Aboriginal Education and the AITSL Teaching Standards

Aboriginal Education and the AITSL Teaching Standards

It’s been a busy start to 2023 for Deadly Ed! So far, we’ve delivered professional learning on Aboriginal Education to approximately 350 teachers across New South Wales and Queensland schools. There is nothing we love more than walking into a school with staff that are eager to enhance their commitment to Aboriginal Education and increase their confidence with delivering Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom.

Professional learning and development are part of the core business of teaching. Mind you, there are a lot of things that make up the core business of teaching, but professional learning and development is the part of the teaching machine that aims to keep teachers accountable about their practice. Across Australia, teacher accountability comes from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and their Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

Within the AITSL standards there are two focus areas that explicitly link to Aboriginal Education:

Standard 1.4 Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

Standard 2.4 Understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

We recognise that the Standards are just another one of the many things teachers have to demonstrate that they meet or exceed the expectations of. But when we look specifically at the focus areas relating to Aboriginal Education, we need to shift our thinking. By this we mean moving away from the approach where we tick off the standard when it’s been met and not look back until the next teacher accreditation or maintenance period. Standards 1.4 and 2.4 are an opportunity for teachers to do things meaningfully within their learning community.

Throughout our many years of working in the education sector we have met hundreds of teachers who say they’re scared of including Aboriginal perspectives into their teaching and learning for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. And we’ve met many more teachers who think using a paragraph or page from a textbook would be enough to tick off that they’re including Aboriginal perspectives as directed by their Key Learning Area syllabus. First Nations people want to see their cultures, histories and languages in school curriculums and represented during days or weeks that are culturally significant – they want to see this done more than a few times a year. As a result, there are many First Nations people who work to provide educational services to schools, or work to write curriculum materials for teachers to help them take out the “guess work” around whether or not the resource they’ve found is appropriate, and many First Nations people work to create books, videos, artefacts, learning tools and visual aids to be used in classrooms.

When teachers are open to learning and receiving feedback on how to find the necessary tools to equip them with delivering meaningful Aboriginal Education within their learning community, a lot of great things can happen. Firstly, First Nations students will recognise that the adults that teach them actually care about their cultural identity. Secondly, First Nations students and their families can develop a sense of pride about their school because it recognises and values their culture. Thirdly, when all students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to learn about the histories, cultures and languages of this Country, they are able to develop a greater sense of appreciation for First Nations peoples.

Our tips for engaging with Standards 1.4 and 2.4:

  • What does Aboriginal Education look like in your classroom? Are Aboriginal perspectives a regular part of your teaching and learning? Note: when we say regular we mean more than once or twice a term. Can you identify any gaps in your classroom resources or your own cultural knowledge? Are there visuals in your classroom or around your school that show First Nations students, families and community members that their culture has a place on your site?
  • If during some reflection you’ve identified some gaps in your classroom resources or cultural knowledge and understanding, do you know how to fill them? Is there someone in your community who can help you? Start by focusing on one area where you’d like to increase your confidence or knowledge and understanding. We acknowledge that every teacher is at a different point in the Aboriginal Education journey – don’t feel pressured by needing to know everything right away. For Term 1 you could start by looking at reputable reads like The Little Red Yellow Black Book by AIATSIS or Welcome to Country: Youth Edition by Marcia Langton.
  • Have you heard about the 5 R’s of Aboriginal Education? Respect. Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. Reciprocity. Getting to know your local community is crucial to the success of Aboriginal Education. If you don’t know who you can yarn within your community, start by getting to know the parents and carers of your students, ask your colleagues who they have connections with, seek out those who work in your district’s education office, check out what local events are coming up in your community and drop a line to any First Nations organisations, services, and businesses (big or small). We know a lot of time and effort goes into developing relationships, but the groundwork and maintenance of a relationship will reap rewards. Also to note that historically Aboriginal people have been excluded or have had poor experiences with schools, so it’s important that schools make an effort to form relationships with their community rather than expecting it to be the other way around
  • Interestingly, Standard 2.4 asks teachers to “understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians”. Have you thought about what reconciliation means to your local First Nations community? Do they like the term reconciliation? What does active reconciliation look like and how can that be replicated within the school context? These are questions that will have varying answers across First Nations communities. However, addressing the importance of truth-telling is a great place to start. Aboriginal Education should be driven by Aboriginal voices. This can look like using resources in the classroom that have been developed by or in collaboration with First Nations people. If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of trying to work out what sort of resources are appropriate, check out our Is this an appropriate First Nations resource? A check-list for educators.
  • Know that engaging with and delivering Aboriginal Education is a journey. It’s ok to not get things quite right the first time. But when you’ve recognised something has gone awry, work on a new approach and don’t be deterred by one bad experience. Whether your school has a high population of First Nations students or no First Nations students at all, it’s important for every student to learn about the rich and diverse cultures, histories and languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Don’t forget, Deadly Ed is here to help. Our mission at Deadly Ed is to ensure anyone, in any location, can have access to quality and authentic Aboriginal Education. If you, your faculty or entire school staff could benefit from professional learning on Aboriginal Education you can contact us here.

A recent participant of our Deliver Deadly Aboriginal Education noted that “The theoretical and practical components of the learning were perfectly intertwined and provided staff with great confidence and understanding to apply learnt skills in their classroom setting.”

Stay in the loop for more tips on approaching Aboriginal Education in your school, monthly Aboriginal Education resource recommendations, and our program offerings by signing up to our newsletter. Be sure to follow us on Instagram @deadlyed_

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