First Nations cultural circle: Educating the educators

Aboriginal, Māori and Pasifika groups joined in the first cultural conference of its kind in a NSW school. Jim Griffiths and Glenn Cullen report.

Image: From L to R: Tammy Anderson (Principal Briar Road Public School); Whaea Jan Nicoll (Elder and Community); Uncle Ivan Wellington (Elder advocate); Dr David Lakisa (Talanoa Consultancy); Professor Bob Morgan (University of Newcastle); Nathan Towney (Pro Vice Chancellor University of Newcastle); Paul McGillicuddy (Principal Ruse Public School); , Peter Jensen (Founder, Circles in the Sand).

More than 100 teachers from NSW public schools have gathered on Dharawal country to hear leaders from three First Nations cultures to help improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal, Māori and Pasifika students at the inaugural First Nations Cultural Circle Conference.

The brainchild of Aboriginal educator, Briar Road Public School principal Tammy Anderson, and Paul McGillicuddy, principal of Ruse Public School, the conference aimed to deepen educators’ understanding of how to create culturally safe learning environments to engage and support First Nations students.

“It’s really looking at the historical perspective of education in schools from a First Nations and Pasifika/Māori perspective,” said Nathan Towney, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous Strategy and Leadership, University of Newcastle.

“We obviously have a number of those cohorts in our schools, and education and schools can often mean different things to those populations. It’s about discussing what those specific needs are and how schools can best cater for those students.

“It’s the first I’ve been aware of in terms of coming together like this in NSW public schools.”

Research conducted by the Department has shown that culturally safe schools, culturally responsive teaching, positive relationships and personalised learning can help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students succeed.

Culturally safe schools recognise that individual students have distinct cultural identities that shape their school experience. These schools use whole-of-school practices to make students feel welcome and supported, and families and communities feel connected to the school.

Image: From L to R: Jo Tanginoa from A Little Bit of Rainbow shows Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe and Melody Chime from NSW Police at Campbelltown the art of weaving.

“We’ve seen the benefits of strengthening culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and we can definitely transfer these teaching practices with the other First Nations students, taking what works in one space and applying it to another,” said Ms Anderson.

She said teachers and school leaders did not often get the opportunity to hear about Māori and Pasifika cultures in depth, even though they shared some of the challenges and opportunities faced by members of Aboriginal communities.

“We expect participants will grow their depth of cultural learning and be better armed for developing long-term strategies in their schools,” Ms Anderson said.

“We put out the call for interest and we got to about 100 (teachers) and we thought we’ll have to cut this off!”

“A lot of people missed out but we hope we can emulate it again and do something different – but for us it just tells you there is a need for this and people want to get together in this space and share knowledge.”

Presenting along with Mr Towney was Professor Bob Morgan, Elder, Chair of the Board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Education and Research (BATSIER) and conjoint professor with the Wollotuka Institute at University of Newcastle; and David Lakisa, former Eaglevale and Granville Boys teacher, now managing director of Talanoa Consultancy.

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