Waving the flag for reconciliation

Two principals share their insights into the simple acts that can change school culture.

31 May 2021
Three students stand looking at the camera.
Image: Sharing knowledge: Year 6 students at Kellyville Public - Avir, Abbey and Faith.

Reconciliation is a journey that can begin with the simple act of raising a flag.

That is the shared experience of the principals at Kellyville Public School and Cootamundra High School.

Kellyville principal Jenny Walker said when she first started at the primary school in 2007 she noticed there was no Aboriginal flag flying and promptly ensured that was rectified.

“If you don’t have the visual (recognition), that is a great place to start your reconciliation journey,” she said.

Leesa Daly, now in her third year at the south-western NSW high school, saw a similar problem at her school.

“On a staff development day, I asked staff to walk through the school as a parent or new student and asked them how welcoming our school was if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander,” she said at the recent 2021 Reconciliation Through Education conference.

“We promote that every student is known, valued and cared for, so I asked what are the visual signs that make you feel welcome.”

Like Ms Walker at Kellyville, Ms Daly looked to the flagpole for a small, but significant step, ensuring the school flew the Torres Strait Islander, Aboriginal and Australian flags and worked with students to write an Acknowledgement of Country.

Acknowledgement of Country is also a key element of learning and showing respect at Kellyville, which has just seven Aboriginal students among its 829 students.

As part of NAIDOC celebrations last year, senior students at Kellyville Public School worked with the junior primary students to write their own Acknowledgement of Country.

Each classroom also has an Acknowledgement of Country at the class entry, created as a class group, while Ms Walker said staff had also created their own Acknowledgement during professional learning.

Aboriginal student Abbey said as part of being a school “elder” Year 6 students were also asked to share their knowledge with the younger students in the school’s Aboriginal garden.

“It feels likes it’s important that we can share our knowledge and how important Aboriginal history and people are,” Abbey, who teaches students about the paperbark and eucalypt trees and how Aboriginal people used them, said.

Ms Walker said the process was an important aspect of embedding Aboriginal knowledge across the school.

“Not one student has the single knowledge, they have collective knowledge and are teaching the next lot of custodians, the next generation of ‘elders’,” she said.

Capturing local stories and history is also an important aspect of learning at Kellyville Public and Cootamundra.

At Kellyville, Ms Walker said they were working on ensuring the history of the Marella Mission Farm was known to students and teachers.

“The last student from the mission came here in the 1970s and the high school has the Marella award,” Ms Walker said.

“It is important we talk about this so that staff and students realise that the injustices they learn and teach about happened here too, it didn’t just happen in other places.”

Ms Daly said Cootamundra High School was working with the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group to share the history of the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home.

“We are hoping to create connections with some of the surviving girls to tell and share their stories,” she said, while also highlighting the school’s work in embedding local Dreamtime history in the school curriculum.

Words from the heart

Visit our Student Voices Hub to read the Acknowledgements of Country three students from Kellyville Public created as part of their reconciliation journey at the school.
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