Are American Indian Administrator Preparation Programs Needed?

Christman, D. E., Guillory, R. M., Fairbanks, A. R., & González, M. L. (2008). A model of American Indian school administrators: Completing the circle of knowledge in Native schools. Journal of American Indian Education, 47(3), 53–72.

As I explore the realm of Indian education, I have been inundated with all kinds of research topics.  This past week’s class made my head spin.  I went from knowing exactly what I want to do to wanting to do the exact opposite.  I really wanted to explore the impact that non-Native teachers have on Native American students in reservation schools or schools that serve a high population of Native students and how that affects student achievement and the development of student identities.  Or, something like that.  But, through our extensive conversation in class, I began to wonder if us Native people, students and staff, have an impact on our own achievement and identities by not embracing the cultures that come to teach in our schools.  What if we changed the way we treated, valued, and responded to non-Native teachers’ and administrators’ culture.  Does this have an impact in the way that non-Natives see us, treat us and value us?  Would student achievement increase if we did just what we expect non-Natives to do?  It’s a lot to consider, I know, but something completely worth thinking about.

Then, I stumbled upon this article, “A Model of American Indian School Administrators:  Completing the Circle of Knowledge in Native Schools” (2008) by Dana Christman, Raphael Guillory, Anthony Fairbanks, and Maria Luisa Gonzalez.  Having participated in a program very similar to the Model of American Indian School Administrators that Christman, et al. (2008) referenced, I began to wonder if I could blend the two ideas in my non-administrative position, though I do have a principal certificate.  There are many, many reasons why I am not at administrator yet, but that’s a whole different story.


In Christman, et. al.’s (2008) article, the researchers explored “the experiences and perceptions of American Indian pre-service administrators as they make their way through an educational leadership preparation program at a large, public research university.”  Their hope is that the study will help other colleges and universities develop culturally appropriate educational leadership programs to explore the “history behind how education is viewed and how it affects tribal nations” (Christman, et. al, 2008).

Their theoretical framework was surrounded by the notion of “cultural imperialism” (Christman, et. al., 2008).  The researchers identified four key concepts to identify cultural imperialism:  a modern world system that implies capitalism; society, a concept that implies that countries and communities outside a specified area are considered underdeveloped than the dominant culture; “dominating center of the system,” which refers to dominant societies; and, “values and structures, which “refer to the culture and actual organizations that originate from the dominating center and are foreign to other countries or areas considered to be lesser developed than the dominating center” (Christman, et. al., 2008).  The researchers stated, “a society is brought into the modern world system when its dominating level is involved, compelled, coerced, or even suborned into shaping its social foundations to correspond to, or even promote the values and structures of the dominating center of the system” (Christman, et. al, 2008).

In essence, the dominating center can and will overtake a system based upon the dominating culture.  If we apply this concept to teacher and administrator preparation programs, how many of them use curriculum that is specific to the needs to Native American populations?  We are not the “dominating center,” therefore, according to cultural imperialism, we are the lesser, underdeveloped culture, which requires the assimilation to the “dominating center.”  Thus, we have Native American history.

This qualitative study used information from participants through focus study groups with the goal of determining how they made meaning of the program and in their own personal progress.  There were twelve participants, three males and nine females, whose ages ranged from their late-twenties to mid-fifties.  The participants worked in rural to semi-rural preK-12th grade schools.  Three worked in high schools, 2 in middle schools, and seven in elementary schools.  Five worked in public schools and seven worked in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.  At the time of the study, the cohort was about half way through the program (Christman, et. al., 2008).

Three focus group sessions were conducted that were based on an “open-ended, semi-structured questionnaire” (Christman, et. al., 2008).  Each session was audio recorded and transcribed verbatim by one researcher.  All researchers evaluated the audio recording and transcripts to ensure accuracy.

After analyzing their data, the researchers were able to identify five major themes based on the responses from the focus groups (Christman, et. al., 2008):

  1. Relationships:  a major source of support came from building relationships with their cohort members.
  2. Outside influences:  the participants were encouraged and supported to begin and continue the program by their family members and colleagues.
  3. Getting prepared:  the preparation the participants were receiving was important as to allow them to take ownership of their own education and how to apply what they were learning to their classrooms.
  4. Altruism:  this program was more than just a means of moving up, the participants saw this as their “calling” and if anyone was going to become an educational leader, it might as well be them.
  5. Concern for family:  participants took their families into consideration when they decided to apply for the program.  In turn, they were also concerned about how much time the program would require them to be away from their families.

Strengths & Critiques

The topic of this study is of great importance to me, as a Tohono O’odham educator.  I have found that the teacher and administrator preparation programs do not take into consideration non-mainstream education, in this case, American Indian education.  I hope that researchers will continue to research the need for culturally relevant teacher and administrator preparation programs.  This study has made light of its need and the critical student connections that they made to the coursework that was designed to prepare them to be successful in their place of work.

I am intrigued about the notion of cultural imperialism and its effects on the educational system and how it has impacted Indian education at a deeper level than I know.  Though the thought of reading about Native American cultures as “lesser developed” societies is sure to ruffle my feathers.  But, quite possibly, something positive may arise from delving into the deeper realms of education.

While I do value the time that the researchers dedicated to this study, I am left to wonder if this was worth all the time and effort that it took to complete.  The findings were rather generic, which could be applied to any type of cohort, or even to a particular individual.  Their findings about relationships, outside influences, getting prepared, altruism and concern for family are sure all things that we have thought about when we decided to take on this program, minus the American Indian pieces.  I know I took all of these things into consideration without even thinking about the program’s curriculum.


As I mentioned, I have been a part of a teacher and administrator preparation programs that were geared for Native Americans.  And, really, I cannot say that those cohorts made me better prepared to work with Native students.  Granted, there were some discussions that about how our perspectives as Native people could interpret some readings.  But, our courses were not approached from a Native perspective as a whole, like this one.  And, we definitely did not have any Native American professors!  Now, I wish they had taken this into consideration.

I am still stuck on Howard’s (2003) article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.”  I am wondering if we would be able to incorporate the idea of critical teacher reflection into both teacher and administrator preparation programs geared towards American Indians as a means to develop fully rounded educators.  Native educators would be equipped with the knowledge to help non-Native teachers critically reflect on the impact their non-Native culture can negatively affect Native students, as well as begin reflections processes about how they (the teachers) and students can impact the views non-Native teachers have on them and the community.

A lot to ponder, I know…but, that just makes the journey I am about to embark on that much more exciting!