A heuristic inquiry of three Navajo women in educational Leadership

Jacqueline Holiday
Dept. of Education, Arizona State University
July, 2006


Although there are many Native American women in education, most are in teaching positions, and most in administrative positions are elementary principals; very few are high school principals or school district superintendents. This is contrary to the matriarchal society on which the Navajo clan system is based. A newborn child takes on the mother's clan and identity; the father's clan is secondary. As a Dine, during formal or informal introductions, one identifies oneself by naming one's maternal clan, 'who you are'; then one's paternal clan, 'who you are born for.' Next, one name's their maternal grandfather and lastly their paternal grandfather. It is then ironic that in a matrilineal society, some people wonder why there are not more women as school superintendents where women are viewed by the Navajo people as the essence of each individual's being. The purpose of this study was to discover the qualities, core meanings, and fundamental nature of three Navajo women who are successful, effective leaders in education. The intent was to compare the Navajo teachings as a way of life with two models of effective leadership in the 20th century, using these models to determine characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes in relationship to the literature. The researcher discovered that effective leadership is humility and strength in character, giving voice to the people they lead. This leadership type is identified as servant-leadership, a holistic approach where 'WE' supersedes 'I' and decision- making is shared among the group. The three phases of heuristic inquiry (immersion, acquisition and realization) were utilized. Immersion is the researcher's internal search, leading into acquisition where in-depth interviews reveal broader and deeper perspectives. In the final phase of realization, a synthesis or culmination occurs, which was determined in this study by how Navajo teachings were used to guide these three Navajo women in becoming effective and successful leaders in education. Navajo teachings were paralleled with Covey's eight habits of highly effective people and Collins' Level 5 leader. The researcher described how three Navajo women were spun by their culture, language, and teachings of life that equipped them with the tools for becoming successful and highly effective leaders.