Education in Oceania continues to reflect the embedded implicit and explicit colonial practices and processes from the past. This paper conceptualises a cultural approach to education and leadership appropriate and relevant to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. As elementary school leaders, we highlight Kanne Lobal, a traditional Marshallese navigation practice based on indigenous language, values and practices. We conceptualise and develop Kanne Lobal in this paper as a framework for understanding the usefulness of our indigenous knowledge in leadership and educational practices within formal education. Through bwebwenato, a method of talk story, our key learnings and reflexivities were captured. We argue that realising the value of Marshallese indigenous knowledge and practices for school leaders requires purposeful training of the ways in which our knowledge can be made useful in our professional educational responsibilities. Drawing from our Marshallese knowledge is an intentional effort to inspire, empower and express what education and leadership partnership means for Marshallese people, as articulated by Marshallese themselves.
As noted in the call for papers within the Waikato Journal of Education (WJE) for this special issue, bodies of knowledge and histories in Oceania have long sustained generations across geographic boundaries to ensure cultural survival. For Marshallese people, we cannot really know ourselves “until we know how we came to be where we are today” (Walsh, Heine, Bigler & Stege, 2012). Jitdam Kapeel is a popular Marshallese concept and ideal associated with inquiring into relationships within the family and community. In a similar way, the practice of relating is about connecting the present and future to the past. Education and leadership partnerships are linked and we look back to the past, our history, to make sense and feel inspired to transform practices that will benefit our people. In this paper and in light of our next generation, we reconnect with our navigation stories to inspire and empower education and leadership. Kanne lobal is part of our navigation stories, a conceptual framework centred on cultural practices, values, and concepts that embrace collective partnerships. Our link to this talanoa vā with others in the special issue is to attempt to make sense of connections given the global COVID-19 context by providing a Marshallese approach to address the physical and relational “distance” between education and leadership partnerships in Oceania.
Like the majority of developing small island nations in Oceania, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has had its share of educational challenges through colonial legacies of the past which continues to drive education systems in the region (Heine, 2002). The historical administration and education in the RMI is one of colonisation. Successive administrations by the Spanish, German, Japanese, and now the US, has resulted in education and learning that privileges western knowledge and forms of learning. This paper foregrounds understandings of education and learning as told by the voices of elementary school leaders from the RMI. The move to re-think education and leadership from Marshallese perspectives is an act of shifting the focus of bwebwenato or conversations that centres on Marshallese language and worldviews.
The concept of jelalokjen was conceptualised as traditional education framed mainly within the community context. In the past, jelalokjen was practiced and transmitted to the younger generation for cultural continuity. During the arrival of colonial administrations into the RMI, jelalokjen was likened to the western notions of education and schooling (Kupferman, 2004). Today, the primary function of jelalokjen, as traditional and formal education, it is for “survival in a hostile [and challenging] environment” (Kupferman, 2004, p. 43).
Because western approaches to learning in the RMI have not always resulted in positive outcomes for those engaged within the education system, as school leaders who value our cultural knowledge and practices, and aspire to maintain our language with the next generation, we turn to Kanne Lobal, a practice embedded in our navigation stories, collective aspirations, and leadership. The significance in the development of Kanne Lobal, as an appropriate framework for education and leadership, resulted in us coming together and working together. Not only were we able to share our leadership concerns, however, the engagement strengthened our connections with each other as school leaders, our communities, and the Public Schooling System (PSS). Prior to that, many of us were in competition for resources.
Educational Leadership: IQBE and GCSL
Leadership is a valued practice in the RMI. Before the IQBE programme started in 2018, the majority of the school leaders on the main island of Majuro had not engaged in collaborative partnerships with each other before. Our main educational purpose was to achieve accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), an accreditation commission for schools in the United States. The WASC accreditation dictated our work and relationships and many school leaders on Majuro felt the pressure of competition against each other. We, the authors in this paper, share our collective bwebwenato, highlighting our school leadership experiences and how we gained strength from our own ancestral knowledge to empower “us”, to collaborate with each other, our teachers, communities, as well as with PSS; a collaborative partnership we had not realised in the past. The paucity of literature that captures Kajin Majol (Marshallese language) and education in general in the RMI is what we intend to fill by sharing our reflections and experiences. To move our educational practices forward we highlight Kanne Lobal, a cultural approach that focuses on our strengths, collective social responsibilities and wellbeing.
For a long time, there was no formal training in place for elementary school leaders. School principals and vice principals were appointed primarily on their academic merit through having an undergraduate qualification. As part of the first cohort of fifteen school leaders, we engaged in the professional training programme, the Graduate Certificate in School Leadership (GCSL), refitted to our context after its initial development in the Solomon Islands. GCSL was coordinated by the Institute of Education (IOE) at the University of the South Pacific (USP). GCSL was seen as a relevant and appropriate training programme for school leaders in the RMI as part of an Asia Development Bank (ADB) funded programme which aimed at “Improving Quality Basic Education” (IQBE) in parts of the northern Pacific. GCSL was managed on Majuro, RMI’s main island, by the director at the time Dr Irene Taafaki, coordinator Yolanda McKay, and administrators at the University of the South Pacific’s (USP) RMI campus.
Through the provision of GCSL, as school leaders we were encouraged to re-think and draw-from our own cultural repository and connect to our ancestral knowledge that have always provided strength for us. This kind of thinking and practice was encouraged by our educational leaders (Heine, 2002). We argue that a culturally-affirming and culturally-contextual framework that reflects the lived experiences of Marshallese people is much needed and enables the disruption of inherent colonial processes left behind by Western and Eastern administrations which have influenced our education system in the RMI (Heine, 2002). Kanne Lobal, an approach utilising a traditional navigation has warranted its need to provide solutions for today’s educational challenges for us in the RMI.
Education in the Pacific
Education in the Pacific cannot be understood without contextualising it in its history and culture. It is the same for us in the RMI (Heine, 2002; Walsh et al., 2012). The RMI is located in the Pacific Ocean and is part of Micronesia. It was named after a British captain, John Marshall in the 1700s. The atolls in the RMI were explored by the Spanish in the 16th century. Germany unsuccessfully attempted to colonize the islands in 1885. Japan took control in 1914, but after several battles during World War II, the US seized the RMI from them. In 1947, the United Nations made the island group, along with the Mariana and Caroline archipelagos, a U.S. trust territory (Walsh et al, 2012). Education in the RMI reflects the colonial administrations of Germany, Japan, and now the US.
Before the turn of the century, formal education in the Pacific reflected western values, practices, and standards. Prior to that, education was informal and not binded to formal learning institutions (Thaman, 1997) and oral traditions was used as the medium for transmitting learning about customs and practices living with parents, grandparents, great grandparents. As alluded to by Jiba B. Kabua (2004), any “discussion about education is necessarily a discussion of culture, and any policy on education is also a policy of culture” (p. 181). It is impossible to promote one without the other, and it is not logical to understand one without the other. Re-thinking how education should look like, the pedagogical strategies that are relevant in our classrooms, the ways to engage with our parents and communities - such re-thinking sits within our cultural approaches and frameworks. Our collective attempts to provide a cultural framework that is relevant and appropriate for education in our context, sits within the political endeavour to decolonize. This means that what we are providing will not only be useful, but it can be used as a tool to question and identify whether things in place restrict and prevent our culture or whether they promote and foreground cultural ideas and concepts, a significant discussion of culture linked to education (Kabua, 2004).
Donor funded development aid programmes were provided to support the challenges within education systems. Concerned with the persistent low educational outcomes of Pacific students, despite the prevalence of aid programmes in the region, in 2000 Pacific educators and leaders with support from New Zealand Aid (NZ Aid) decided to intervene (Heine, 2002; Taufe’ulungaki, 2014). In April 2001, a group of Pacific educators and leaders across the region were invited to a colloquium funded by the New Zealand Overseas Development Agency held in Suva Fiji at the University of the South Pacific. The main purpose of the colloquium was to enable “Pacific educators to re-think the values, assumptions and beliefs underlying [formal] schooling in Oceania” (Benson, 2002).
Leadership, in general, is a valued practice in the RMI (Heine, 2002). Despite education leadership being identified as a significant factor in school improvement (Sanga & Chu, 2009), the limited formal training opportunities of school principals in the region was a persistent concern. As part of an Asia Development Bank (ADB) funded project, the Improve Quality Basic Education (IQBE) intervention was developed and implemented in the RMI in 2017. Mentoring is a process associated with the continuity and sustainability of leadership knowledge and practices (Sanga & Chu, 2009). It is a key aspect of building capacity and capabilities within human resources in education (ibid).
Indigenous knowledges and education research
According to Hilda Heine, the relationship between education and leadership is about understanding Marshallese history and culture (cited in Walsh et al., 2012). It is about sharing indigenous knowledge and histories that “details for future generations a story of survival and resilience and the pride we possess as a people” (Heine, cited in Walsh et al., 2012, p. v). This paper is fuelled by postcolonial aspirations yet is grounded in Pacific indigenous research. This means that our intentions are driven by postcolonial pursuits and discourses linked to challenging the colonial systems and schooling in the Pacific region that privileges western knowledge and learning and marginalises the education practices and processes of local people (Thiong’o, 1986). A point of difference and orientation from postcolonialism is a desire to foreground indigenous Pacific language, specifically Majin Majol, through Marshallese concepts. Our collective bwebwenato and conversation honours and values kautiej (respect), jouj eo mour eo (reciprocity), and jouj (kindness) (Taafaki & Fowler, 2019).
Pacific leaders developed the Rethinking Pacific Education Initiative for and by Pacific People (RPEIPP) in 2002 to take control of the ways in which education research was conducted by donor funded organisations (Taufe’ulungaki, 2014). Our former president, Dr Hilda Heine was part of the group of leaders who sought to counter the ways in which our educational and leadership stories were controlled and told by non-Marshallese (Heine, 2002). As a former minister of education in the RMI, Hilda Heine continues to inspire and encourage the next generation of educators, school leaders, and researchers to re-think and de-construct the way learning and education is conceptualised for Marshallese people. The conceptualisation of Kanne Lobal acknowledges its origin, grounded in Marshallese navigation knowledge and practice. Our decision to unpack and deconstruct Kanne Lobal within the context of formal education and leadership responds to the need to not only draw from indigenous Marshallese ideas and practice but to consider that the next generation will continue to be educated using western processes and initiatives particularly from the US where we get a lot of our funding from.
According to indigenous researchers Dawn Bessarab and Bridget Ng’andu (2010), doing research that considers “culturally appropriate processes to engage with indigenous groups and individuals is particularly pertinent in today’s research environment” (p. 37). Pacific indigenous educators and researchers have turned to their own ancestral knowledge and practices for inspiration and empowerment. Within western research contexts, the often stringent ideals and processes are not always encouraging of indigenous methods and practices. However, many were able to ground and articulate their use of indigenous methods as being relevant and appropriate to capturing the realities of their communities (Nabobo-Baba, 2008; Sualii-Sauni & Fulu-Aiolupotea, 2014; Thaman, 1997). At the same time, utilising Pacific indigenous methods and approaches enabled research engagement with their communities that honoured and respected them and their communities. For example, Tongan, Samoan, and Fijian researchers used the talanoa method as a way to capture the stories, lived realities, and worldviews of their communities within education in the diaspora (Fa’avae, Jones, & Manu’atu, 2016; Nabobo-Baba, 2008; Sualii-Sauni & Aiolupotea, 2014; Vaioleti, 2005). Tok stori was used by Solomon Islander educators and school leaders to highlight the unique circles of conversational practice and storytelling that leads to more positive engagement with their community members, capturing rich and meaningful narratives as a result (Sanga & Houma, 2004).
The Indigenous Aborigine in Australia utilise yarning as a “relaxed discussion through which both the researcher and participant journey together visiting places and topics of interest relevant” (Bessarab & Ng’andu, 2010, p. 38). Despite the diverse forms of discussions and storytelling by indigenous peoples, of significance are the cultural protocols, ethics, and language for conducting and guiding the engagement (Bessarab & Ng’andu, 2010; Nabobo-Baba, 2008; Sualii-Sauni & Aiolupotea, 2014). Through the ethics, values, protocols, and language, these are what makes indigenous methods or frameworks unique compared to western methods like in-depth interviews or semi-structured interviews. This is why it is important for us as Marshallese educators to frame, ground, and articulate how our own methods and frameworks of learning could be realised in western education (Heine, 2002; Jetnil-Kijiner, 2014). In this paper, we utilise bwebwenato as an appropriate method linked to “talk story”, capturing our collective stories and experiences during GCSL and how we sought to build partnerships and collaboration with each other, our communities, and the PSS.
Bwebwenato and drawing from Kajin Majel
Legends and stories that reflect Marshallese society and its cultural values have survived through our oral traditions. The practice of weaving also holds knowledge about our “valuable and earliest sources of knowledge” (Taafaki & Fowler, 2019, p. 2). The skilful navigation of Marshallese wayfarers on the walap (large canoes) in the ocean is testament of their leadership and the value they place on ensuring the survival and continuity of Marshallese people (Taafaki & Fowler, 2019; Walsh et al., 2012). During her graduate study in 2014, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner conceptualised bwebwenato as being the most “well-known form of Marshallese orality” (p. 38). The Marshallese-English dictionary defined bwebwenato as talk, conversation, story, history, article, episode, lore, myth, or tale (cited in Jetnil Kijiner, 2014). Three years later in 2017, bwebwenato was utilised in a doctoral project by Natalie Nimmer as a research method to gather “talk stories” about the experiences of 10 Marshallese experts in knowledge and skills ranging from sewing to linguistics, canoe-making and business.
Our collective bwebwenato in this paper centres on Marshallese ideas and language. The philosophy of Marshallese knowledge is rooted in our “Kajin Majel”, or Marshallese language and is shared and transmitted through our oral traditions. For instance, through our historical stories and myths. Marshallese philosophy, that is, the knowledge systems inherent in our beliefs, values, customs, and practices are shared. They are inherently relational, meaning that knowledge systems and philosophies within our world are connected, in mind, body, and spirit (Jetnil-Kijiner, 2014; Nimmer, 2017). Although some Marshallese believe that our knowledge is disappearing as more and more elders pass away, it is therefore important work together, and learn from each other about the knowledges shared not only by the living but through their lamentations and stories of those who are no longer with us (Jetnil-Kijiner, 2014).
As a Marshallese practice, weaving has been passed-down from generation to generation. Although the art of weaving is no longer as common as it used to be, the artefacts such as the “jaki-ed” (clothing mats) continue to embody significant Marshallese values and traditions. For our weavers, the jouj (check spelling) is the centre of the mat and it is where the weaving starts. When the jouj is correct and weaved well, the remainder and every other part of the mat will be right. The jouj is symbolic of the “heart” and if the heart is prepared well, trained well, then life or all other parts of the body will be well (Taafaki & Fowler, 2019). In that light, we have applied the same to this paper. Conceptualising and drawing from cultural practices that are close and dear to our hearts embodies a significant ontological attempt to prioritize our own knowledge and language, a sense of endearment to who we are and what we believe education to be like for us and the next generation.
The application of the phrase “Majolizing '' was used by the Ministry of Education when Hilda Heine was minister, to weave cultural ideas and language into the way that teachers understand the curriculum, develop lesson plans and execute them in the classroom. Despite this, there were still concerns with the embedded colonized practices where teachers defaulted to eurocentric methods of doing things, like the strategies provided in the textbooks given to us. In some ways, our education was slow to adjust to the “Majolizing '' intention by our former minister. In this paper, we provide Kanne Lobal as a way to contribute to the “Majolizing intention” and perhaps speed up yet still be collectively responsible to all involved in education.
Kajin Wa and Kanne Lobal
“Wa” is the Marshallese concept for canoe. Kajin wa, as in canoe language, has a lot of symbolic meaning linked to deeply-held Marshallese values and practices. The canoe was the foundational practice that supported the livelihood of harsh atoll island living which reflects the Marshallese social world. The experts of Kajin wa often refer to “wa” as being the vessel of life, a means and source of sustaining life (Kelen, 2009, cited in Miller, 2010). “Jouj” means kindness and is the lower part of the main hull of the canoe. It is often referred to by some canoe builders in the RMI as the heart of the canoe and is linked to love. The jouj is one of the first parts of the canoe that is built and is “used to do all other measurements, and then the rest of the canoe is built on top of it” (Miller, 2010, p. 67). The significance of the jouj is that when the canoe is in the water, the jouj is the part of the hull that is underwater and ensures that all the cargo and passengers are safe. For Marshallese, jouj or kindness is what living is about and is associated with selflessly carrying the responsibility of keeping the family and community safe.
The parts of the canoe reflect Marshallese culture, legend, family, lineage, and kinship. They embody social responsibilities that guide, direct, and sustain Marshallese families’ wellbeing, from atoll to atoll. For example, the rojak (boom), rojak maan (upper boom), rojak kōrā (lower boom), and they support the edges of the ujelā/ujele (sail) (see figure 1). The literal meaning of rojak maan is male boom and rojak kōrā means female boom which together strengthens the sail and ensures the canoe propels forward in a strong yet safe way. Figuratively, the rojak maan and rojak kōrā symbolise the mother and father relationship which when strong, through the jouj (kindness and love), it can strengthen families and sustain them into the future.
Figure 1. Parts of the canoe
From a socio-cultural, communal, and leadership view, the canoe (wa) provides understanding of the relationships required to inspire and sustain Marshallese peoples’ education and learning. We draw from Kajin wa because they provide cultural ideas and practices that enable understanding of education and leadership necessary for sustaining Marshallese people and realities in Oceania. When building a canoe, the women are tasked with the weaving of the ujelā/ujele (sail) and to ensure that it is strong enough to withstand long journeys and the fierce winds and waters of the ocean. The Kanne Lobal relates to the front part of the ujelā/ujele (sail) where the rojak maan and rojak kōrā meet and connect (see the red lines in figure 1). Kanne Lobal is linked to the strategic use of the ujelā/ujele by navigators, when there is no wind north wind to propel them forward, to find ways to capture the winds so that their journey can continue. As a proverbial saying, Kanne Lobal is used to ignite thinking and inspire and transform practice particularly when the journey is rough and tough. In this paper we draw from Kanne Lobal to ignite, inspire, and transform our educational and leadership practices, a move to explore what has always been meaningful to Marshallese people when we are faced with challenges. The Kanne Lobal utilises our language, and cultural practices and values by sourcing from the concepts of jouj (kindness, love), kautiej (respect), and jouj eo mour eo (reciprocity).
A key Marshallese proverb, “Enra bwe jen lale rara”, is the cultural practice where families enact compassion through the sharing of food in all occurrences. The term “enra” is a small basket weaved from the coconut leaves, and often used by Marshallese as a plate to share and distribute food amongst each other. Bwe-jen-lale-rara is about noticing and providing for the needs of others, and “enra” the basket will help support and provide for all that are in need. “Enra-bwe-jen-lale-rara” is symbolic of cultural exchange and reciprocity and the cultural values associated with building and maintaining relationships, and constantly honouring each other. As a Marshallese practice, in this article we share our understanding and knowledge about the challenges as well as possible solutions for education concerns in our nation.
In addition, we highlight another proverb, “wa kuk wa jimor”, which relates to having one canoe, and despite its capacity to feed and provide for the individual, but within the canoe all people can benefit from what it can provide. In the same way, we provide in this paper a cultural framework that will enable all educators to benefit from. It is a framework that is far-reaching and relevant to the lived realities of Marshallese people today. Kumit relates to people united to build strength, all co-operating and working together, living in peace, harmony, and good health.
Kanne Lobal: conceptual framework for education and leadership
An education framework is a conceptual structure that can be used to capture ideas and thinking related to aspects of learning. Kanne Lobal is conceptualised and framed in this paper as an educational framework. Kanne Lobal highlights the significance of education as a collective partnership whereby leadership is an important aspect. Kanne Lobal draws-from indigenous Marshallese concepts like kautiej (respect), jouj eo mour eo (reciprocity), and jouj (kindness, heart). The role of a leader, including an education leader, is to prioritise collective learning and partnerships that benefits Marshallese people and the continuity and survival of the next generation (Heine, 2002; Thaman, 1995).
As described by Ejnar Aerōk, an expert canoe builder in the RMI, he stated: “jerbal ippān doon bwe en maron maan wa e” (cited in Miller, 2010, p. 69). His description emphasises the significance of partnerships and working together when navigating and journeying together in order to move the canoe forward. The kubaak, the outrigger of the wa (canoe) is about “partnerships”. For us as elementary school leaders on Majuro, kubaak encourages us to value collaborative partnerships with each other as well as our communities, PSS, and other stakeholders. Partnerships is an important part of the Kanne Lobal education and leadership framework. It requires ongoing bwebwenato – the inspiring as well as confronting and challenging conversations that should be mediated and negotiated if we and our education stakeholders are to journey together to ensure that the educational services we provide benefits our next generation of young people in the RMI. Navigating ahead the partnerships, mediation, and negotiation are the core values of jouj (kindness, love), kautiej (respect), and jouj eo mour eo (reciprocity).
As an organic conceptual framework grounded in indigenous values, inspired through our lived experiences, Kanne Lobal provides ideas and concepts for re-thinking education and leadership practices that are conducive to learning and teaching in the schooling context in the RMI. By no means does it provide the solution to the education ills in our nation. However, we argue that Kanne Lobal is a more relevant approach which is much needed for the negatively stigmatised system as a consequence of the various colonial administrations that have and continue to shape and reframe our ideas about what education should be like for us in the RMI. Moreover, Kannel Lobal is our attempt to decolonize the framing of education and leadership, moving our bwebwenato to re-framing conversations of teaching and learning so that our cultural knowledge and values are foregrounded, appreciated, and realised within our education system.
Bwebwenato: sharing our stories
In this section, we use bwebwenato as a method of gathering and capturing our stories as data. Below we capture our stories and ongoing conversations about the richness in Marshallese cultural knowledge in the outer islands and on Majuro and the potentialities in Kanne Lobal.
When I was in third grade (9-10 years of age), during my grandfather’s speech in Arno, an atoll near Majuro, during a time when a wa (canoe) was being blessed and ready to put the canoe into the ocean. My grandfather told me the canoe was a blessing for the family. “Without a canoe, a family cannot provide for them”, he said. The canoe allows for travelling between places to gather food and other sources to provide for the family. My grandfather’s stories about people’s roles within the canoe reminded me that everyone within the family has a responsibility to each other. Our women, mothers and daughters too have a significant responsibility in the journey, in fact, they hold us, care for us, and given strength to their husbands, brothers, and sons. The wise man or elder sits in the middle of the canoe, directing the young man who help to steer. The young man, he does all the work, directed by the older man. They take advice and seek the wisdom of the elder. In front of the canoe, a young boy is placed there and because of his strong and youthful vision, he is able to help the elder as well as the young man on the canoe. The story can be linked to the roles that school leaders, teachers, and students have in schooling. Without each person knowing intricately their role and responsibility, the sight and vision ahead for the collective aspirations of the school and the community is difficult to comprehend. For me, the canoe is symbolic of our educational journey within our education system. As the school leader, a central, trusted, and respected figure in the school, they provide support for teachers who are at the helm, pedagogically striving to provide for their students. For without strong direction from the school leaders and teachers at the helm, the students, like the young boy, cannot foresee their futures, or envisage how education can benefit them. This is why Kanne Lobal is a significant framework for us in the Marshall Islands because within the practice we are able to take heed and empower each other so that all benefit from the process. Kanne Lobal is linked to our culture, an essential part of who we are. We must rely on our own local approaches, rather than relying on others that are not relevant to what we know and how we live in today’s society.
One of the things I can tell is that in Majuro, compared to the outer islands, it’s different. In the outer islands, parents bring children together and tell them legends and stories. The elders tell them about the legends and stories – the bwebwenato. Children from outer islands know a lot more about Marshallese legends compared to children from the Majuro atoll. They usually stay close to their parents, observe how to prepare food and all types of Marshallese skills.
Loretta Joseph Case
There is little Western influence in the outer islands. They grow up learning their own culture with their parents, not having tv. They are closely knit, making their own food, learning to weave. They use fire for cooking food. They are more connected because there are few of them, doing their own culture. For example, if they’re building a house, the ladies will come together and make food to take to the males that are building the house, encouraging them to keep on working - “jemjem maal” (sharpening tools i.e. axe, like encouraging workers to empower them). It’s when they bring food and entertainment.
Togetherness, work together, sharing of food, these are important practices as a school leader. Jemjem maal – the whole village works together, men working and the women encourage them with food and entertainment. All the young children are involved in all of the cultural practices, cultural transmission is consistently part of their everyday life. These are stronger in the outer islands. Kanne Lobal has the potential to provide solutions using our own knowledge and practices.
When new teachers become a teacher, they learn more about their culture in teaching. Teaching raises the question, who are we? A popular saying amongst our people, “Aelon kein ad ej aelon in manit”, means that “Our islands are cultural islands”. Therefore, when we are teaching, and managing the school, we must do this culturally. When we live and breathe, we must do this culturally. There is more socialising with family and extended family. Respect the elderly. When they’re doing things the ladies all get together, in groups and do it. Cut the breadfruit, and preserve the breadfruit and pandanus. They come together and do it. Same as fishing, building houses, building canoes. They use and speak the language often spoken by the older people. There are words that people in the outer islands use and understand language regularly applied by the elderly. Respect elderly and leaders more i.e., chiefs (iroj), commoners (alap), and the workers on the land (ri-jerbal) (social layer under the commoners). All the kids, they gather with their families, and go and visit the chiefs and alap, and take gifts from their land, first produce/food from the plantation (eojōk).
The people are more connected to the culture in the outer islands because they help one another. They don’t have to always buy things by themselves, everyone contributes to the occasion. For instance, for birthdays, boys go fishing, others contribute and all share with everyone. Kanne Lobal is a practice that can bring people together – leaders, teachers, stakeholders. We want our colleagues to keep strong and work together to fix problems like students and teachers’ absenteeism which is a big problem for us in schools.
The culture in the outer islands are more accessible and exposed to children. In Majuro, there is a mixedness of cultures and knowledges, influenced by Western thinking and practices. Kanne Lobal is an idea that can enhance quality educational purposes for the RMI. We, the school leaders who did GCSL, we want to merge and use this idea because it will help benefit students’ learning and teachers’ teaching. Kanne Lobal will help students to learn and teachers to teach though traditional skills and knowledge. We want to revitalize our ways of life through teaching because it is slowly fading away. Also, we want to have our own Marshallese learning process because it is in our own language making it easier to use and understand. Essentially, we want to proudly use our own ways of teaching from our ancestors showing the appreciation and blessings given to us.
To think of ways forward is about reflecting on the past and current learnings. Instead of a traditional discussion within a research publication, we have opted to continue our bwebwenato by sharing what we have learnt through the Graduate Certificate in School Leadership (GCSL) programme. Our bwebwenato does not end in this article and this opportunity to collaborate and partner together in this piece of writing has been a meaningful experience to conceptualise and unpack the Kanne Lobal framework.
Our collaborative bwebwenato has enabled us to dig deep into our own wise knowledges for guidance through mediating and negotiating the challenges in education and leadership (Sanga & Houma, 2004). For example, bwe-jen-lale-rara reminds us to inquire, pay attention, and focus on supporting the needs of others. Through enra-bwe-jen-lale-rara, it reminds us to value cultural exchange and reciprocity which will strengthen the development and maintaining of relationships based on ways we continue to honour each other (Nimmer, 2017). We not only continue to support each other, but also help mentor the next generation of school leaders within our education system (Heine, 2002).
Education and leadership are all about collaborative partnerships (Sanga & Chu, 2009; Thaman, 1997). Developing partnerships through the GCSL was useful learning for us. It encouraged us to work together, share knowledge, respect each other, and be kind. The values of jouj (kindness, love), kautiej (respect), and jouj eo mour eo (reciprocity) are meaningful in being and becoming and educational leader in the RMI (Jetnil-Kijiner, 2014; Miller, 2010; Nimmer, 2017). These values are meaningful for us practice particularly given the drive by PSS for schools to become accredited.
The workshops and meetings delivered during the GCSL in the RMI from 2018 to 2019 about Kanne Lobal has given us strength to share our stories and experiences from the meeting with the stakeholders. But before we met with the stakeholders, we were encouraged to share and speak in our language within our courses: EDP05 (Professional Development and Learning), EDP06 (School Leadership), EDP07 (School Management), EDP08 (Teaching and Learning), and EDP09 (Community Partnerships). In groups, we shared our presentations with our peers, the 15 school leaders in the GCSL programme. We also invited USP RMI staff. They liked the way we presented Kannel Lobal. They provided us with feedback, for example: how the use of the sail on the canoe, the parts and their functions can be conceptualised in education and how they are related to the way that we teach our own young people.
Engaging stakeholders in the conceptualisation and design stages of Kanne Lobal strengthened our understanding of leadership and collaborative partnerships. Based on various meetings with the RMI Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) team, PSS general assembly, teachers from the outer islands, and the PSS executive committee, we were able to share and receive feedback on the Kanne Lobal framework. The coordinators of the PREL programme in the RMI were excited by the possibilities around using Kanne Lobal, as a way to teach culture in an inspirational way to Marshallese students. Our Marshallese knowledge, particularly through the proverbial meaning of Kanne Lobal provided so much inspiration and insight for the groups during the presentation which gave us hope and confidence to develop the framework. Kanne Lobal is an organic and indigenous approach, grounded in Marshallese ways of doing things (Heine, 2002; Taafaki & Fowler, 2019). Given the persistent presence of colonial processes within the education system and the constant reference to practices and initiatives from the US, Kanne Lobal for us provides a refreshing yet fulfilling experience and makes us feel warm inside because it is something that belongs to all Marshallese people.
Marshallese indigenous knowledge and practices provide meaningful educational and leadership understanding and learnings. They ignite, inspire, and transform thinking and practice. The Kanne Lobal conceptual framework emphasises key concepts and values necessary for collaborative partnerships within education and leadership practices in the RMI. The bwebwenato or talk stories have been insightful and have highlighted the strengths and benefits that our Marshallese ideas and practices possess when looking for appropriate and relevant ways to understand education and leadership.
We want to acknowledge our GCSL cohort of school leaders who have supported us in the development of Kanne Lobal as a conceptual framework. A huge kommol tata to our friends: Joana, Rosana, Loretta, Jellan, Alvin, Ellice, Rolando, Stephen, and Alan.
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