Kelly & Skye’s story
Skye: I’ve been at Lake Windemere B-7 School for seven years now, after working at other sites. Our Principal offered the opportunity for Kelly and me to be part of this CRP research project. We have a number of Indigenous students here, and she wanted to see the school develop stronger relationships with the community, and for us to take more of a leadership role. So I took it on board and I wasn’t sure at first what to expect.
Kelly: I graduated about six years ago. Early on, I taught in Port Augusta at a school that was 85 percent Indigenous, so I kind of had that passion sparked for working with Aboriginal kids. I did a fair bit of Professional Development on Aboriginal education in Port Augusta. Here, we’ve done quite a lot of smaller PDs but never really longer-term things. We’ve also done PDs on more general topics like Scaffolded Literacy, which is aimed a lot at Indigenous communities on lower literacy levels, but not necessarily specifically just Indigenous kids.
Our CRP model was based on the Alaskan research, so we were looking at student voice, communication with parents and the local community context.
We developed a Year 6/7 HASS unit on Indigenous Rights Since Federation in Australia and Compared to the World. The way we set up this unit was much more thorough and in depth than usual. We were a lot more organised and we scrutinised all of our decisions. We selected every video and every reading to make sure it covered everything, and we made sure which key events we wanted the other teachers in our teaching team to cover.
We were a lot more specific in what we were looking for regarding the kids’ outcomes and we really thought about the assessment a bit more. We had the scaffolded smaller assessments plus the final inquiry which they chose themselves. So they told us what they wanted to do: ‘I’m interested in the Vietnam War’,’ I’m interested in the Stolen Generations’. But they weren’t so good at writing inquiry questions, so we helped them by scaffolding how to write an open-ended question. We gave the students multiple ways of showing their learning and I think the whole cohort lifted. And we had a number of kids who normally wouldn’t hand anything up and they still actually did an inquiry poster, which is significant for them.
I think the Indigenous students were more engaged than usual. They didn’t necessarily shift their grades dramatically. So they probably normally sit on an E to D. They’re probably still around a D, maybe a C level now, but they were actually staying in class. Our HASS unit was was an afternoon topic and normally they’d leave the at that time. But I think it would take longer than a five week unit to actually improve their grades significantly. So I think them being more engaged means there’s the potential for them to lift up, if we continue.
Skye: And the attendance of the Aboriginal students improved. The fact their culture was being recognised and they could see links around the world, it wasn’t just them, they could go, ‘You know what? There are other people like us that have been affected’.
Kelly: I think the EALD students really had the biggest shift in their grades, because they really connected and they got really interested in the topic. I think generally there was a whole shift. So our bell curve that’s normally on a D shifted to a C, so that was good. And we’ve had kids getting As and Bs which is pretty rare in this unit.
Skye: I think the relationships changed a lot, so they were a lot stronger. Initially between teacher and student but then, as they got to share their stories and their experiences, it probably improved amongst the group as well. And the kids were much more open about their culture, their background, their thoughts and opinions. Prior to the unit, the attitude among many of the kids was ‘We’re all the same’ rather than ‘Wow, let’s look at how we’re unique’.
Kelly: The unit broke down some of the barriers. The normal cliques broke down a bit because they all had different inquiry topics. And we purposely tried to make sure friendship groups had different topics. So they had to go to others for help.
Skye: As far as furthering my understanding of myself as a teacher, this project was great. I think it made me grow in regards to collecting and analysing data. Kelly’s really good at doing that. And the fact that I could work with her to be able to improve that, that was really good.
Kelly: I was more confident in teaching this unit than I probably would have been prior to the CRP project. One parent came in and she was angry, ‘Why are you focusing on the Blacks [sic] again? I’m sick of everything being Black’. And she said ‘Why don’t you ever focus on the Asians? And I said ‘Well actually we have. We’ve learned about Orang Asli’ and she’s like, ‘I don’t know whoever they are’. So I said, ‘Well there’s some kids’ posters around the corner if you want to have a look’. And she said, ‘I know you have to toe the line for the Department’ and I said, ‘No actually I believe what I’m telling you’. And she went into how, as a white person, now she feels like the minority group and forgotten about. So I responded, ‘Well we do white English, white Maths, white Science. Most of our subjects are actually based on white middle class society, not any other group’.
And she went on to say that her grandma had received a medal from Hitler, ‘But we don’t get to celebrate that. Why don’t we do more about celebrating Hitler’s past and what he did?’ I said, ‘I don’t think we’ll be celebrating Hitler any time soon in History lessons’. And she finished with ‘I’m not racist, I just hate everyone equally’.
Normally, I would have just gone, ‘Oh yeah’ and fobbed it off and thought ‘OK, you’re racist’. But now I was thinking ‘No, actually you need to be put in your place because you’re affecting the students’. But I think she kind of respected it. She’s used to dominating conversations and getting her way and people agreeing with her. So I think she was a bit like ‘Oh you challenged me’ and I had an answer for everything she said.
And we’ve probably got about ten kids across the unit who are extreme racist students. They’ll openly express their views without any thought for who’s around them. You could tell they were parroting what they’d heard other people say. Like ‘Oh they were helping them’, ‘We were giving them support because they weren’t looking after their kids’ or ‘They get all the handouts now’. And initially we were dismissing that and just saying ‘You can’t say that because it’s racist’. But then we kind of confronted it more, had open discussions with them. So we answered their questions with facts and tried to build their empathy. And by the end of it, we didn’t necessarily completely shift their views, but their empathy was built and they were saying thigs like, ‘If that happened to me I could see how they would feel’. So they were a lot more empathetic. I think a lot of the students thought the Stolen Generations were a couple of hundred years ago. I don’t think they realise Australian history is very recent and that the last Stolen Generation dormitory shut down in my life time and they’re saying ‘Oh you’re not that old’ and I respond ‘Yeah, that’s my point’
A lot of kids who don’t know much about Aboriginal cultures, they think the whole culture is dot paintings and bush gardening. But there’s so much more depth to it and it’s across so many more curriculum areas than kids would expect. So I think it would be good to actually tie Aboriginal cultures into all the curriculum.
Kelly: I think out of all the parent groups, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents are probably the most reluctant to come into school and interact with us. And I don’t know that that’s actually changed yet.
Skye: Unfortunately, I don’t think we got a lot of Indigenous parents having interactions with us. I think we need more work on this. We still haven’t brought Aboriginal families in enough. They need to see that we’re out to make a positive change.
And the fact that we could see we were making a difference, it was worthwhile. I’d love to actually get the opportunity to go and see some of the interstate and international examples where it’s working well.
Kelly: And making more connections. I feel like there’s so many good resource people that we’ve met during the workshops that I’d like more connection with. I’d actually love to know how I can respond more to our Islamic community and I think it would actually help our Indigenous kids because those two groups are clashing a lot at the moment. So it would be really interesting to find a common ground between them.
Overall, I found the action research quite easy. It kind of fitted in, I enjoyed it.
Skye: And the Principal is really keen to see where this will go next year and getting the other staff on board. I just want to keep doing it. I really loved it.