Monday, July 20, 2015

Principals' Short Course - Part 2 - Culturally Responsive Leadership

As someone who is entering the world of educational administration, I have a lot to learn about what it means to be a leader in a school, and in particular the leader of a K-12 online school. So despite the fact that my colleagues were heading out to begin enjoying the summer break, I joined many teachers from across the province in Saskatoon to learn, to connect, to engage in conversations about schools and leadership at the Saskatchewan Principal's Short Course at the beginning of July. 

I am reflecting on the course through a series of blog posts where I think through my big "take-aways" and make some plans for implementing them into the Sun West Distance Learning Centre. This is Part 2 of my series:

Part 2 - Culturally Responsive Leadership

Saskatchewan has a young and rapidly growing Aboriginal population that is currently being under-served by our education system. This was a common message echoed by various presenters throughout the four day course.

According to Dr. Michael Cottrell from the University of Saskatchewan, the demographics in Saskatchewan is changing which has considerable implications for K-12 schools.

In his presentation, Leadership and First Nations in Saskatchewan: Insights from the Joint Task Force, Michael highlighted the gaps that currently exist in graduation rates in this province. The results are both staggering and alarming.



The message is clear: What we are doing for our Aboriginal students is clearly not working.

Keynote speaker, Chris Scribe, Coordinator of ITEP (Indian Teacher Education Program) and First Nations and Metis Programming at the University of Saskatchewan, College of Education, challenged course participants to "think differently" when considering the changes that need to be made in Saskatchewan schools to meet the needs of Aboriginal students. That includes accommodating the identities of indigenous people so that their stories and their voices are heard in classrooms.

Taking up the challenge is the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. Tim Caleval, Executive Director of the Ministry's Priority Action Team, outlined the Saskatchewan Government's strategies for improving education for Aboriginal students in this province. After interviewing students, parents and teachers, the Following Their Voices action plan is implementing a number of strategies in schools across the province. 



(Image source: Caleval's presentation at SPSC - see link above) 

As an educator, I have been aware of the wide gap in graduation rates between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal students, but now, moving into the role of principal of a K-12 online school, two questions that kept buzzing in my head were: What am I going to do to help make a difference? What role might online education have in engaging our Aboriginal youth?

In his small group session, Michael Cottrell offered seven characteristics school-based administrators should embrace to become more culturally responsive of our students' lives so that we can be effective in meeting their needs.

  1. Know the History. Link to the Now
  2. Become Aware of Privilege and Exclusion
  3. Commit to Social Justice
  4. Know and Respect Aboriginal Cultures
  5. Develop Relationships
  6. Commit to Innovation
  7. Have Courage to Engage in Difficult Conversations

1. Know the History. Link to the Now
By not only knowing the history of our Aboriginal relations in Canada and Saskatchewan, but also linking the past to our current circumstances, principals and other educators can begin to understand the impact that historical decisions continue to have on families today. Some suggested places to start learning include:

2. Become Aware of Privilege and Exclusion
In a recent post by the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, Margaret Pillay provides principals with some resources to help explore the hidden stories of First Nations history and ways to bring awareness of this past to light. 

3. Commit to Social Justice
Inequities should not be tolerated. As a role model in the school, the principal plays an important role in supporting the school in taking action. In the Sun West School Division, 26 teachers participated in Taking IT Global which inspires classroom to action. This may be one way in which schools can learn more about Aboriginal issues in education and take action to make change.

4. Know and Respect Aboriginal Cultures
Principals who see Aboriginal cultures as an educational asset and who are willing to learn more will be better positioned to enhance the academic achievements of students. In march, 2015, the University of Saskatchewan hosted a Think Indigenous Education Conference which was designed to "inspire educators to incorporate Indigenous Knowledges into the everyday practices of teaching". Videos of various presentations are available for viewing.

Or a trip to the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre's First Nations' Language Keepers Conference in Saskatchewan in November might be another place to get started. "This annual gathering is the leading national conference devoted to preserving, promoting and protecting First Nations languages and cultures. It brings together academics, knowledge keepers, master speakers, Elders, community leaders and students from across Canada and the United States." 

5. Develop Relationships
A willingness to develop strong relationships with Aboriginal students and their families is another characteristic of a principal who desires to lead change. By bringing elders into the school or taking the time to experience Aboriginal culture first hand, principals can open the door to new conversations. 

In Manitoba, the Aboriginal Education Directorate supports Aboriginal education and training by providing leadership and support for collaborating with families and communities. A number of school divisions have received funding through two initiatives:

6. Commit to Innovation
With technology at our fingertips in schools, principals can "think outside the box" and explore innovative ways to engage Aboriginal youth in learning. As principal of the Sun West Distance Learning Centre, we have the opportunity to reach First Nations students through access to a wide range of K-12 courses.

7. Have Courage to Engage in Difficult Conversations
Principals who are willing to have difficult conversations about racism and champion Aboriginal students are more likely to bring out positive change. A number of organizations are available to help support principals in starting these conversations in schools including the Saskatchewan Professional Development Unit which offers a one-day Aboriginal Awareness workshop designed to deepen teachers' understanding of Aboriginal knowledge and culture and explore the implications for the classroom. 


The Principals' Short Course was an important reminder that my role as an educational administrator is to model culturally responsive leadership and in order to do that, I need to continue to learn and to open up conversations with others about ways in which online education may empower Aboriginal students in this province. 

It is an opportunity I look forward to embracing. 

4 comments:

  1. Great post. We have a responsibility as leaders to lead by example and demonstrate for others that we are willing to listen and learn, change and promote change. As a leader, one must be a risk-taker and innovator if one wants to see changes take place. Thank you for sharing your ideas and the different resources. Good luck in your journey.

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  2. Thanks Jade for the summary of Michael's and Tim's messages and most importantly the challenge to be culturally responsive leaders within our schools. Some excellent steps for for listening to the voices of our Aboriginal people as we initiate essential change within our schools. Thanks again.

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