A new take on leadership

A new take on leadership McGill University

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McGill Reporter
January 24, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 09
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 34: 2001-2002 > January 24, 2002 > A new take on leadership

A new take on leadership

When Valentina de Krom decided to do graduate work on geomorphology in the Arctic, she didn't know it would lead to a life-long interest in the North. A further nine years of living and teaching in remote communities such as Pond Inlet shifted her interests from the shape of the land to the shape of education.

Photo Valentina de Krom
PHOTO: Claudio Calligaris

Now she's the director of the Office of First Nations and Inuit Education, and is excited about its latest program, unique in Canada, the Certificate in First Nations and Inuit Educational Leadership.

For over 25 years, McGill has worked with Aboriginal school boards and education centres to help develop community-based programs, such as certificates in teaching, literacy, and personnel services. The new certificate will serve First Nations communities and is designed for educational administrators developing leadership roles.

De Krom says, "I think it's great, it's long overdue. Having seen supervisors, administrators, principals not even speaking the language of the community -- this is a step in the right direction."

Even though more and more teachers are from within the local communities, "a lot of administrators are still non-Aboriginal." Now the emphasis is on traditional culture and knowledge, which decades of government-controlled leadership and decision-making had suppressed.

"Children should be taught in their own language. It builds their confidence and sense of self-esteem," de Krom says.

Mary Aitchison, associate director general of the Kativik School Board, a partner in the project, says, "For 30 years we've been taking control of our schools, and we feel the Office of First Nations and Inuit Education has had an excellent understanding of the needs of the community. It's a real achievement having the program finalized."

She is thankful to all members of the office, and Dean of Education Ratna Ghosh, "because this is going to play a big role in making a difference in educational services to future generations."

The certificate will blend mainstream leadership theory with traditional styles and skills. The program proposal states that the future First Nations and Inuit leaders in education "will act as cultural brokers -- integrating traditional and mainstream ways of leading while maintaining cultural integrity. What is crucial to building the cultural bridge is support and innovative programs that will offer guidance to emerging educational leaders as they follow their path of serving others."

Many of the students will already be in leadership roles. As de Krom says, "They can get the theory from coursework and put it into practice."

Aitchison notes, "For us the principle in Inuit leadership is consensus. It's very important to have harmony in the workplace, in an effective administration. Today, consensus decision-making is a dying art because when people get into a role of leadership, they run with it."

In de Krom's experience, "Aboriginal leadership is different from ours. The mainstream methods are not like those of First Nations or Inuit. The communication styles are different, the way they interact, the way they evaluate -- there are cultural differences, and the language is different." There are also typical small-community issues. How does having, say, three family members teach at the same school affect administration?

Although each community is distinct, de Krom gives an example from her own teaching experience up north. "The Inuit traditionally learn by observation. It's impolite to ask a lot of questions. Classes are calmer. People might say that Inuit are shy, but they just don't talk much. If they need to speak, they'll speak." As well, "to ask a lot of questions is seen as disrespectful," both on behalf of the student and the teacher.

De Krom will travel to the communities to monitor the program. "Are people succeeding, is there growth?" She'll look at factors such as "if the drop-out rate decreases or not, or if the graduates are keeping jobs."

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