from Shirley Gilbert
October 1st 2015 marked the close of a key meeting of the minds and the knowledge holders at the “Our Mob Teach” conference. Hosted and run by the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI), this day marks the end of a four year undertaking to change the way we think about Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and the preparation of teachers for the future who will work with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
This meeting of the minds saw representatives from a range of key government stakeholders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers at all stages of their careers (current students, early and mid-career teachers, Deputy-Principals and Principals), as well as those of us working in the spaces of higher education and Initial Teacher Education (ITE) training. Part of the conference agenda for the two days was to make key recommendations back to government about how we create greater opportunities to produce more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers given MATSITI’s role in this space. This occurred under the leadership of BHP, as we in Aboriginal Education know them (Professor Peter Buckskin, Emeritus Professor Paul Hughes and the deadly Dr Kaye Price). BHP have led this space for more than three decades. Part of the operational focus of the two days was to hear about what our communities and people supporting us in the education space see as key yarns we need to turn into actions for the future.
Speaker Mr. David Templeman
Sharing the raw realities was part of the conference. During day one of the meeting Mr. David Templeman’s presentation from ACDE stated that their own research found that today that universities are often viewed as being culturally unsafe spaces for many of our mobs and that many Aboriginal students leave their studies at critical points in their programs.
Knowing this, how important is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student success for our mobs, when we know the key to our success is to have more Aboriginal teachers? When communities walk out of these institutions and do not return to their studies, this affects our capacity to grow as communities. How can institutions reduce these walking points? If we are moving to close the gap in ITE and increase the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait lslander teachers, how and what do tertiary sectors need to change, operationally and relationally, about the way they engage with our communities?
As the key providers and administrators of educational training and ITE programs, how can we make universities the safe spaces that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander future teachers want to interact with? Our communities want more, our young learners need more, our schools need Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers as part of their staff, but all these spaces need to be safe. We know that generally these students rely of the ‘one’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Academic staff member to make their spaces safe – and often these academics are casually employed.
Pivotal to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving success throughout their schooling is the effective preparation of preservice teachers (Buckskin 2015, Sarra 2014, Harrison 2011). Much of the conference heard the voices of future Aboriginal Teachers – many of them just about to embark into the profession – and what has resonated is how many of these young people spoke about cultural safety in their university experiences and the experiences that they have had during their practicums.
The need to develop deep understandings of how to meet the educational needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners is demanded by both policy makers and Aboriginal community (NSW AECG 2004, AITSL, ACARA, MATSITI and Ma Rhea 2012). The newly introduced accountability frameworks (AITSL, ACARA) provide some guidance for universities to prepare graduate teachers for the profession.
The Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) will now feed back to the Deans about how they might ensure their institutions improve their own spaces. We need these spaces to harness the challenge to become culturally responsive institutions which are strengths based, not deficit focused. These challenges to universities are not new, and the review undertaken by Behrendt (2012) focused on the specific barriers preventing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from achieving their full potential in higher education.
Key to the review discussions was the point that attitudinal changes were required in institutions, as well as the development and implementation of cultural competency training for all sectors involved with Aboriginal education and the teaching of Aboriginal content.
In one of the forums I spoke about the necessity for quality teaching which included the preparation of initial teacher graduates which understood our community’s needs, saying:
Our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities expect our local schools to be able to work with their children in effective and positive ways to achieve standards in education which are equal to all other students. They expect high quality culturally responsive teaching and learning which maintains cultural and community links that is seen as relevant and engaging.
At Western Sydney University the Masters of Teaching (Secondary) program will see the first group of forty preservice teachers to have experienced a unit (subject) titled Aboriginal and Culturally Responsive Pedagogies. I developed this unit in response to the new teacher graduate requirements – AITSL standards 1.4 and 2.4. The standards are designed to give graduates the capacity to “demonstrate broad knowledge and understanding of the impact of culture, cultural identity and linguistic background on the education of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds” (1.4), and “demonstrate broad knowledge of, understanding of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and languages” (2.4).
Much of the two days of discussions at the conference linked into the issues it raises for ITE providers. Many mainstream educational providers of ITE programs in Schools of education have very limited engagement with these requirement and many of the new career Aboriginal teachers had been challenged by the mis-information these units had tried to impart to them about Aboriginal histories and cultures.
Many more spoke about the challenges for them in their spaces not seeing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander academic in their courses. As the Academic coordinator, lecturer, tutor and initially the developer of a new unit at my university, other universities might also take up these challenges which are impeding their own successes creating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate teachers. I am hoping that our graduates at this university, after undertaking a well-structured and culturally focused unit in a preservice teacher program, will be better equipped and able to work effectively with Aboriginal parents and caregivers to provide the required respectful partnerships which are absent of past histories and prejudices.
However, what makes a successful effective and inclusive institution? Can universities invest in the space which values community expectations about what is required? Universities Australia and all key stakeholders nationally will be soon be presented with MATSITI recommendations. How stakeholders listen to (and not just read) the document and then action these recommendations in their own spaces will be critical. Can we, as ITE providers, develop these educational spaces which not only deliver educational and professional success but also meet the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers? Some of this success could result from strategic employment in the institutions to make them more culturally safe.
So what is important?
To succeed we need to raise awareness about:
• How institutions can and will produce a well-trained culturally responsive teachers workforce.
• Developing a critical mass of full time Aboriginal academics in Initial Teacher Education teacher programs.
• Developing and monitoring Aboriginal core units in institutions which challenge worldviews about teaching and that are relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders future teachers.
• Developing Aboriginal teacher pathways which provide opportunities so that current teachers can return to higher degree studies and academic pathways.
• Developing and understanding the resilience factors ITE graduates develop despite the ‘white fragility’ factors in institutional settings.
Recommendations and actions that move higher education outcomes which can reduce the levels of racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can become effective teachers for their communities will be presented in a MATSITI report soon to all sectors.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) http://www.acara.edu.au/default.asp
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) http://www.aitsl.edu.au/about-us
Behrendt, L. Larkin, S. Griew, R and Kelly, P.(2012) Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Final Report https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/heaccessandoutcomesforaboriginalandtorresstraitislanderfinalreport.pdf
Ma Rhea, Z., Anderson, P.J., Atkinson, B., 2012, Improving Teaching in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education: National Professional Standards for Teachers Standards Focus Areas 1.4 and 2.4, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, Melbourne Victoria Australia, pp. 1-77.
NSW Department of Education and Training and NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc, August (NSW DET & NSW AECG), 2004. The Report of the Review of Aboriginal Education Yanigurra Muya: Ganggurrinyma Yaarri Guurulaw Yirringin.gurray Freeing the Spirit: Dreaming an Equal Future.
Shirley Gilbert is a Gunditjmara academic working in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Kingswood campus in the Master of Teaching (Secondary). She is currently undertaking a Doctor of Education (EdD) focussed on Aboriginal Education issues and the profession of initial teacher training.