Building strong and culturally safe relationships
Early childhood educator Kristin Sheldon, from Speaking in Colour, shares how ongoing cultural education and community connections improves outcomes for children.
16 June 2023
The early years learning sector is the space to develop a passion for learning that will provide children with a solid foundation of curiosity, questioning and positive wellbeing practice for life.
All Australian children have the right to be exposed to and learn about our 65,000 plus years of cultural knowledge and our cultural ways of being, knowing and doing. To understand the history, current and future relationships that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with their Country, their culture, and knowledge systems.
Meaningful engagement makes a difference
For our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, it is vital that they see themselves, their families and their cultures represented in the world in which they belong in order to Close the Gap across the 7 goals of the National Agreement.
The early education sector has the honour and responsibility of engaging with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families to make education a space where they are welcome and included. To make a real difference, not just in the early education years but right through to tertiary education and into their later years.
We know that all children are born into culture and are shaped by their families’ lived experiences, which influence the individual values children form. When our early education spaces acknowledge and reflect the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures among our multicultural families, children feel a deep sense of belonging. When our children display a deep sense of belonging, our families feel culturally safe and connected to the education system. This allows opportunities for family engagement and learning, providing a holistic approach to a childs education.
We have opportunities in the early education space to facilitate meaningful discussions around reconciliation, particularly relevant in this important year for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ self-determination. It is critical that our educators arm themselves with knowledge surrounding the historical treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, so they are able to inform children in an age-appropriate way.
By providing our young people with knowledge, we develop a generation of students and future leaders who are able to recognise and learn the past, improving outcomes of our culturally diverse population.
Building connections in your community
At Speaking in Colour, we are committed to ensuring our educators are equipped with the resources and support needed to be confident in embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives.
We believe that best practice is for educators to connect with their local knowledge holders to ensure learning is relevant and appropriate to the lands the service is on. This is an important relationship that takes time to achieve – understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up only 3.2% of the total population (2011 Census, Australian Bureau of Statistics). Strong relationships are formed through mutual respect and sharing. It is important to discuss how a relationship with your local Elder or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander representative can be beneficial for both parties.
Developing relationships with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services can be an important step in working with your communities. Connect with your local services and discuss how their spaces are culturally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with the idea of collating the information into a directory of support for your families. These conversations can help in the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural perspectives and practice in your education setting.
Another opportunity for early education staff is to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture through important community events. These include NAIDOC week and Reconciliation Week, along with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander events that are specific to areas close to your service.
Educating educators and early learners
Speaking in Colour are ensuring that educators have NESA-accredited opportunities to further develop their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander understandings and ability to apply this knowledge in the day-to-day practice at their early education setting.
We know the time limitations on staff and work diligently to provide learning opportunities both during and outside of traditional working hours. We offer both face-to-face and online learning, so the content is accessible to as many educators as possible. We have developed an in-depth self-guided course that takes a deeper dive into our history with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the current situation and what the future may look like. We are consistently working on developing new content so educators have the opportunity to continue their own learning journey.
We have also developed our early education workshops, with a series called Jarjums Do. These workshops are presented to children by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander facilitator and introduce cultural knowledge in areas such as art, dance, weaving, traditional games and more. We are working on new workshops in this space in the effort to expose all children to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, while also connecting and forming relationships with staff.
For most of us, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and knowledges were not taught to us during our education, or at best, a very limited western idea of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders complex and deep knowledge systems. We know this needs to change, so we would encourage all educators to read, research, participate, and share the beauty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Develop those same skills for our young people, encourage them to form their own ideas around culture.
Let’s start with the flag – what do you know about the Aboriginal flag? What do you know about the Torres Strait Islander flag? Do you really understand the deep importance of each of these colours?
Located on Awabakal land, Speaking in Colour is a 100% Aboriginal-owned and 90% Aboriginal women-run business that delivers training, cultural experiences and educational resources.