As the mum of a kindy kid, I spent a lot of time in parent forums and groups during the first term of this year. I gained some valuable insight into school life and how best to support my child in his first year of school. But there was one thing that bothered me – so many parents were quick to criticise teachers and complain about the job they were doing and often this criticism seemed unfair.
It often seems teachers can’t win – we expect them to play key roles in the development of our children, but only when it suits us. We send our smalls off 5 days a week, their teacher in charge of their learning, their behaviour and supporting the development of their values. We hope that the teacher has an approach we like and when it is, we often say nothing, but the minute we disagree we are quick to criticise, to get on social media demanding support as we complain about the chocolate cake that got sent home as inappropriate lunch food or that our child was reprimanded again for talking in class or that our child wasn’t given an award that we feel they deserved. We are quick to dismiss the skills of the teacher, ignore their experience and often fail to look at the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is that your child’s teacher is invested in his or her learning. Teachers want our smalls to succeed, they want to support their development academically, emotionally and socially. They know that the skills we get from school are not just about reading and numbers. We develop knowledge; confidence; an understanding of others; negotiation skills and an appreciation of team work plus more. The lessons we learn contribute to our sense of self and our view of the world. Our time at school supports our development of empathy and understanding and gives us the room we need to explore approaches to the challenges life throws at us. We won’t always get it right but that’s ok, our teachers are there to support and guide us. The impact of a teacher is often underestimated.
I think of my teachers and the support I received during my school years. Some resonate more than others – from Katoomba Primary School, Mr Colin Semmler (librarian); from Orara High School, Mr Keith Jervis (librarian), Ms Christine Robinson (AEO) and Ms Noelene Usher (my roll call and humanities teacher). Each of these people and their influence has stuck with me for life. I probably didn’t say thank you enough. If any of you are reading this, thank you.
It is likely that most teachers don’t get the appreciation they deserve. We don’t consider the hours they spend outside of school hours planning, marking, or considering out of the box approaches to support their students. Wouldn’t it be great if we started recognising this effort?
The importance of Aboriginal education is often overlooked by teachers, parents and students. But there are many teachers who are working every day to make Aboriginal perspectives an everyday part of school life, advocating for a better future for all our kids through a reconciled Australia; for culturally inclusive schools; more comprehensive education; and recognition of Australia’s real history.
Wingaru Education is honoured to get to work with many of these teachers and we think these teachers deserve more recognition so we are introducing Teacher of the Month!
Each month the Wingaru team will choose a teacher based on their contribution to Aboriginal Education. We will consider how they are using the Platform; their interactions with the Wingaru team including our social media accounts; and feedback from their school community. The selected teacher will receive a special gift just for them as well as having their good work recognised publicly.
Our first Teacher of the Month will be revealed on the blog next week.
We all have a list of teachers we remember fondly for the influence they have had. Your child’s current teacher could be one of their life long influencers – have you thanked them lately?
This week we acknowledge World Environment Day and World Oceans Day. Both of these events focus on raising awareness and encouraging action to support a healthy planet. Modern society does not treat the environment well and the impact is starting to be seen. We are losing species; the land is struggling; our oceans are plastic wastelands; and climate change is out of control. We must start taking steps to look after our land.
Aboriginal people have inhabited Australia for over 60,000 years, living off the land and managing resources to ensure that they were sustained for future use. That Aboriginal culture survived for so long before invasion is a testament to the sustainable lifestyle once enjoyed. Today, we can learn a lot from the practices Aboriginal people employed before invasion.
Traditional and cultural practices dictated how natural resources were used. Strategies such as fire-stick burning were used to regenerate the vegetation, encouraging re-growth and attracting animals and insects to the area. Animals were used in their entirety – the meat was a food source, the fur and skin became clothing and bones and teeth were used to make tools. Nothing was wasted. Food sources were selected based on availability and hunters and gatherers were careful to ensure that enough was left so that stocks replenished. Mobs moved strategically throughout their country to give land time to recover from use. Totems played a part in sustainability with individuals not eating their totems. In this way totems were protected from over consumption while they in turn provided spiritual guidance to the people.
While these techniques can inspire us to look after this amazing world better, I think we can learn the most from the relationship that Aboriginal people have with the land. It is this relationship that is at the core of the sustainable approach that Aboriginal people so naturally adopt to look after their environment.
Aboriginal people do not view land as an asset, something to be owned. Land is part of us and we a part of it. The land and its resources do not only physically nourish us, they are also central to our spirituality. Our Dreaming tells our creation stories as well as the lore that should be observed to keep our land and people safe and healthy. Our totems guide us spiritually. Being on country heals our souls and helps to bring us back to center.
Long-term dispossession and displacement has meant that many Aboriginal people have lost some of this natural environmental knowledge but the spiritual connection remains and Aboriginal approaches to land management and land care can continue to contribute to a healthier, sustainable environment for all Australians. Wider Australia is starting to pay attention and incorporate this knowledge for the better of our world.
This week as you reach for your reusable shopping bag and decline the plastic straw, take a minute to think about connection to land and why it is so important that we look after it.
This week is Reconciliation Week. Reconciliation means acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the First Peoples of this land, and recognising the dispossession, persecution and oppression they have suffered as a result of Australia’s colonisation.
Reconciliation involves developing our understanding of how this history of violence and oppression continues to shape contemporary Australian society and taking steps to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures are treated with dignity and respect at all times.
For reconciliation to be achieved there needs to be a series of real, practical outcomes in relation to the systemic disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This involves creating awareness and real education opportunities for all Australians.
I have been a long time supporter of the NSW Reconciliation Council and the great work they do to inform, support and inspire reconciliation. One of the initiatives of the Council is the Schools Reconciliation Challenge. The Challenge is an annual art and writing competition for NSW school students in years 5 to 9. It gives young people across the state the opportunity to learn about and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and reconciliation in an engaging and creative way.
The Challenge resonates with me because, as long time followers know, I believe that we need to focus on arming todays kids with the knowledge they need to create a better future for Australia. And this is exactly what the Schools Challenge does. It gives kids the space to explore concepts related to reconciliation and present their ideas about what reconciliation means to them.
Schools participating in the Challenge supporting with teaching resources and activities, giving teachers access to meaningful and culturally sensitive materials to foster respectful conversations around reconciliation.
Last year Wingaru started supporting the Challenge and winners of the Primary School categories were awarded with 12 month subscriptions to the Wingaru Kids Platform. We are excited to be able to provide these prizes again this year.
I encourage every NSW school to consider entering the Challenge. It is a great opportunity for kids to explore reconciliation concepts and share their views with the world. The Reconciliation Council hosts an event each year to announce winners and launch a travelling exhibition of the entries. Students works are professionally presented and on display for the public. There is something magical about watching the excitement of students as they discover their work on the walls!
Dates of the touring exhibition will be published on the Reconciliation Council’s website when they are available. I highly recommend a visit!
Details of the Challenge including key dates and information for this years competition and details of last years entries can be found on the NSW Reconciliation Council’s website at http://www.nswreconciliation.org.au/
National Sorry Day is celebrated around the country each year on the 26th of May. As the day approaches, there are Australians out there who are asking why we need to have such a day. Many of these people see Sorry Day as Aboriginal people stuck in the past and not being able move forward.
How very wrong they are.
Sorry Day acknowledges the past and recognises the trauma our people went through in the past, and continue to feel today. It is an official recognition of our Stolen Generations and their stories. It is a celebration of those affected and their resilience, strength and courage.
It is about acknowledging the past and healing the resulting trauma. It is about moving forward.
The first National Sorry Day was held in 1998, following a recommendation in the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report which recommended that a Sorry Day be celebrated each year. Aboriginal communities have embraced the day to come together to share stories, connect with others and ultimately contribute to healing. Healing for those effected by past policies and healing for our country which desperately needs to accept its true history; acknowledge the suffering resulting from colonisation; and allow Australia as a nation to grow.
Sorry Day is not about guilt. It is not about placing blame on today's generation for the actions of the past. It is the people who are stuck in this way of thinking that are unable to move forward because they can’t do so without accepting the past for what it truly was.
This is where education comes in. Schools who acknowledge Sorry Day in a culturally sensitive way, contribute to a shared understanding that supports recognition and healing. If your school needs support with Sorry Day resources, please get in touch because we can help.
There are Sorry Day events taking place all over the country this Saturday 26th May. All Australians are welcome to attend these events and share in the healing. If you have the time, go and check out an event close to you.
With Mother’s Day just gone and Sorry Day fast approaching, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge all the mums of the Stolen Generation: the mothers whose children were taken, without cause, and in many cases never returned. For those mums, Mother’s Day isn’t about sleep-ins, flowers and carefully selected gifts that symbolise love and thanks. It is about a loss that never goes away.
Often discussion around the Stolen Generation is about the children who were taken and the trauma they endured. Horrific stories of loss, abuse and never belonging. We often hear about children who never saw their mums again, some finding their families not long after their mothers had passed and many never finding their way home.
These heartbreaking stories of injustice, have another side – that of the mother. The mother who had her children ripped away and in many cases never returned. The mother who spent every Mothers Day since mourning loss rather than celebrating with her children. She did not get the handmade cards that many of us take for granted. She did not get the cold toast and too sweet tea that we swallow with a stiff smile on our lips. She did not get the carefully selected trinkets that her child chose just for her. She did not get those moments that most other mums get to treasure.
Growing up, I knew that my Aunt had had her children removed. I heard stories of the school holidays when all the cousins got to spend time together at another Aunt’s house. My mum talks of those holidays fondly and the time she got to spend with her cousins brought fun and mischief for them all. Of course there were strict rules about my Aunt not being allowed near her kids.
Years later mother and children were reunited and I had always known them as together. So while I knew they had been apart, I hadn’t put any thought into the impact that separation had on all of them.
In my early 20s I spent a lot of time visiting my now elderly aunt in hospital. I would take my grandfather to visit his sister and listen to their stories. Aunty had dementia and would often slip between the present and the past, confused about what was happening. It was during these visits that I really started to understand the long term trauma she had endured. Not only did she have to go through the removal of her children, and the loss she felt every day while they were gone, the dementia meant that she also had to relive their removal time and time again.
During these visits she would often confuse me with my mum and on many occasions would make me get in the cupboard or under the bed to hide me from the Protection Board. She would be visibly frightened and upset that they were coming and they were going to take me, just as they had her boys. I did as she asked and my Pop tried to comfort her but I knew that there would never be true comfort for her – the removal of her kids was too traumatic.
This Mother’s Day my boys bounded into my room before the sun was up, shouting “Happy Mother’s Day”, thrusting themselves at me with great excitement. I hugged them tightly and thought of all the mums who had Mother’s Day stolen from them. I cannot imagine their loss – it is too great.
To the Mothers of the Stolen Generation, we have not forgotten you. We mourn your loss, we acknowledge your stories and the atrocities you suffered. We admire your strength.
We are sorry.
A Guest Post by Carolyn Newall from We Teach Well
For those of us who are dedicated teachers of English and literature, literacy has always meant more than the ability to read words on a page. Literacy is the ability to make meaning from those words. To read them, evaluate them, use them, create content with them, understand and make meaning from them.
Literacy is a current buzzword in Education, nowhere more so than when it is attached to words like media and digital. Media literacy and digital literacy are not exactly the same as normal literacy, but neither are they completely unconnected.
Just as normal literacy concerned itself with making meaning out of written texts, media and digital literacy concern themselves with making meaning out of media and digital texts. As such, English teachers can not afford to be elitists and ignore them.
English teachers do not have a specific body of content to impart. They have a never ending wealth of content with which to teach a variety of skills and abilities. The most advanced being the ability to understand and make meaning from the world we live in. And make no mistake, for our students it is a digital world and we need to get ahead of it.
I have been particularly concerned for some time with the importance of cultural signifiers in reading comprehension. That is to say, are there cultural references in the text that make it inaccessible for a student who does not know that cultural context. Indigenous educators across the world have done really important work in this area and created more equitable contexts for their students.
Just as we need to be aware of cultural content we need to be aware of cultural modes of transmission. To create the best outcomes for our students we need to allow them access to modes that they are familiar with. Modes that allow them to display their understandings in new and different ways.
For my own son who suffered from dyslexia but had a visual memory that still astounds me, this would have been a game changer. Despite A grades for all spoken and media presentations, his written work was always poor and consequently his overall score for English was not good. Had he been allowed to make movies, record a podcast, create a social media profile, he could have demonstrated his understanding and analytical prowess far more successfully.
Teaching English is about teaching students to make meaning and communicate it to their audience. Writing essays can not be the only way we judge their prowess. The digital world is not going anywhere and we need to keep up.
On a side note, digital modes are opening up ways for teachers to have far greater impact and to earn extra income as well. But that is a topic for another day.
For now I have provided a complimentary copy, only for readers of the Wingaru Education Blog, of our presentation Teaching Film as Text.
Also If anyone is interested you will find some of our resources, including our free ebook, So You Want Them To Read, for teaching film at our TES store. https://www.tes.com/teaching-resources/shop/WeTeachWell
We Teach Well
Please be advised that this post includes names and images of people who are deceased.
Like most Australians, ANZAC day for me is a sad day but also one of celebration. We reflect on the sacrifices that people have made in the past and continue to make today, in order to keep our country safe, and we celebrate the people who made those sacrifices.
I think about my friends who have been deployed or have parents and grandparents who served and the impact it has had on their families. I think about the pride those families so rightfully feel for their generous and brave soldiers.
I often think about my friend Tracy who, as a soldier’s wife, has spent many nights not knowing where her husband is or if he is ok; not knowing where his latest deployment found him and knowing that he couldn’t tell her even if she asked. She told me once about a code they had so that if her ever called her and asked a specific question she would know he was in trouble. Apparently this is normal. I cannot even imagine a life like this.
Thankfully her husband has always returned safe. Others are not so lucky. I think of them too.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about the black diggers that defended this country even when they were not recognised as people. The men who persisted and in some cases lied about their Aboriginality to serve and stand for Australia despite the way Aboriginal people were treated. The men who returned only to be ignored and treated like they were nothing. Like their sacrifices didn’t matter. That they were beneath non-Aboriginal people.
I think about the families that lost their loved ones but didn’t get the recognition and respect that non-Aboriginal families suffering the same loss received. I am filled with anger and sadness on behalf of these soldiers and their families. But I am also filled with pride, because despite the horrendous way Australia treated our soldiers, they still stood up and fought for this country, our land.
One of the many Aboriginal people who stood up for this country is Uncle Phillip McLeod. One of Uncle Phil’s daughters, Kaylene, shared his story with me this week and I am honoured to share it with you now.
Born on 19 July 1947, Uncle Phillip was a Sapper under the Royal Australian Engineers and was 19 years old when he served in the Vietnam war. He spent 2 years fighting for Australia, serving on a ship known as the Clive Steel. He was the only Aboriginal person in the squad.
The Clive Steel was hit by two missiles during an attack from enemy soldiers. No one was killed during the attack but soldiers were understandably shaken. Uncle Phil told his family about the attack and the fear felt as the missiles ripped two big holes in the ship's side. Uncle Phil had many stories and in telling them, he shared stories of comradery and a respect that wasn’t often experienced between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in those days.
Uncle Phil returned from war with hearing loss due to the noise from the constant gunfire on the ship. He was just happy to be home safe and to be able to return to his beloved wife, Mary, his family and community.
While Uncle Phil marched in ANZAC marches over the years it was often difficult for Aboriginal Veterans because Aboriginal people, including soldiers, were not allowed into RSLs back in those days and there was a lot of backlash against Vietnam Veterans in general. Aboriginal soldiers didn’t receive the same respect and accolades as non-Aboriginal soldiers who had served along side them.
Uncle Phil marched in the first Black Digger March in Redfern in 2008. I was working with Kaylene at the time and Uncle Phil stopped by the office. I will never forget the pride in his eyes as we talked about the March. Every ANZAC day I think of Uncle Phil and his family and the pride they all showed that day. I am thankful that Uncle Phil got to experience those marches and be honoured for his service.
Uncle Phil passed in 2016.
I am honoured to share Uncle Phil’s story with you and extend the greatest of thanks to Kaylene for sharing her dad's story.
Aboriginal soldiers were for a long time forgotten soldiers. I hope that this week we have inspired you to share the stories of the many great black diggers.
Lest We Forget.
Over the last week we have been honouring Black Diggers for their service. I am overwhelmed by the response! Every single person who has served for this country deserves the highest respect and I have seen that this week. The pride the Aboriginal community has for our soldiers is heartwarming. It is great to see Black Diggers getting the recognition they deserve.
I have learnt a lot and been privileged to hear the stories of great people. I hope schools start to include Aboriginal soldiers in their ANZAC lessons and am proud of the resources we offer to support this.
I am fortunate enough to call Uncle Ken Canning a friend and am excited to share, with his blessing, one of his poems. You can download a printable version at the bottom of this post.
You will find more of Uncle Ken's work at https://vagabondpress.net/products/ken-canning-burraga-gutya-yimbama.
Author Burraga Gutya (Ken Canning)
Hail!! You brave men.
You gave your all,
Not for King or Queen
but for country.
in your heart.
All wars all battles,
the strong Black Diggers
stood tall proud
and gave honour
to all Peoples
of this land.
Fires of war
some came home
to be shunned
your fought for,
the brave Black Digger,
as brave as those
in our frontier wars.
You once more
were cast out by
a callous country.
allowed to speak
to those you fought
so valiantly beside.
humble Black Digger,
we your Peoples,
still amongst us,
stand tall in honour.
For at the going down
of every sun,
we shall always
BRAVE BLACK DIGGERS.
Burraga Gutya (Ken Canning)
This post may be upsetting for some readers.
Today is the anniversary of what has become known as the Appin Massacre.
On 17 April 1816, Aboriginal men, women and children were murdered after Governor Lachlan Macquarie dispatched soldiers to ‘rid the land of troublesome blacks’.
The victims were rounded up and forced over a cliff. Others were shot as they attempted to flee. The bodies of victims were hung in trees as a warning to the Aboriginal community. This was a common practice of the time.
Fourteen people are officially recorded as being killed during the attack, however reports from the night indicate that the death toll is much higher. Those killed were from the Dharawal and Gandangara Peoples.
The massacre occurred as part of a coordinated effort by Governor Macquarie to round up Aboriginal People in the area following conflict between the local Aboriginal People and the settlers in the area. Three regiments were sent out and they searched the area with deadly intent.
Rounding up and murdering Aboriginal people was not rare as the Government of the day and the settlers sought land and control. The Appin Massacre is just one example of the atrocities committed against Aboriginal People. Innocent men, women and children were hunted along with those who were accused of crimes against the new Colony. It is a part of Australia’s history that is often forgotten and many Australians are not aware of these events, nor the lasting impact this treatment has had on Aboriginal communities. Awareness and a shared understanding is part of healing.
We lost people. We lost language. We lost culture. We lost.
I’m really excited this week to have our new platform, Wingaru Bubs, available to early childhood education providers. It is a digital resource centre, filled with informative, engaging and flexible resources that support educators and children as they explore Aboriginal perspectives.
The Early Childhood Education sector has undergone considerable changes over the last few years. We are recognising the important role that early education plays and regulation provides a framework which supports quality early education programs.
The Early Years Learning Framework is a national framework that was developed by government in consultation with the early childhood sector. The Framework helps guide educators to support young learners engage in educational experiences that are both engaging and give our bubs a strong education foundation.
These quality improvements are good for both educators and children. The hard work and skill that educators bring to our children’s lives every day is recognised and programs have meaning, supporting kids as they develop a sense of self and take their first steps into the education world.
The Framework requires educators to develop cultural competencies in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and strengthen relationships with their local communities. The Framework acknowledges that building this competence is a process that is underpinned by relationships, evolves over time and must involve attitudes, skills and knowledge.
When we started talking to educators and families involved with early childhood education, a common theme quickly became apparent – many educators had never had any education about Aboriginal people and felt overwhelmed when delivering Aboriginal content. So where do educators who have limited knowledge about Aboriginal people, culture and history start?
Wingaru Bubs features four sections designed to support educators with information and resources which make Aboriginal perspectives more accessible than ever. Wingaru Education recognises that education environments are diverse, both in community and approach, and because of this our resources have been designed with flexibility in mind.
The educator resources include Framework-aligned Learning Guides, making educators’ jobs easier and freeing up their time to focus on the experience and learning with our kids.
The information included in the Guides is suitable for all educators, regardless of their previous experience with Aboriginal perspectives. Each Framework-aligned Learning Guide is written in plain language and is suitable as an introduction to a subject or as a foundation for an in-depth learning experience. By creating flexible resources we can support educators of all experience levels.
Educators are further supported with a range of culturally appropriate information, fact sheets and printable resources including activity sheets, posters, and colouring sheets.
For young learners, the platform includes digital activities that have been designed to be enjoyed solo or as a group activity where children work together to explore Aboriginal content and develop skills and knowledge to support their development as individuals and their understanding of a diverse community. The exclusive videos are designed to engage visual learners, delivering information while entertaining young learners.
Our educators, as always, have done a great job putting together a collection of videos, activities and experiences that support educators and engages learners. Please get in touch if you think your early childhood education provider would be interested in Wingaru Bubs.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.