Indigenous cultural training improving education and teacher experience

Posted April 04, 2019 06:14:02

For the past four years the Indigenous community in Broken Hill, far west New South Wales, has welcomed all new public school teachers to the area with a day out bush.

Key points:

  • For four years, all new public school teachers to the region of Broken Hill have been welcomed by the local Indigenous community with on-country training
  • The training program helps break down barriers and fears alleviate fears around how teachers can best connect students and lessons with the community
  • The program also teaches recent Aboriginal history as well as demonstrating Indigenous teaching styles

Teachers from Broken Hill, Wilcannia and Menindee are given an induction to local Indigenous culture and history from Aboriginal elders and language and archaeological professionals.

Wilyakali woman and primary school teacher Sandra Clark, said that connecting teachers to local Indigenous culture will improve the schooling experience for students and teachers across the country.

“Our children learned out in the bush and we still do that today,” she said.

Ms Clark said it was important those conversations happened on country.

Sarah Donnely moved to Wilcannia from Sydney in January to take up a primary school teaching position.

She said the program was a valuable introduction to the community.

“There has been a fear [among non-Indigenous teachers], of not knowing how best to connect with community,” Ms Donnely said.

“This is a really good example of experiences people are trying to create, to break down those barriers, to encourage a conversation.”

Learning on country

During the day, teachers are told stories from local significant sites and encouraged to think about how they might incorporate excursions to those sites and the telling of those stories into lesson plans.

Ms Clark, who initiated the program, said the Western education system had a lot to learn from Indigenous teaching styles.

“It’s really important for kids today, to get them back out on country, because that’s where all our learning goes on,” she said.

“I know we’ve got to make maths and literacy a priority, but we can still do that out on country, there’s lots of lessons that can be incorporated that will meet outcomes.”

Kelly Venier moved to Broken Hill from the northern rivers region in January for her first primary school teaching position.

She said the day helped her see how important learning on country was.

“I’ve gotten more of an insight in to how our kids learn and what’s going to help them with their education,” Ms Venier said.

“Being outdoors is a big thing in their culture and that’s obviously going to help them with their learning.”

History of racism still real in the classroom

Aside from an introduction to local culture, teachers hear first-hand stories about the impact of historical government policies that included separate education for Aboriginal children, lower wages, and state guardianship of Aboriginal children.

Ms Clark said that relatively-recent history still affected the lives of children and their families and their relationships to education institutions.

“Up until 1976 principals still had the power to decide to allow Indigenous kids to attend schools,” she said.

“The white assimilation [Australia] policy was within mine and my parent’s generation, so it’s still very raw, our kids still have that in them.

“That’s why it’s so important for teachers to build that relationship and trust with Indigenous families.”

Ms Donnely said it was valuable to hear local stories and experiences that gave context to the lives of her students.

“I think we have a lot to learn, particularly as non-Indigenous Australians, looking at the lasting impact [intergenerational trauma] has on children today, their parents and grandparents,” she said.

“If we don’t acknowledge, understand and try and heal that, we’re never going to get anywhere, we can’t learn until we look after student’s wellbeing.”

With racism still very real in schools and the general community, Ms Clarke said it was important for Indigenous children to know they had allies in the school.

“It’s really important that teachers are creating respect for Indigenous culture and history in the classroom, for kids who speak differently, look different, know different stuff,” she said.

Keeping teachers for longer

Teachers often move to rural and remote areas to earn transfer points and financial incentives, this sees them relocating vast distances from home.

Ms Clark said building connections with the Indigenous community was not just for the benefit of students, but also teachers who can be isolated from friends and family.

“It’s important for these teachers to build up that support and relationships with other people in the community, because they come a long way away from home,” she said.

“We’re hoping we will attract teachers to come here and stay and be a part of us, our culture out here, to give them such a great start to their teaching they might want to stay out here.”

Topics: indigenous-culture, education, broken-hill-2880, wilcannia-2836, menindee-2879

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