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.
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