoisch, 1992), many Native students reported that they saw themselves "as pushouts or kickouts rather than dropouts" (p. 43). Transformational leadership may be the first step in coming to grips with this unfortunate educational issue. Liontos (1992) defines transformational leadership as a way to be "successful in collaboratively defining the essential purpose of teaching and learning and then empowering the entire school community to become energised and focused. In schools where such a focus has been achieved, we found that teaching and learning became transformative for everyone" (Liontos, 1992, online). Transformational leadership may be one way to eliminate Native dropout because of its focus on teamwork and comprehensive school improvement (Liontos, 1992).
Liontos (1992) defines transformational leadership as compared to instructional leadership (top-down hierarchy leadership) and transactional leadership (based on an exchange of services for rewards). The problem with other forms of leadership is that there is a tendency to think of leadership as the ability to take charge and get things done, where the leader is expected to know the best form of instruction for students (Liontos, 1992). This type of thinking keeps us from focusing on important factors like teamwork and overall school improvement. Once schools focus more on these elements, teaching and learning become transformative for everyone (Liontos, 1992). Transformation and empowerment for students in attitude, motivation, and achievement are desperately needed for students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
Liontos (1992) states that transformational leaders have three fundamental goals. One goal is to help teacher development and encouraging a collaborative, professional school culture; this means that teachers are invited to learn from each other to become better educators and be involved in shared leadership (Liontos, 1992). A second goal is to foster teacher development by internalising goals for professional growth and school improvement; this goal is supported by the belief that "teachers will more likely teach for thinking if they are in an intellectually stimulating environment themselves" (Costa, 1991, p. 93). Finally, the third goal is to help teachers solve problems effectively by stimulating teachers to engage in new activities; these activities force the group to work smarter, not harder and the group develops better solutions together than the principal could alone (Liontos, 1992).
The author also provides a number of strategies that transformational leaders use to fulfill these three goals. Transformational leaders should visit each classroom each day and use active listening to survey the staff often about their wants and needs. Good leaders help teachers work smarter by actively looking at a variety of interpretations school-wide and encourage teachers to experiment with new ideas based on good research. They use action research teams as a way of sharing power with the school so that everyone has responsibilities in governance functions. Transformational leaders get others involved in school goals and beliefs; they let prospective teachers know that they are wanted to be actively involved in school decision-making and collaboration. Celebrating the good things that are happening in the school and making sure to say thank you for special efforts is important (Liontos, 1992). These strategies help transformational leaders make a difference to the learning community; as Costa states:
Our schools will prove futile unless we create a school environment that signals the staff, students, and community that the development of the intellect, cooperative decision making and the enhancement of individual diversity are of basic importance as the schools core values (Costa, 1991, p. 93).
Transformational leaders encourage teachers to learn to be better teachers, work together and internalise goals for school improvement. These are important goals when considering how they reflect on decreasing student dropout rates. In the article by Reyhner (1992) on American Indian dropouts, students reported that educators of Indian students use passive teaching methods to instruct Indian students; classes became boring and repetitive for remedial classes. Transformational leaders give encouragement to teachers to develop better teaching techniques; Liontos (1992) states that "student achievement can be remarkably improved by such leadership . . . Schools where teachers and students reported a culture conducive to school success had a transformational leader as its principal" (online). This supports a belief that schools with transformational leaders would have a lower dropout rate; definitely, this is important in Native schools where the dropout rate is extremely high.
Liontos (1992) emphasises the need for balance when leaders approach creating successful schools; transformational leadership becomes just one part of the power continuum between the top-down hierarchy end and the facilitative end. Finding the right balance is important and transformational leadership is a critical element which has influence on teacher collaboration, changes in attitudes toward school improvement, and altered instructional behaviour (Liontos, 1992). These changes in attitude and instructional behaviour are vital to making differences for students who might dropout because schools are not meeting their needs.
The solving of dilemmas is an everyday experience for school leaders; the most difficult choice is an ethnical dilemma where two honoured values conflict and the choice is between two rights. One common example of an ethnical dilemma faced by school leaders in Inuit schools is the clash between participation in traditional land experiences and attendance in school. Although most Inuit schools encourage parents to take their children on-the-land, time away from school does tend to negatively affect student achievement. Schools leaders are faced with a dilemma: should the principles of the community, which represent those being served, come before the process of education, which representing the white mainstream society? These types of conflicts are somewhat irresolvable in a sense that some kind of compromise may be necessary.
Lashway (1996) suggests that leaders need to have a clear sense of ethical principles that they are willing to act on; ethical consciousness will contain themes of caring, justice, and critique (Lashway, 1996). By examining dilemmas from different perspectives, leaders can come up with a solid solution. Schools leaders have the responsibility of creating an ethical institution and the leaders conduct must be "deliberately moral" in both word and deed (Lashway, 1996). Moral leaders personify their message by teaching through words and actions (Lashway, 1996); it is the whole idea of walking the talk or practising what they preach. Honesty, courage, using power with restraint and stewardship are all very important virtues for ethical leaders to follow. The author stresses "whatever virtue is desired. . . it must become a habit. Ethical behaviour is not something that can be held in reserve for momentous issues; it must be a constant companion" (Lashway, 1996). Thus, ethical leaders have roots that go deep into human integrity. This allows them to make ethical decisions founded on grounded beliefs and standards.
Summary: link to Factors Leading to Dropout for Inuit Students
School leaders must take a closer look at how their leadership style influences the rate of Inuit dropout. Leaders can do a lot in the struggle to reduce dropout rates of Inuit youth in the North. All leaders - principals, teachers, parents and community members - can help decrease the rate of dropout. School leaders need to be aware of how their actions, attitudes and practices impact their relationships with Inuit youth. Although "many of the sources of advantage and disadvantage that lead to success or failure for students lie beyond the schools reach . . . some things can be done to ensure that all students are well informed, understand what is at stake and have the best support that the school can reasonably offer" (Day, Rudduck & Wallace, 1997, p. 85). School leaders have many roles and responsibilities; they can positively influence the reduction of Inuit dropout in Inuit schools.
Article review Liontos, Lynn Balster. (1992). Transformational leadership.
Article Review: Costa, A.L. (1992). The learning community.
Article review: Lashway, Larry. (1996) Ethical leadership.