For Education Equity
By Shauneen Pete-Willet
SSTA Research Centre Report #00-09: 32 pages, $11


Part I: Administrator Preparation for Education Equity: A Review of Literature 

Part II: Administrator Preparation for Education Equity: Study Findings   Part III: Dropping Stones: Implications for Action  References 

This report is a summary of a master's thesis from the Univeristy of Saskatchewan entitled Dropping Stones in Still Waters: Administrator Preparation for Education Equity

Research predicts rising enrolment of Aboriginal students in Saskatchewan schools.  At the same time, our educational leadership provincially reflects the under-representation of Aboriginal administrators.  Conflict arises when educational leaders who may be unfamiliar with cultural diversity create education plans that may unwittingly serve to limit opportunities of a growing Aboriginal population.  It is necessary to consider the natrure of preparation programs in light of these demographic changes. 

The purpose of this study was twofold: to identify whether educational administrators have received the training necessary for work in schools with increasing Aboriginal populations; and to determine the skills and knowledge necessary for work in these communities. 

Part I of this report provides a review of literature.  Part II presents the findings of the study.  Part III presents the implications of these findings on initiatives undertaken by departments of educational administration, professional associations, school systems adn individual educational leaders. 

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The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use.
Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


For the purpose of this report both administrator preparation and education equity need to be clearly defined. Administrator preparation examines the formal training offered in departments of Educational Administration, the administrator short courses offered throughout the province and the conference offerings sponsored by provincial professional associations, and lastly the professional development of administrators by their school systems.
The Education Equity Act (Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, 1996) was designed to facilitate equity of access and opportunity for people of Aboriginal ancestry in the province of Saskatchewan. There were* five major components of the Act. While these components did not deal directly with the role that administrators play, it is widely understood that educational leaders play an essential role in the movement towards equity (Corson, 1998; Dimmock & Walker, 1997; Walker & Walker, 1998).  Reforms to the delivery of administrator preparation must be considered in light of the goals of education equity. (*This study based on components of the act as defined in 1996).

Components of Education Equity:
a) Parental Involvement
b) Cross-Cultural Training
c) Recruiting and Retention of Aboriginal Teachers
d) Policies and Procedures
e) Aboriginal Content in the Curriculum

The Aboriginal population in the province of Saskatchewan is predicted to grow to13.5 % of our total population by 2006 and the impact that this shift will have on education is predicted to be great. It is essential for all organizations to consider the impact these demographic changes will have on the manner in which we prepare school based personnel.  The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) suggests that training should include programs and educational initiatives “that will be relevant, applicable and sensitive to Aboriginal needs” (1997, p. 90).
This document provides a summary of research on the topic of administrator preparation for education equity. It also reports on a study (Willett, 1998) the purpose of which was to determine the nature of the preparation received by educational administrations for work in schools with increasing Aboriginal populations. That study facilitated the critical reflections of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal school based administrators, as well as Aboriginal teacher’s perceptions of the quality of preparation of administrators. Those reflections explored the specific skills and knowledge necessary for work in communities with increasing Aboriginal populations. The implication of this study as they apply to the preparation of administrators is also presented in this report.

This document concludes with a suggested framework for the development of an integrated preparation approach across four levels: Firstly, at the individual level; secondly, implications for system level professional development; thirdly, implications for professional associations; and fourthly, implications for College level graduate courses.

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Part I: Administrator Prepartion for Education Equity: A Review of Literature

This literature review will serve to explain from a theoretical perspective the barriers and continuing challenges to an inclusive preparation program for administrators.

Paradigm Bound: No room for Diversity

Historically, educational administration preparation programs have not provided administrators with the skills necessary for work in diverse communities (Capper, 1993; Carr, 1997b; Heller, Conway & Jacobson, cited in Milstein et al, 1993; Noley, 1991). Administrator preparation programs have not incorporated equity into the central core of what administrators should know (Shakeshaft, 1990).

Critical analysis of preparation programs point to traditional paradigms that have hindered the full inclusion of equity issues. This paradigm is founded on positivist epistemology, and is characterized by functionalism (Scheurich, 1995; Capper; Cherryholmes, 1988).  Functionalism views organizations as classless, and racially and gender “neutral” (Cherryholmes). At the same time, this paradigm very clearly takes a gendered and racial position by reflecting both eurocentric and androcentric lenses (Gordan, Millar, & Rollack,  cited in Scheurich, 1990).

This paradigm promotes the exclusion of equity issues within the traditional core knowledge base; and where they were included, the curriculum content tended to reflect class, gender and racial bias (Shakeshaft).

Educational leaders are expected “to understand how to establish educational goals; how to involve others in decision making; and how to effectively communicate” (Groghan & Lake, cited in Chance & Ristow, 1990). The absence or bias of equity issues resulted in a degree of “cultural illiteracy” that hinders an administrator’s ability to interpret educational goals of a diverse community (Capper; Claassen, 1998; Closson, 1998; Donmoyer, Imber & Scheurich, 1995; Vajpayee, 1996). Culturally illiterate educational leaders can be limited in their ability to establish educational goals with an emphasis on equity.

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Paradigm Shift: Moving Towards Equity

Changing demographics is perhaps the primary catalyst for institutional changes to traditional administrator preparation programs (Slaughter, 1997). Increasing participation of women and visible minorities as graduate students in these programs has led to the development of changing ideas of what they should look like.

Central to this change was a paradigm shift from a positivist to a theoretical framework that embraced equity ideals. The integration of postmodern and transformative research perspectives moved into the core of course content. Postmodernism is “referred to in discussion on …constructivist learning theory, multicultural education, and/or feminist pedagogy… and may have included human rights, environmentalism and theological studies”  (Dupuis and Gordon, 1996).  Transformative approaches are both integrated and interpretive and brought “content about culture, ethnic and racial groups – and about women from the margin to the center of the curriculum” (Banks, 1996).

Postmodernism accepts:
a) multiple views of reality
b) knowledge is constructed
c) perception is a product of language and culture
d) meaning is temporary
(English, 1997)

Preparation programs also began to embrace critical theory which served to challenge historical inequities (Capper; Tierney, 1992) and in this particular case, suggests an avenue for Aboriginal voices to be invited to the center of discussions for change that could occur in the structure of existing preparation offerings.


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How Do We Create the Organizational Conditions for Empowerment to Occur?

It has been suggested that multi-paradigm approaches that include critical theory, transformative, and postmodern perspectives may be the most appropriate to facilitate the organizational conditions for a paradigm shift to occur (Capper; English, 1993; Gay & Fox, 1995; Napier, Ford & Toy; Scheurich;  Slaughter; Tierney, 1993).

Central to this movement, is the necessity for administrator preparation organizations to embrace a philosophical commitment to equity. When this framework is in place, then structural changes to the organization can be undertaken that would facilitate the paradigm shift. These structural changes include strategic planning for change.

Strategic planning for equity must then be framed on considerations for multi-paradigm approaches. Changes to existing programs could be achieved through strategic planning that included:

In effect, the positivist approach leavened with empowering  intentions would be utilized to manage effectively the transformation of administrator preparation.

Let us challenge the manner in which we proceed to plan for the preparation of our administrators in this province from within the many organizations in which we are members.


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Challenging the Foundations: I’m Unsettling/You’re Unsettled

An organizational paradigm shift is not without it’s challenges. Gay & Fox (1995) found

This “revolution” requires educational leaders to continue to reflect on their own personal privilege; formerly unquestioned ideals, and practices; and make a conscious effort to explore an understanding of other peoples’ perspectives (Walker & Walker, 1998; Wheatley, 1994). It also means that we have to “let go” of the comforts of sameness (Walker & Walker). By this I refer to the ideas or “mental models” (Senge, 1990) that we hold dear about leadership, schools and the organizations in which we have membership.   The research suggests that by doing so we are better able to embrace local differences and that our educational plans will then be more responsive.

Napier, Ford and Toy (1994) suggest two key recommendations in facilitating reflection of this sort:

As graduate students, members of professional organizations, and participants in a variety of levels of preparation, we should expect that those with the power to change the delivery of our preparation would do so. Sanford (1994) stated,

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Concluding Remarks

In the global sense, this literature review has served to identify the theoretical barriers to the delivery of inclusive preparation for administrators. A highly functionalist theoretical framework is adapting to be more responsive to diversity through the inclusion of multi-paradigm approaches to program delivery in light of changing demographics. This change is responsive to the personal responsibility to reflect on ones own privileges. Once our personal responsibility is addressed then we can begin the process of systematic policy changes that would serve to support equity. These include the kinds of partnerships that our organizations pursue. Noley (1993) found that partnerships with American Indian/Aboriginal organizations are essential for this type of organizational transformation to occur. He continued by saying that these types of relationships can serve to benefit both parties involved,

Once these partnerships are established then considerations for the manner in which to establish a more diverse organizational membership and at the university level: the faculty and student cohort can be addressed. Existing membership play an important role in supporting and mentoring marginalized individuals to participate in transformative processes.

Lastly, transformative choices at the planning stage must be made. This includes responsiveness to both content and environment of preparation, as well as considerations for an integrated approach to program delivery.

Local implications for this broad survey of literature leads the author to the assumption that our administrators have probably had little opportunity through existing professional development opportunities, graduate courses and conference offering to have access to information about Aboriginal peoples, and their visions for education.

The remainder of this report will focus on the research I conducted as a part of my Master’s thesis. The purpose was to determine the nature of preparation in light of issues of equity in the province. And secondly to identify whether change is necessary and what this transformation would include. The next section will address findings to these questions.

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Part II: Administrator Preparation for Education Equity: Study Findings

This section presents the findings of the study (Willett, 1998). The purpose of the study was to determine the effectiveness of training received by administrators for work in schools with increasing Aboriginal populations. While not evaluative, this study did serve as a snapshot of the particular experiences of a small group of participants. The primary methods of data collection involved focus group discussions and a questionnaire.

Sixteen Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal administrators were asked to reflect on the effectiveness of their training. They were asked whether they felt change to existing programs was necessary. They were asked to identify the skills and knowledge they felt was necessary for their work, and to envision the knowledge base for preparation programs that embraced equity in their core.

Of the ten Aboriginal administrators all had some form of preparation program behind them, though these were primarily summer short-courses. Three of them had some graduate courses completed, with three had completed graduate programs. Of the six non-Aboriginal administrators, five had graduate level course work completed, and five had also taken summer short courses or participated in conference offerings made available through professional associations.

The input from this group was triangulated with responses provided by seven Aboriginal teachers who reflected on the leaders with whom they worked. All participants were asked to respond to two key questions. These included:

Also, for the sake of this report, I will consider a third question

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How Effective is Administrator Preparation?

Administrators involved in the study generally responded that their administration preparation programs did not adequately prepare them for work in schools with increasing Aboriginal populations. One Aboriginal respondent stated “…it wasn’t effective at all. They don’t teach that in graduate studies classes.” A non-Aboriginal respondent replied “some of the courses I have taken really haven’t helped much…”.  Comments made in focus groups were compared with data acquired through the use of a questionnaire. The Likert scale findings showed that the quality and quantity of content concerning Aboriginal education issues was rated as POOR, with very little to no content being offered. Comparatively, the FSIN short course was rated as EXCELLENT by five of the eight participants.

To triangulate perceptions on effectiveness of training, I also asked Aboriginal teachers to reflect on their perceptions of the quality of training received by the administrators with whom they had worked. One teacher responded, “the majority are not prepared at all to deal with the Aboriginal population”.  Another teacher said, “on the whole, I would say most are unprepared”.

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Is There a Need for Change?

All administrators agreed that it was essential for adaptations in preparation to occur. An Aboriginal administrator stated:

Another Aboriginal administrator stated: While administrators and teachers identified a need for change in the preparation of administrators for the sake of equity, they spoke at lengths about the systemic barriers to the implementation of this type of plan.

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Systemic Barriers

Participants spoke about faculty needing to educate themselves about issues of equity. An Aboriginal participant stated, “… in order for changes to happen systemically, they [educational leaders] must be aware.” In the same focus group another participant said all educational leaders

Participants in all three groups spoke about how Aboriginal education issues cannot simply be about curriculum in schools. They spoke passionately about the need for inclusive education to reflect our policies, procedures, delivery, and hiring practices as well. In this manner, administrator preparation programs could adequately prepare administrators for the changing demographics in our province.

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Informing Praxis

Now that it has been established that existing training did not provide participants adequately for work in schools with increasing Aboriginal populations, and that they feel there is a need for changes. The questions remains what changes do they suggest?

The intent of this section was to identify a) the skills and knowledge necessary and b) recommended changes to existing program offerings. By doing so it was hoped that implications for preparation could be identified.

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What Skills and Knowledge are Necessary?

From responses gathered by all three groups, the central quality necessary for work in schools with high Aboriginal populations was individuals personal qualities. These included:

Respondents shared how in their experience, good administrators were confident in their own abilities and were able to act in a sensitive manner towards others.

While personal qualities were identified as central, participants also identified the following skills and knowledge that they felt were important for this type of work. Four major themes emerged under the question concerning skills:

When asked about the knowledge necessary for work in diverse communities, respondents identified five major themes: Aboriginal administrators placed a great deal of importance on the administrator having a strong sense of self, for it was central to ones ability to be responsive to community needs. Both administrator groups identified the importance of seeking knowledge about protocols for inviting Elder participation, ceremonial protocol, and about the importance of becoming an active player in the community. All respondents discussed the importance of understanding the implications of historical and contemporary issues as they affect education. This can include issues of racism and poverty, the implications of self-governance movements on local delivery of education etc.

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What Do Participants’ Recommend?

Generally, participants did not address the paradigm issue, though one participant suggested a shift towards a “constructivist-based program”. Respondents did identify four major themes:

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Administrators confirmed that while they had undertaken diverse administrator preparation opportunities, these did not provide them with the skills and knowledge necessary for work in schools with increasing Aboriginal populations.
They expressed a need for changes to existing preparation programs, and that key to these changes was the necessity to invite Aboriginal stakeholders to take part in strategic planning processes. Strategic planning could then be undertaken to address curriculum content, faculty and graduate cohort selection and membership in organizations, instructional strategies and policies and procedures.

However, most importantly individuals have to commit to the tenets of equity, and undertake their own personal reflections about their personal privilege and assumptions.

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Part III: Dropping Stones: Implications for Action

The section presents implications for action as they apply to administrator preparation for education equity.

Change starts with YOU!

Educational leaders are expected to provide vision for their school systems (Barth & Pansegrau, 1994). Regardless of whether you are yourself Aboriginal, or whether you are a teacher or an administrator, association member, faculty or a board trustee, your role is essential. Organizational changes in administrator preparation can be achieved when individuals choose to become more knowledgeable on topics of equity, plan for ways to model and implement changes in their personal lives, and then work towards influencing others by their actions.

Coyhis’ suggests that change begins with individual intention. No one intends to limit opportunities for others, but sometimes our cultural illiteracy can result in our making educational plans that unwittingly limit opportunity. As a socially constructed process, it is encouraging to realize that the power to change these outcomes lies in our ability to change/adapt our planning for the sake of equity. The literature review and research findings point over and over to the incredible position you are in to plan for equity. YOUR PARTICIPATION IS PARAMOUNT!

Implications for personal involvement include:

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Implications for School Systems

School systems can play an instrumental role in setting the standards for good leadership. These standards are communicated through the types of mentorship, recruiting and retention initiatives (shoulder-tapping) undertaken, and the nature of in-services offered.  To support the goals of education equity, strategic planning for equity should be undertaken. With these in mind, the following implications for change are suggested:

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Implications for Professional Associations

Professional associations are instrumental in organizing professional development opportunities for their membership. They also set particular standards for professionalism that their members strive to maintain. They influence decision-making, and serve as a means to examine issues and directions in education. Their role then in transforming the delivery of administrator preparation is also instrumental. Educational leaders involved in these associations can consider the following implications:


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Implications for Graduate Programs

Throughout this report, implications for graduate administrator preparation can be found. Underpinning these implications is the necessity for theoretical paradigm shifts. The adoption of multi-paradigm perspectives including critical theory, feminist and interpretivist approaches is strongly advocated for in the literature review. These approaches will then permeate all other strategic plans that will be undertaken. Strategic planning at the graduate program level could include addressing the following:

A) Implications for Curriculum. Participants suggested a required course that addressed issues of a cross-cultural nature. This would include sensitivity/awareness types of content.  It could also include information about and by Aboriginal peoples, history and contemporary issues. Shakeshaft, suggests the following recommendations:

B) Instructional Strategies.  The importance of reflective practices was addressed repeatedly throughout the study. Therefore, it could be suggested that reflective journals; faculty modeling the role that these types of practices play in their development of educational plans; exercises that facilitate and support reflection, and activities that promote reflective practice would be important instructional strategies in the development of preparation programs that focus on equity.

Other activities that were suggested included utilizing case study, internships in communities with high Aboriginal populations, course work that exercises ones ability to communicate effectively across culture and gender; and opportunities to visit communities would provide an understanding and appreciation for cultural and community diversity.

C) Faculty and Student Cohort Recruiting.  It is suggested that strategic plans on how to achieve diversity in faculty and student cohorts is necessary; and that these plans will consider inviting diverse stakeholders to participate in change initiatives.
D) Forming Partnerships.  These partnerships can work together with the aim of creating mutually beneficial learning opportunities for administrators in the province.

E) Strategic planning.  This would serve to coordinate a tighter coupling of the organizational intentions and structures that would support administrator preparation for education equity.

F) On-going evaluation. To ensure that the goal of equity within preparation is being achieved.

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Recommendations for Further Research

As our population continues to grow increasingly more diverse, it is apparent that we need to rethink the manner in which we prepare educational leaders.  Based on the research presented here, it is suggested that research be conducted on the following topics:

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Concluding Remarks

I have learned that I play a major role in the process of transforming administrator preparation. I am conscious of the need to clarify my intentions and to define my role in the process of transformation.  I am best able to contribute to changes in educational administration when I make a commitment to grow and become more knowledgeable in issues of equity.  I intend to be an advocate and model for inclusive practices in educational administration.  I also feel a responsibility to continue to contribute to academic research knowledge on the topic of education equity in administrator preparation.

I feel a need to work with both mainstream educational institutions, with Aboriginal organizations, and individuals to form partnerships that would assist in the transformation.  I would like to assist mainstream higher education institutions in accessing information about Aboriginal epistemology and the implications of this knowledge on traditionally held ideas about leadership, and organizational structures. I am committed to working in collaboration with faculty members, professional associations, and other organizations to plan for both additive and integrated curriculum initiatives.  I feel that I am growing in my knowledge, I am supportive in the change process, and I am sensitive to cultural diversity.  I am committed to modeling and advocating for multi-paradigm approaches in the delivery of administrator preparation programs.

By making a firm statement of my intent, I can in a postmodern manner attempt to influence, and not prescribe changes to existing administrator preparation programs. My hope is that I can inspire others to participate more fully in the transformations yet to come. Meegwetch.

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