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Helping teachers support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education

Report

This article is intended as a guide to professional development and learning options for all Australian teachers – Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous – in these areas of learning.

The article has been prepared mainly from edited excerpts of the report
A Unit Outline and Content for Professional Learning Units to Support Teachers in Meeting Focus Areas 1.4 and 2.4, developed by Monash University, Edith Cowan University and Charles Sturt University in February 2013 for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), © Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, used with permission.
 

Australian governments are committed to closing the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australian education outcomes, as outlined, for example, in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014. In support of this commitment, the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers require that all teachers demonstrate professional expertise when teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and when developing in all students an understanding of, and respect for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This article is intended as a guide to professional development and learning options for all Australian teachers – Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous – in these areas of learning. The article has been prepared mainly from edited excerpts of the report A Unit Outline and Content for Professional Learning Units to Support Teachers in Meeting Focus Areas 1.4 and 2.4, developed by Monash University, Edith Cowan University and Charles Sturt University in February 2013 for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL).


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the Professional Standards for Teachers

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, developed by AITSL in partnership with education stakeholders, outlines what teachers should know and be able to do. The Standards are grouped into three domains of teaching: Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement. The Professional Knowledge domain includes Standard 1 ‘Know students and how they learn’, and Standard 2 ‘Know the content and how to teach it’. Within these two Standards, two focus areas are of key relevance here:

  • 1.4 Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • 2.4 Understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Both these focus areas are described according to the four career stages of teacher professional knowledge identified in the Standards: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead.

A Unit Outline has been developed to help inform professional learning programs to assist in-service teachers to meet these expectations. The materials it contains have been informed by a wide range of scholars and researchers in the areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education across Australia. The Unit Outline also draws from the international literature, as well as from the field of teacher professional learning.


Addressing the needs of teacher professional development

The materials have been organised into two units of work, each containing six modules. Both units include guiding principles, recommended resources, teacher prompts and sample activities. The sample activities are a guide for the provider to build upon, noting that wherever possible activities should be locally based, and should involve teachers talking with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The units have been designed as a sequential program, but each module can also be offered independently. The six modules within each of the two units are unified with a set of three themes. The unit of study for Focus Area 1.4 has the themes of Partnership with Parents/Caregivers and Communities; Critical Discernment; and Learners and Learning – Language, Literacy (English literacy) and Numeracy. The unit of study for Focus Area 2.4 has the themes of Rights, Language, and Celebration. A teacher may wish to focus on one theme in depth as they study a unit, or take a broader approach, examining the topic across all three themes.

Recommended resources have been provided to accompany each module.

Assessment

Across both units teachers may wish to maintain a professional journal to document their learning throughout their studies. Within the units, each module has suggested activities that might assist teachers to demonstrate their proficiency. At the completion of each unit it is suggested that the teacher completes a self-assessment survey. Another option for assessment is for teachers to have one of their lessons observed by a community member.


Modules for focus area 1.4: Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

These six modules have been developed to help teachers develop cultural competence and professional skills and knowledge about strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

1.  Understanding myself as a teacher

Teachers need to develop their awareness of their own personal and professional cultural competence and knowledge. This module helps them to do so, through self-reflection and questioning. The activities outlined enable teachers to explore their own culture so they can better respect and appreciate all cultures, and develop a better understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education; extend their own professional learning network so as to develop responsive strategies; and build partnerships to include a broader range of education stakeholders.

2. Understanding cultural competence in teaching practice

This module aims to improve teachers’ understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of living and being, and the implications of this for teaching and learning.

3. Understanding learners and learning

Teachers are encouraged to learn about effective teaching and learning strategies in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational access, participation and achievement. Teachers will be better prepared to communicate effectively with a range of education stakeholders, and will be better prepared to build activities that reflect and value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, languages, knowledge and cultures.

4. Developing a culturally responsive curriculum

This module has been developed to help teachers design and implement a teaching program valuing the knowledge and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Teachers will be able to explore different ways to teach the curriculum that best utilise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge.

5. Creating effective learning experiences

Teaching techniques that enhance learning opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are considered in this module. It will assist teachers to differentiate their teaching style, and vary modes of delivery and assessment tasks, in order to make them culturally appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. These techniques should also foster good relationships and communication with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their families and promote participation in the school.

6. Connecting through the profession to schools and community

This module is designed to examine the principles and practices of successful community capacity building. It considers the role the teacher can play in building meaningful relationships between parents and caregivers, school-community members, Elders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Officers.


Modules for focus area 2.4: Understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Teachers need to enable their students to understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and languages. This series of modules has been developed to assist teachers in that task.

1. Protocols for engagement

This module focuses on making sure that teachers understand the protocols of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The most important thing to remember is that they are not teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children their own culture. Nor will the teacher become an expert in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. What they will develop are the skills and knowledge to affirm and celebrate the cultural identities of all of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. A number of guiding principles will be introduced as foundational concepts that will be further developed in later modules.

2. Culture and language

During the learning process, culture and language are inextricably linked. This module encourages teachers to learn about the diversity of cultures and their languages in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia.

3. Identity

In this module teachers examine Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander understandings of identity, and historical and current definitions of Aboriginality.

4. History, policies and practices

Traditionally, teachers have not had good access to accounts by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of their experiences of schooling and education generally. This module connects teachers to some of the history, policies and practices of education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia.

5. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies: cultural diversity, rights and socio-economic justice

Cultural diversity, across and within Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, is examined in this module. It also examines the impact of poverty, and the loss of rights on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

6. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies: global citizenship and celebration

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have made a significant contribution to their communities, towns, regions, States and Territories, with national and international impacts. Yet their achievements have too often gone unrecorded and unrecognised. This module showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as global citizens and celebrates their past and present achievements.


Additional resources

A Unit Report builds upon a literature review and an environmental scan of current offerings on teacher professional development, titled Improving Teaching in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education: National Professional Standards for Teachers Standards Focus Areas 1.4 and 2.4 

AITSL has prepared Illustrations of Practice relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, for Focus Area 1.4, and for Focus Area 2.4. For example, resources for Focus Area 1.4 include Afterschool Club, illustrating proficient practice, while Fire Stick Farming illustrates highly accomplished practice in terms of Focus Area 2.4.

A wide range of internet and other resources is available in this area. While some are reliable, many are not. It is strongly recommended that teachers turn to, or are directed towards, reliable organisations such as the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), What Works, Dare to Lead, and the State and Territory Departments of Education websites.

It is also strongly advised that teachers and schools work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure that the resources used and perspectives being taken by a teacher are culturally appropriate.


References

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, 2012.

Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010-2014.

Monash University, Edith Cowan University and Charles Sturt University, A Unit Outline and Content for Professional Learning Units to Support Teachers in Meeting Focus Areas 1.4 and 2.4, February 2013. Note: edited extracts from this report are included with permission of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

KLA

Subject Headings

Standards
Teaching and learning
Professional development
Curriculum planning
Aboriginal peoples
Aboriginal students
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies