After I graduated as a teacher in 2014 I received a contract at Sheoak Secondary. My specialisation is Health and Physical Education. So when they needed someone as the SAASTA Co-ordinator they asked me, because I always got along with the Indigenous students. I’ve been doing SAASTA ever since. I’m permanent here and I’ve picked up Aboriginal Education, Special Ed and HPE. In my role within SAASTA, I received some Professional Development in Aboriginal Education, including meetings and cultural competency units, so learning about past events, significant times in history. We had quite a few sessions, which was eye-opening, but I already knew a fair bit, so it was a refresher as such.
My pedagogical challenge was engagement and participation. For the action research, I decided to introduce peer teaching in my Year 9 HPE class, so steering away from traditional HPE approaches that are teacher-directed, and have students lead or model the lesson instead. At Sheoak Secondary, there was an earlier Indigenous Games unit for HPE so, rather than starting from scratch, I thought I’ll just modify it.
I had two Aboriginal students in this class and my focus student was Joel. The majority of my research and my results are based on him. Joel is a talented sports person but he is disengaged in HPE. Although he doesn’t write well, he is quite capable. He can speak his mind, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s had a lot of trauma, both his parents passed away, his family’s been split up.
In class, Joel would sit there and just mope around, not complain, but a bit of a class clown. He wouldn’t really do too much, just getting him to write anything was impossible. In his interactions with the other students, I felt like Joel was often misunderstood, because he was a bit of a lone wolf in the class, where no-one would ever work with him in a group situation. If I put them in groups, as soon as they had Joel you could see eyes rolling. Outdoors, he’d just do silly things like run around the goal posts or try and climb the goal post or something. I’ve submitted that many referrals for him, negative referrals for behaviour. But as soon as I said that we would be doing an Indigenous Games unit, he changed immediately. His attitude, even our relationship changed straight away. He was actually excited to be in class.
For the Indigenous Games unit, we started by looking at the Indigenous language map of Australia and Kaurna culture as well, and Joel loved it, straight away, stood up in front of the class for the first time. He spoke about the Indigenous map, spoke about being Narungga from Yorke Peninsula, and the kids wanted to know more.
As part of the unit, students selected an unfamiliar Indigenous game from the Yulunga Games resource. Working in groups, they had to plan, rehearse and conduct a peer teaching lesson by presenting to the class. They needed to include information such as the origin of the game, cultural and language group, any necessary language and the rules or modifications they made so the game can be safely played in class. Students were required to provide their peers with constructive feedback regarding their Peer Teaching lesson.
I split the students into groups. They drew straws, so it was random. Obviously, I did this as a tactical thing. With most people it didn’t go down too well to start off with, but they got over it. In fact, initially Joel was not very happy about being in a group with a couple of big personalities. At first, they bickered amongst themselves and achieved very little. However, once they were on task, they worked very well together.
On the day of their presentation, Joel’s presence is front of the class was intriguing. This is normally a rowdy class, and no one made a sound. It was an eerie feeling with him presenting, he was calm, relaxed, he wasn’t overly loud and confident, but the kids listened and they were responding because they were respectful. He explained really well, his demonstration was awesome. I’ve got a video of him and he was actually having fun, he actually was smiling and laughing, which he would never do in class, because he’s always down.
And my EALD kids wanted to know more. ‘How do you get wombats out’? So Joel was like ‘Oh yeah, because I’m the smallest, I’d go down the wombat hole, then my uncles hold on to my legs’, they loved hearing the stories. So then Joel started smiling, and the other kids wanted to work with him. It changed the dynamics of the group massively. And our relationship changed as well. It’s not that Joel and I didn’t get along, but I was frustrated with him. I feel like I learnt something more about him. He actually let go and told me about things that he likes to do. You try and connect with the students’ life worlds and you try and give the students more power. I do these things, but I just don’t do them enough. I feel like kids try and tell me things, Joel would try and connect with me, and I’d think, ‘There’s 24 other kids’, and I kind of just brush it aside because I needed to try and learn more about each individual student, and where they’re from. That’s one thing I feel like I need to do more of.
And previously Joel’s results were ‘did not submit’, ‘did not hand anything up’. But his results went from C-, even for practical topics, to B, B+. It was phenomenal. So one of the things that I learnt was students can surprise you. I didn’t think it would work, I didn’t think he’d respond, and he definitely did. So after the Indigenous Games unit I started a unit of work on another sport and his attitude and engagement actually continued. He was amazing again. I think he ended up with an A for sofcrosse, whereas previously his grades were like Cs because he just couldn’t apply himself.
And then I had my had EALD students, an Indonesian student, a boy from Afghanistan, and Burundi, a couple of African boys. They really enjoyed the cultural focus, learning about other cultures, but they did specifically say to me that they would like to learn about and talk about their own cultures as well. So I’m starting to think about a World Games Unit, instead of just an Indigenous Games unit.
And then there were my female students’ reactions. There was a clique from Western society, kind of the privileged kids. There were three girls, they didn’t love the initial stages of the unit, if I’m honest. They were in the back yawning, didn’t like learning about culture, they were disengaged, didn’t like playing the games. But as soon as I introduced the peer teaching element, they actually enjoyed it. They loved the independence and me saying to them ‘you guys come up with your own thing’, give them ownership of their learning.
As a teacher, my issue is letting go. You’ve got to give kids the power. Sometimes I’m too scared to let the kids go, see where the lesson goes. I feel like my lessons are too structured at times, and obviously that limits the students’ learning. And another thing was me talking too much. I feel like sometimes when there is silence, it’s awkward, I feel like I need to butt in and start talking again and the kids are like, ‘We know what’s going on, just let us work’.
As far as the action research goes, at first I was kind of dreading it, I was like, ‘Oh here we go again, something else, more work’. Obviously we’ve already got enough work, I’ve got to mark, got to do all this stuff, plan lessons, whatever it is. kind of had a negative attitude, I put it off as long as I could. But when I actually started doing it, I really enjoyed it. It’s a lot of work, you’ve got to organise a lot of things, but I liked it. At the end of the day I felt I was probably being a little bit selfish and I thought it’s more about the kids, and their learning and trying to do something for Joel in particular. And then I sat down, I analysed my results, it was well worth it in the end.
I feel like previously, anything to do with culture, I was a little stand-offish to ask them about it. Because a lot of my kids, even though they’re Aboriginal students, they don’t have a really strong connection to their culture. They would ask me, ‘What does this mean, what’s that, what is this? What’s this symbol mean’? Sometimes I’d try and find things out for myself. So now I go up to our ASETOs ,ask more questions, and they’re willing to help out. I think it’s changed our relationship, obviously for the better.
Next time, I’m going to go with the content again, because I want to create a World Games Unit and actually try and connect to all students’ cultures and lives, that’s one thing that I want to do. But pedagogy—as an HPE teacher you wouldn’t usually think about pedagogy too much, you always think about content rather than how you deliver it. I’m probably referring back to student choice, even more choice over their learning, rather than me having a set thing they’ve got to cover, maybe letting them as a class come up with what they want. If I did a peer teaching lesson or something, making them come up with the constraints and rules. A bit more negotiation rather than me going ‘This is what you’re doing’, because I know I feel safe, I feel comfortable, and instead let them come up with it and see where we go. For example, they came up with ‘rules for engagement’ for the Indigenous Games unit, group norms that we had to follow. I knew that culture can be a sensitive topic. And the kids came up with their own rules. I sat back and let one of my kids stand up and be the teacher, and he wrote it up there on the board and just let them go. And the kids were all awesome, they actually all followed the rules, and every time they broke one, the kids came up with the punishment.
I know that all year 9 HPE teachers are now teaching the Indigenous Games unit, it’s actually been added on to the curriculum. And when I presented my action research at the end-of-year conference, other educators were saying to me, ‘I didn’t know you could incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy into HPE’. That’s feedback I received from principals and deputy principals and other teachers, so now I want to see what other HPE teachers have done.
 ASETO: Aboriginal Secondary Education Transition Officer