Until January 1986, primary education  in Torres Strait was managed by the Department of Community Services. In the years preceding that date only six of the fourteen villages had fully qualified principals (Badu, Boigu, Darnley, Mabuiag, Murray, and Yorke). The other eight schools had Torres Strait headmasters with varying amounts of formal teacher education, but none with the minimum formal requirements of a Diploma of Teaching. The fifty-four teachers in those schools were Torres Strait Islanders or resident Papuans - again, none had the minimum requirements of a Diploma of Teaching. The Torres Strait Island School, based on Thursday Island, offered inservice support and an advisory service to assist these teachers, headmasters, and indeed, even the fully qualified principals.
January 1986 saw the "takeover" of all outer island schools by the Queensland Department of Education and the appointment of fully qualified non-lslander principals on all islands. By 1987 not only were there fourteen fully qualified principals (as from August 1987, one of whom is a Torres Strait Islander) but also eight qualified non-Islander teachers.
Steve Castley had been the principal on Boigu for two years before his appointment to Saibai and he was concerned for new principals coming into the region. While he and some other principals had undertaken prior preparation for their roles in Torres Strait by means of the Graduate Diploma in Aboriginal Education offered by the Townsville College of Advanced Education (now amalgamated with James Cook University), the speed of takeover had prevented the Queensland Department of Education from releasing principals for a year to do the course prior to their appointment to a Torres Strait school. Hence, principals were moving into a culturally different setting and could make unnecessary mistakes in their workings with staff and community. Given that there is a dearth of recent written material about education in Torres Strait communities, Steve decided to conduct a small study about his community for the use of principals moving into Torres Strait schools. He decided to focus on community expectations of him as the "first" white principal.
His review of the literature revealed that nothing had been published on this topic for Torres Strait, or indeed for any other cross-cultural or Australian settings. Given the concern expressed in documents like Project 21 for community involvement in the running of schools, it seemed quite appropriate to ask, "What does the community expect of me as principal?"
Steve decided to conduct ethnographic interviews with the community members. Such interviews attempt to discover the meanings of informants (Spradley, 1979) rather than impose the interviewer's meanings on the situation. He was unable to follow Spradley's developmental research sequence fully because the informants use English as their second or third language and at times the nuances of questions were not clear to them. Nevertheless, each of the informants was interviewed twice and two of them were interviewed three times, the interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim (Spradley, 1979, pp. 73-74), and informants' terms were given back to them in subsequent interviews to discover their meanings (pp. 155-160).
The original plan was to interview three men and one woman. However, the shortness of time available to complete the project and the selected woman's holiday during the planned data collection phase, her subsequent anxiety about responding in English, and the lack of time to find another woman to take her place ultimately resulted in a set of male-only informants.
Two of the informants were older Islanders who had taught in the school for many years. Accordingly, they were knowledgeable about education and the community and they were able to articulate their ideas in English. The third informant was an executive member of the P & C Association who was also most articulate. Although not specifically asked, the community probably would have nominated these three men as informants because of their knowledge of the school, their knowledge of the community and because of their senior positions of educational responsibility in the community. The importance of this last point is highlighted by Kennedy and Kennedy (1986, p.6).
The interviews were conducted during March and were transcribed by Steve. Some fifty-three pages of interviews became the database. Despite potential problems of over-rapport (Miller, 1969) and Islander tendencies to respond, particularly to authority figures, in ways they think that person wants them to respond (Osborne, 1986, p.23; Dean and Whyte, 1969; Argyriss, 1969), the data provides very illuminative insights into one Torres Strait community's expectations of a white principal.
This paper is not based on taxonomies and domains established as Spradley (1979) prescribes. For instance card sorting and ranking were not used. Nevertheless, domains, while not exhaustive, are extensive and were established by having informants reconsider the terms included under a variety of cover terms. Initially, Steve worked the data into eight categories - build relationships, be a learner and fit into the community, value the community and its members' feelings, improve the education offered by the school, use Standard Australian English, allow the local language and culture to survive and grow, develop community awareness about education, and be a model of approved behaviour.
There was considerable overlap of terms included under these headings, so ultimately we decided to collapse the categories into two. These categories seemed to make semantic sense to the authors and eliminated overlap, but they do not derive from the informants according to Spradley's (1979) strategies. Hence, rather than being emically derived they were etically established (Osborne, 1987). The two major groupings became "be a learner and fit into the community" and "provide a better education".
Following the suggestion of Miles and Huberman (1984) the raw data will be presented as much as is possible in tabular form. The informant who used the term will be referred to by initial and the interview number and page number follows. Hence, (Z,1,3) refers to informant Z, interview 1, page 3. Where two or more informants provide similar information each of them is referred to beside the data. Furthermore, each statement is referred to by number for ease of cross referencing within the last table.
|EXAMPLES OF THINGS TO DO:|
|1.1||Learn about the island itself (A,2,1)|
|1.10||The set out (A,2,1)|
|1.11||The way people live (A,2,1)|
|1.12||The gardening (A,2,1)|
|1.13||The functioning of the store (A,2,1)|
|1.14||The cargo boats' routines (A,2,1)|
|1.15||The various service agencies (A,1,1; A,2,1; Z,2,1)|
|1.2||Meet and communicate with all the community (A,2,1)|
|1.20||To set up a two-way communication (Z,2,1; A,2,3)|
|1.21||To build rapport with elders and parents (Z,2,1)|
|1.22||To learn the positions of authority of people in the community (Z,2,1; A,3,4)|
|1.23||To seek advice from knowledgeable people (A,3,4; E,2,1)|
|1.24||To get to know the parents (Z,1,3)|
|1.3||Behave in a proper manner (Z.3.4)|
|1.30||Attend church regularly (E,2,2)|
|1.31||Attend public meetings (E,2,2)|
|1.32||Be involved in gatherings, functions and feasts (Z,2,2; Z,3,3)|
|1.33||Avoid involvement in|
|1.331||family disputes (A,3,1)|
|1.332||village fights (A,3,1)|
|1.333||family problems in the community (A,3,3)|
|1.34||Avoid being unkind in speaking about community people (Z,3,1)|
|1.35||Avoid cutting off from the community (Z,3,1)|
|1.36||Avoid drunkenness (A,2,4; Z,2,2; Z,3,4)|
|1.37||Care for the kids (Z,3,1)|
The informants said that it was important to get to know about the way of life on the island so the principal would know what people and children do and so the principal would know how to regulate personal/school life around such crucial events as the fortnightly arrival of the cargo boat and around other agencies like the medical aid post (whose nurses provide vitamin pills and anti-malaria shots to children during school hours at school) and the police (who help with attendance of children). Furthermore, knowledge of such local matters is crucial if curriculum is to be related to what the children know and do locally (Osborne and Coombs, 1987). In fact, teachers in another culturally different setting (Zuni) said that they thought teachers needed to know about daily life as culture (rather than dancing, kinship, and other components of culture which are better taught by elders) so they can link home and school in the curriculum (Osborne, 1983, pp.261-262).
The second component of fitting in is to meet and communicate with all the community and this means going into the community rather than inviting them to school. It helps the community members to feel free to come to school. As one informant put it:
The principal invited the parents to come, come up to the school and visit the school and have a look at the children's work, but ... no-one did - not didn't want to - but didn't turn out to visit the school, because of their own commitment or they had work to do. Instead if the principal sits and talks with them, the parents will feel free to share what they really think ... the parents may find themselves free to talk to the teachers or principal ... (Z,1,2).This highlights the need to establish rapport on their terms before parents will express themselves.
The third set of expectations related to fitting into the community have to do with behaving in a proper manner. These statements clearly define the high expectations the community have of the principal and also demarcate areas which are considered the appropriate concern of the principal.
Closely related to the expectation of being a Learner and fitting into the community is a set of culturally appropriate ways of doing so. It spells out the importance of local protocol and offers suggestions like 2.220 (which they see as the most useful way to meet people) which are perhaps out of the prior experience or value positions of new principals. There is also a notable absence of recommending the asking of questions: Islanders prefer to watch, talk, and think. Direct questions of the kinds often asked by educators are accommodated but not specifically recommended.
|2.10||Contact the headmaster (Government teacher) (E,1,4)|
|2.12||Contact the Chairman and councillors (E,1,4) (this is custom and gives the community a chance to organise a welcome (E,1,4)|
|2.20||Meet and get to know the service agencies, e.g., Council, Medical Aid Post, Store, Church, Community Police (A,1,1; Z,2,1)|
|2.21||Meet and get to know teachers and children (A,1,1; E,1,3)|
|2.22||After a week or two go into the community (A,1,1; Z,1,3)|
|2.220||going to the store (Z,2,2)|
|2.221||attending functions and feasts (Z,2,2; A,2,2)|
|2.222||attending church (Z,2,2 and 3,4)|
|2.223||visiting the canteen but not getting drunk in public (A,2,4; Z,2,2; Z,3,4)|
|2.224||sitting and talking with people (E,2,6)|
|2.225||visiting parents (Z,2,2)|
|2.23||Make time to talk to parents (Z,1,1)|
|2.230||to ask what they would like to do with the children (Z,2,1)|
|2.231||to tell them about their children (Z,2,2)|
The second set of expectations reflects a major concern of the community on Saibai: namely the improvement of education. As one informant put it when he heard of Steve's appointment:
I was really sort of thankful and tried to foresee the future of the school and also of the children ... because there are a lot more things to do. I mean although our coloured teachers have been trying very hard themselves to upgrade our students ... and there were some children who got through ... I would guess that many of our community people are possibly very thankful. What we reckon is that our school will be improved and that our children will have better education.Another said:
It gave me a proud feeling. That was my expectation for many years, and at last my dream's come true.The third when asked "why do you want a white principal?" put it quite boldly:
I think there's only one reason, for better education.
|3.10||Take responsibility for running the school (E,2,1; A,2,2)|
|3.11||Teach and assist in all classes on rotation (E,2,2)|
|3.12||Improve sports opportunity in the school (Z,3,1)|
|3.13||Increase the technology used in school (videos, computers) (A,3,2)|
|3.14||Organise trips to other islands and Thursday Island (A,3,4)|
|3.15||improve standards in the school (Z,3,6)|
|3.16||Work with yardman to beautify the school (Z,3,7)|
|3.20||Develop the competencies of the Islander teachers (E,1,1)|
|3.21||Work together with Islander teachers, rather than "growling on" them (A,3,1; Z,1,1)|
|3.22||Acknowledge the importance of Islander teachers helping children learn their own language and culture (Z,1,5)|
|3.23||Help teachers with daily and weekly programmes (A,1,2)|
|3.24||Help with children when Islander teachers are busy with other children (A,3,1)|
|3.25||Help with blackboard setting out and teaching ideas (A,3,1)|
|3.26||Help with subjects (E,1,1)|
|3.27||Be approachable so Islander teachers will seek help (E,2,2)|
|3.30||Be strict, stop bullying between children (E,1,5)|
|3.31||Help children with their work (Z,1,1)|
|3.32||Get children to attend school regularly (Z,2,1; E,2,1)|
|3.320||notes to parents (Z,2,1)|
|3.321||use community police (Z,2,1)|
|3.322||talk to parents (E,1,2)|
|3.33||Give our kids good training in all subjects, particularly English (E,1,1)|
|3.4||Language and culture|
|3.40||Teach all children to become good English speakers (A,1,4)|
|3.41||Be a good model of English (A,1,4)|
|3.42||Show an interest in local language and perhaps try to learn it (A,1,4; Z,1,5)|
|3.43||Allow time for culture in school (Z,1,4)|
|3.44||Communicate with elderly people to get their advice on language and culture in the school (E,2,1)|
|3.50||Assist community members in completing forms and writing letters requiring English (A,1,2; E,1,6)|
|3.51||Assist community members with banking, sending radio messages, but not all the time (Z,2,3; Z,2,4)|
|3.52||Print some articles in the school newspaper in the local language (Z,3,6)|
|3.53||Discuss children's work with parents (E,1,6)|
|3.54||Communicate with parents about children's attendance and lateness (E,1,7)|
|3.55||Contact parents, say: "Parents are the first teachers": they can give practice at home (E,1,1)|
|3.56||Work with the P & C (E,1,6) and its executive (E,1,7)|
|3.57||Help committees (like P & C) by giving them ideas (E,1,7)|
For semantic reasons the various responses have been clustered under headings of school, Islander teachers, children, language and culture, and community. There is little need for discussion of these responses except to note that while the principal is expected to introduce ideas, technologies, and better ways of teaching, there is little guidance as to what sort of programmes should be introduced. This stems, perhaps in part, from isolation from mainstream education and, perhaps in part, from the principal being seen as the expert in matters to do with mainstream curriculum. There is still a concern about avoiding conflict, enlisting cooperation, and helping.
It seems to us that implicit in the tables and data presented previously that there is a set of values which need to be made explicit. These and their origins are contained in Table 4.
|4.1||Value the expertise and knowledge of elderly people in the community (e.g., 1.21, 1.22, 1.23)|
|4.2||Value the importance of local language and culture (e.g., 3.22, 3.43, 3.44)|
|4.3||Value the community's desire to include you in their community (e.g., 1.1, 1.4)|
|4.4||Value protocol (Z,2,1) (e.g., 1.22, 2.10, 2.11, 2.20, 2.21 and 2.22)|
|4.5||Value spending the time to get to know and understand the local people (e.g., 1.2, 2.21, 2.22, 2.23)|
|4.6||Avoid direct confrontations wherever possible (e.g., 1.20, 1.21, 1.22, 1.23, 3.21, 3.27, 3.44)|
None of the above tables should be seen as:
Many Islanders have two strong felt needs:Furthermore, the Torres Strait Islander Regional Education Committee has produced a policy statement which support the views expressed in this paper:
- To upgrade their own communication skills with the "world outside".
- To take pride in showing their life and culture to you and through you to the world.
(Kennedy and Kennedy, 1986, p.1)
|1.1||Torres Strait Islanders want "proper" schooling. There are several linkages and purposes for which such schooling must prepare children:|
- Linking Education and culture
- Linking Education and employment.
|1.2||Torres Strait Islanders want education to be appropriate to their environment and structured to have more parental involvement.|
|2.3||Torres Strait Islanders need to have more input into the conduct, content and administration of the schools.|
|3.1||Torres Strait Islanders want the schools staffed by teachers who are acquainted with, familiar with and able to understand the culture and language of Torres Strait Islanders. These would preferably be Torres Strait Islanders.|
|3.1||(a)||Torres Strait Islanders see a place for both Torres Strait Islander and non-Islander teachers.|
|(b)||Non-Islander teachers need special programs about Torres Strait before taking up their appointments.|
|3.2|| Torres Strait Islanders ultimately want fully qualified Torres Strait Islander teachers in schools.|
|5.1||Torres Strait Islanders want more input and influence on the training of teachers and on their induction and orientation into the Torres Strait Island schools.|
|5.1||(a)||Introductory programs should be established for non-Islander teachers coming to teach in Torres Strait.|
|(Torres Strait Islander Regional Education Committee, 1985, pp. 7-10)|
Perhaps this paper goes some way to providing some insights into the culture and community expectations on one Torres Strait Island, Saibai.
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|Please cite as: Castley, S. & Osborne, B. (1988). Saibai Island community expectations of their first fully qualified principal. Queensland Researcher, 4(2), 6-20. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr4/castley.html|