Leadership and culture in schools in northern British Columbia: Bridge building and/or re-balancing act?


  • Rosemary Foster
  • Tim Goddard


The purpose of the study reported in this article was to address the gap in the education literature by investigating educators', parents', students', and community members' perceptions and expectations of educational leadership in northern schools serving largely Aboriginal students. A secondary purpose was to examine the relationship between leadership and culture within these schools. In the third stage of this investigation, presented here, we draw on data from two schools located in northern British Columbia. North, as used here, is the area coterminous with the boreal forest region south of the arctic (Bone, 1992). This northern area was chosen because, despite an increase in research that examines schools serving Aboriginal populations in the territories of the Yukon, Nunavut, and the NWT, and of the settled rural and urban areas of the southern parklands and prairies, there is a relative absence of empirical study from this area. In addition, this region is economically and geographically different from the more heavily researched northern territories and western prairies. The numerous lakes and rugged, heavily forested terrain, for example, support a healthy logging industry and plentiful wild life population, both mainstays of the local economy. As well, the communities where this study was conducted are racially and ethnoculturally different from each other, and from those in most other areas of the province. People of Aboriginal ancestry comprised the only racial group in one instance, and the largest racial group within an ethnoculturally diverse community in the second instance. Given the relatively small size and remoteness of these northern communities, it follows that the delivery of K-12 education involves issues of school organization, and teaching and learning that are substantively different from those encountered in the rest of Canada. By way of illustration, both schools reported on in this article (i) were operated under British Columbian provincial jurisdiction and were part of the same geographically large school division, and (ii) were a considerable distance from the school division's office and had little contact with other schools, central administration, or school trustees. In the First Nations community called Salmon Run in this article, for example, the Band Council had taken over the management of the education programs. Although the school was part of the provincial education system, for all intents and purposes it was "locally-controlled" (Friesen & Friesen, 2002, p. 142). The Chief and Band Council hired teachers, and a locally elected school committee managed the programs and daily operations of the school. The second school, named Douglas Klar in the study, was located in a small ethnoculturally diverse regional center, and was organized in the fashion of most other schools in the school division.

The specific objectives of the study were to analyze and document school members' (educators, parents, students, community members working in and with the school) perceptions and expectations of education. The case studies of the two schools reported in this article investigate and analyze three themes related to school members' perceptions of (i) the purposes of curriculum and schooling, (ii) the role of the principal, and (iii) the relationship of schools to their communities.