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.
One of the things that quickly became glaringly obvious to me when I started Wingaru Education is how hard teachers work, and how often this goes unnoticed. I regularly get emails at 11pm or even 5am, from teachers who are still working for the best outcomes for their students. The dedication is inspiring and I think we should be acknowledging this commitment more. It is for this reason that we have introduced Wingaru Teacher of the Month - a small token of our appreciation of the teachers who are working above and beyond for Aboriginal education in their school.
I am very excited to announce that Wingaru Education's Teacher of the Month for June is Ashwyn Karan from Cartwright Public School.
Ashwyn is an amazing woman and a truly inspiring teacher who works hard to support both her colleagues and students with Aboriginal perspectives. Ashwyn has lead Aboriginal education at two schools and we have been lucky enough to work with her both in 2017 at Busby West Public School and 2018 at Cartwright Public School. Because of the Ashwyn's hard work over 700 students have had access to quality Aboriginal education resources, increasing the awareness of Aboriginal education and contributing to the cultural competency of two great schools.
I take this opportunity to thank Ashwyn not only for her contribution to Aboriginal education but also for her respectful and humble approach.
As the June Teacher of the Month, Ashwyn receives a gorgeous gift hamper valued at over $100 from Bespoke Bow-Tique.
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
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.