This week Australians focused on Harper Nielsen, a nine year old student who refused to stand and sing the national anthem because she feels that it excludes Aboriginal People. As the story appeared in the media Aboriginal people around the country braced themselves for the racist hate that would undoubtedly be thrown their way.
Sure enough social media quickly filled with people’s opinions, with the majority of people who commented suggesting that Harper is the problem, rather than the out of date song she is protesting. Accusations about her being brainwashed and her parents not teaching her respect were quickly followed by the usual vitriol about Aboriginal people needing to ‘get over it’, being ‘dole bludgers’ and other inaccurate stereotypes fuelled by misinformation and lack of education. It was exhausting to read. It’s hard to be an Aboriginal person in this country sometimes with so much disdain directed at our people.
Another common theme in the comments was the thought that Harper was too young to come up with this stance on her own and that adults, most likely her parents, were behind the political statement. This view completely underestimates the intelligence and ability of children. Kids are very capable of considering issues and choosing a stance themselves. They are ready to be given information and an opportunity to form and share their own views and they deserve for these views to be respected. They won’t always get it right, but none of us do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be given the opportunity to express our views or that we should not take the stand we believe in.
Standing up for what we believe in is important. As long as it is done respectfully, I support students who want to make a stand, particularly when it comes to Aboriginal issues in this country. We need kids today to start thinking about these issues so that in the future we have a generation of adults who are informed and can drive change. We need to have open discussions about the tough issues and teach kids to have these conversations in a respectful way. We need to make sure we are arming them with facts and accurate information to back their views. We as adults need to be able to respond to the arguments that we don’t agree with in a respectful way, something that many adults have failed at this last week.
Harper is not alone in choosing not to participate in the National Anthem. Many people make that decision every day for a range of reasons and it doesn’t cause the upset that it has this week. She is also not alone in thinking that we need to consider how well the national anthem reflects who we are as a country now. Victorian Supreme Court Judge, Peter Vickery, has previously been vocal about the exclusion of Aboriginal People from the National Anthem, founding the Recognition in Anthem Project to drive a change. You can check out the work they are doing on their website https://www.rap.org.au/.
Regardless of your views on the Anthem, the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from our national song is surely something that we need to address.
One of the challenges teachers face is how to bring more Aboriginal content into their classrooms. Alison Greenland, owner of Leap into Literacy talks about how she brings Aboriginal perspectives into her lessons, using Aboriginal stories to complement the topics here students are exploring.
The AR digraph and Stories in the Stars
In this blog we will focus on our week three class for some of our younger students in years K-1. The focus sound that the children worked on in the class was the /ar/ sound.
To begin the lesson, the students suggested words that have the /ar/ sound in them. They were encouraged to think of examples of the three different ways the sound can be pronounced such as “bark, collar or war”. The three different sounds (“ar”, “er” or “or”) that come from the digraph /ar/ were listed on the whiteboard and in the children’s notebooks. Examples of words with the focus sound were given and the students were tasked with putting them into the correct column. The students then wrote a sentence or two using one or two of the words. A fun game was played and a video presented to help consolidate these concepts.
How to Catch a Star
Next, the students were asked if they had read or heard of the book How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers. Discussions were had about what sound is at the end of the word ‘star’ and how they thought it would be spelled. The children had great fun sharing what they knew about stars before listening to the story.
How to catch a star is an inspirational story of a boy who just loves stars. The boy decides to catch a star of his very own and a beautiful journey unfolds. At the end of the story, the students discussed why the boy couldn’t catch the star in the water as it was merely a reflection. They also pondered the type of star that actually washed up for him (the starfish). The teacher questioned the students on what they would do if they actually caught a star and they noted a few ideas down.
Now it was time for the students to write their own short story or a sentence depending on age level. The children brainstormed as a class ways that they could catch a star of their own. They were given a head start for their story with the opening line, “One day, I tried to catch a stay by…”
Stories in the Stars In keeping with the stargazing theme, the next part of the lesson introduced students to the Aboriginal stories in the stars. The constellations in the night sky are of great significance to Indigenous Australians. The night sky could serve many purposes, some more practical like seasonal changes and some more spiritual in nature. The class discussed how these stories were told by generations of Indigenous Australians and that each constellation has a story behind it. Examples were discussed including the story of Bunya the Possum from the Boorung People in Victoria. Bunya is the possum that can be seen in the constellation otherwise known as the Southern Cross. The tip of the Southern Cross is the nose of the possum and its tail hangs down to the left. The tree that he sits completes the other elements of the constellation. The story explains that Bunya ran away from Tchingal, the evil emu, and hid in a tree for so long that he turned into a possum. Bunya is a story of the Boorung People from Victoria.
After exploring these Aboriginal perspectives on the stars, the students were then invited to design their own “constellation story”. They were asked to draw a creature on their paper and then draw a few stars inside it to make the creature in the night sky. Students were encouraged to write a sentence or a short story about their chosen star constellation and why it came to be. You can see below the wonderfully creative examples of their constellation stories.
The Leap into Literacy Great Book Swap supporting the Indigenous Literacy Foundation
The Great Book Swap is a fantastic way to celebrate reading in our local community, and raise much-needed funds for remote Indigenous communities. The idea is to swap a favourite book in exchange for another, for a gold coin donation. Last year, The Indigenous Literacy Foundation raised over $190,000 from the Great Book Swap and this year their goal is to raise $300,000 to gift 30,000 new books to remote communities who have few to none. After all, how can you learn to read without books ? Help Leap into Literacy help them by making a donation to our Great Book Swap page and sharing it with your friends! And come along on September the 5th to our Great Book Swap event at our Drummoyne and Balmain locations!
DONATE TO THE GREAT BOOK SWAP
Want to know more about Leap into Literacy?
Leap into Literacy provides small tutoring classes with a focus on reading comprehension and writing. Using techniques that allow students to become creative in the learning process, sessions are fun and achieve maximum results. Classes are held in our Drummoyne and Balmain centres, Chatswood and other Inner West locations. Classes are available for children in Years K-6 and we now offer preschool classes for children aged 3-5.
We offer a FREE TRIAL CLASS so contact us to find out how Leap into Literacy can help your child.
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Last week I was excited to share my views on Aboriginal education in a piece for the Guardian. If you missed the piece, you can view it here.
It is always a little scary to put yourself out there but I am really glad I did. The response has been amazing! I have been contacted by teachers seeking more information about how they can include more perspectives in the classroom; parents wanting their child to have access to more Aboriginal education; and people from Aboriginal and non Aboriginal backgrounds sharing their support and views on this important issue.
Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support or shared their story with me over the last week. It is always great to hear how other people think about Aboriginal education and their experiences with Aboriginal content.
The feedback has been really positive, affirming my decision to four years ago to start Wingaru and focus on supporting schools to not only include more Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom but to change the way that we think about Aboriginal content.
The message that came through loud and clear is that there are many Australian’s seeking more Aboriginal education in their lives but are unsure how to go about it. I think part of the solution is looking for opportunities to add perspectives to units already being completed in the classroom. For example, my sons class is currently looking at toys and exploring how they have changed over time, this is a perfect opportunity to include traditional Aboriginal toys. My niece is learning about farming, it would be great to see her teacher include pre 1770 farming approaches.
The inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives is a positive no matter how you look at it. It contributes to the development of understanding and a shared knowledge amongst Australian’s about our country as well as enhances the learning experience for students - considering approaches of other cultures is not only interesting, it gives kids an opportunity to consider the world from an alternative view and critically reflect on the world they live in.
As with all change, breaking down the barriers for changing Aboriginal education will take time but it’s a change that I can already see happening.
Including an Aboriginal perspective gives students the opportunity to consider concepts from another angle as well as adding interesting content that kids enjoy.
One of the things that has become clear since I started Wingaru is that there is a lot of confusion about what exactly an Aboriginal Perspective is. Many people think of adding Aboriginal perspectives as introducing whole units of work. As you can imagine, this becomes very overwhelming when you consider how crowded the curriculum is. It is not surprising that so many teachers put Aboriginal Perspectives in the too hard basket.
If we start looking at Aboriginal perspectives as simply looking at a topic from an Aboriginal point of view, the task becomes less daunting. Adding an activity exploring the Aboriginal point of view to an existing unit of work is an easy way to add more Aboriginal content to your classroom.
The lessons on Wingaru Kids are an easy addition to existing units being taught in classrooms every day. Here are a few examples of how we can help you add more Aboriginal perspectives.
Saturday the 4th of August is National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. It is an opportunity for all Australians to celebrate our kids, and consider the impact that community, culture and family play in the life of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child.
Aboriginal children play an important role in carrying our culture into the future and our communities work hard to raise strong and resilient leaders. We give kids a voice and teach them not to be afraid to use it. We send them off to school to be educated and gain skills that we hope will complement the lessons we have given them and encourage their growth.
But often this is not the school experience for Aboriginal kids. Many struggle in the school environment. This is hardly surprising given that many schools are not culturally friendly and children are expected to operate in an environment that doesn’t understand them. Not only do many of our kids struggle with navigating the school system and trying to find their feet, they often face racism, bias and bullying because of their Aboriginality.
I regularly speak with teachers who are looking to support their Aboriginal students, many of whom are disconnected in the classroom and struggling to find their voice in the school environment. I love that these teachers are reaching out – it shows they care and that someone is looking out for our kids. I am always happy to have a yarn and see if I can help.
Many teachers who contact me for support are looking to bring our resources into their school, not for all students but just for one or two Aboriginal students. The request is made with genuine good intentions but I can hear the frustration of teachers as I explain that is not how our platform works. Sticking the Aboriginal kids on a computer by themselves is not going to help them. It is not going to help them connect in the classroom.
Aboriginal kids need us to create culturally competent and safe school environments. They need schools that celebrate their communities, acknowledge the resilience of their people and provide opportunities for them to connect and feel included. They need classrooms that include genuine Aboriginal perspectives and peers who are gaining a shared knowledge and respect for the journey Aboriginal people have travelled and the confidence to stand in solidarity to challenge the misconceptions that they hear in mainstream society everyday. Like all students, Aboriginal kids need to feel secure in order to flourish. This can’t happen when every day is a struggle to fit in, to navigate a system that is culturally incompatible and where you are on the defence due to misconceptions fuelling negativity from peers.
I remember starting a new school when I was 14. I knew no one and they didn’t know me. During those first few days I was given lots of advice from my new peers intended to help me navigate my new environment. I learnt which teachers were tough and which were fun; I learnt which kids ruled the playground and which were considered uncool; I learnt what food to avoid at the canteen; and I learnt that I should try to be friends with the Aboriginal kids because they were scary and better to have onside than not.
If you had asked me then I don’t think I could have articulated why that advice made me uneasy but I certainly didn’t offer information about my own Aboriginality and I wondered what would happen when it was learnt that I was one of the ‘scary Aboriginals’ I had been warned about. The school had a large Aboriginal population – there were about 40 of us – and we had an amazing Aboriginal Education Assistant, a committed Aboriginal Support Teacher and an active parent committee supporting us. Despite this, there were so many misconceptions amongst the student body about Aboriginal people. There was resentment for the perceived entitlements we received and an underlying fear which I now know permeates society.
I doubt I would have received the same advice had Aboriginal education been approached differently and students were armed with knowledge to start breaking though the misconceptions that contributed to students feeling that such warnings were necessary. It is time that we start to approach Aboriginal education in this way.
When you are considering how to support your Aboriginal students I encourage you to look at the great initiatives designed to support Aboriginal kids but also look beyond our kids at the environment and see how you can help build a culturally competent environment for our kids to thrive in. And as always, if you think I can help, get in touch. I am always up for a yarn.
If you are looking for resources for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children Day check out the SNAICC website http://aboriginalchildrensday.com.au.
I am really excited to announce this month's Wingaru Teacher of the Month is Sonia Layton from Tempe Public School. Sonia is an amazing Aboriginal teacher who makes a huge contribution to Aboriginal education and her school community.
Selecting the Teacher of the Month is not an easy task. We work with so many great teachers, it is hard to select just one. However this month it was easy - we have had so much positive feedback from parents at her school that there is no doubt that Sonia is this month's selected teacher. Thank you to the parents who went out of their way to tell us how fantastic Sonia is and let us know how great her contribution is.
We first met Sonia at Edutech last year and have loved working with her so it is no surprise that students and parents think she is amazing. She is a great advocate for Aboriginal education, goes above and beyond for her students and is recognised by her school community as a great educator.
This month we have been honouring Aboriginal women and the contribution they make and I am privileged to highlight the contribution that Sonia makes. Because of her, we can.
One of the things I hear a lot from schools when talking about how they approach Aboriginal perspectives is that they don’t need support because they have a cultural performance, usually a didge player, during NAIDOC week and that this is enough for their school. That they do not need to include other aspects of Aboriginal perspectives.
Cultural performance is a great experience for students. Without a doubt the school is a richer place because kids get to experience cultural expression first hand. However, and maybe my opinion is controversial here, cultural performances on their own are not a complete education experience. They are entertaining and a great way to engage students and spark an interest in Aboriginal perspectives but without follow through in the classroom, what do students take away from these performances?
Cultural performances have been the corner stone of Aboriginal education for as long as I can remember. Every year a performer would come to school, generally in NAIDOC week, and would entertain the school. We would then go back to class, the performance soon falling to the back of our minds as class work became our focus.
Sometimes the Aboriginal kids would participate in a workshop with the performer which was great – for some Aboriginal kids this is the only place we can explore this side of our culture. It’s great to see schools offering more of these experiences to Aboriginal students and I hope they increase.
But for non-Aboriginal students, the opportunity to explore what they have seen is limited and the educational opportunity created by the performance lost. It is not surprising that, when asked, many Australian adults report that they have not received enough Aboriginal education. Imagine what kids would take away from that Aboriginal performance if once back in the classroom the learning continued. If students had the opportunity to: explore how the instrument is made; consider the cultural significance of the instrument; develop an appreciation of the skill involved in playing it; look at the significance of the designs painted on both the didge and the player; or learn about the performer, their story and how the performance keeps them connected to culture.
Aboriginal academic, Stephen Hagan, was quoted by the Koori Mail (‘Overcoming education weakness', Koori Mail 418 p.21) as saying ‘only 5% of my annual intake would qualify as having a basic operational knowledge of Australian Indigenous peoples after 12 formal years of schooling.’
Stephen’s experience is not rare and to be blunt, it’s not good enough. Kids should be leaving school with some idea about Aboriginal people and culture. How can we expect the world we live in to change if we aren’t arming our future leaders with the knowledge they need to change it. The long-standing approach of a NAIDOC performance as the sum total of learning opportunities is not working. It is time to change our approach.
Cultural performances are just one part of Aboriginal education. Schools who are getting Aboriginal education right are not only building educational experiences around a cultural performance but they are including perspectives that build a knowledge base for their students. Their students have access to lessons about more than cultural expression. They learn about true Australian history and consider the journey Aboriginal people have travelled to get to where we are today. Those students are the 5% that get to university with a working knowledge of Aboriginal Australia and are best placed to contribute to change in Australia.
If we keep accepting a cultural performance as enough, we will never see change in this country when it comes to Aboriginal issues. We will never develop the much needed respect and shared knowledge base to close the gap.
There are many ways to increase Aboriginal perspectives in your school. Contact us now if you would like to have a yarn about where to start making this much-needed change.
NAIDOC Week is fast approaching and Aboriginal communities are buzzing with excitement about the opportunity to come together and celebrate our culture and recognise the work people in our communities are doing to promote, protect and preserve our culture.
Each year our celebrations seem to get bigger. It is a busy week and I love it!
It is an opportunity to acknowledge the work people have been doing, check out community initiatives and come together to celebrate our people. It is about connecting and reconnecting with people. It is about pride. It is about looking around and seeing all the great things our communities are doing and taking a moment to breathe that in, appreciate who we are and our place in the world. It is a time when, just for a moment, we can move the focus from the negativity and struggles that our people face day in and day out and move the attention to all the great things we are doing to overcome the adversity.
It is an opportunity to show the wider community our resilience and the great things we have achieved because, let’s be honest, our great work is often lost in the overwhelming negative voice of mainstream media and misinformed public opinion. And it is an opportunity to invite non-Aboriginal communities into our world, to experience some culture and witness firsthand the deadly people we are.
For schools, NAIDOC provides a great platform to introduce students to Aboriginal people, issues and education. It is an important week for all students and offers lessons in respect, self-respect, leadership and acceptance as well as Aboriginal education.
For some students, NAIDOC is the only exposure they get, the only opportunity to see through the misconceptions that permeate Australian society. It is an opportunity for Aboriginal students to stand tall and be proud of who they are and show their friends and peers the great things about being Aboriginal. It was at school, many years ago now, that NAIDOC became a key date on my calendar. I loved the activities and the fact that my parents and community came to school. The sports days, the BBQs, the art projects, the performances and the interest and respect that non-Aboriginal students showed that week.
NAIDOC will look different for every school – the most important thing is to enjoy your celebrations! We'd love to see your pictures and hear about your activities so please share on our social media.
Download our free NAIDOC poster and colouring sheets below.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.